Business, IT/AV, Unified Communications

AVIXA POV: Collaborative Solutions Hit Mainstream

AVIXA POV, Man with head on computer

AVIXA explores AV professionals’ role in the collaboration boom.

Working in the commercial AV industry, I’ve been lucky to have collaborative solutions at my fingertips for years. Starting with Microsoft Lync to now Microsoft Teams and Zoom, these platforms have been second nature to our industry. When the pandemic began, connecting virtually became vital because we could no longer gather in
person. We needed to continue to work, teach and learn.

Last September, when the new school year was about to begin, my sister-in-law, a teacher, was told by her school district that she’d be using Microsoft Teams to teach remotely. She, like so many others, had never used it before. How many others, exactly? Microsoft Teams grew from 32 million daily active users in March 2020 to 115 million users in October. The demand soared. Zoom’s revenue grew 367 percent year over year. Verizon acquired BlueJeans for around $500 million. Collaborative solutions officially hit the mainstream.

To discuss the pandemic’s effect on collaborative technology and what lies ahead for this solution, AVIXA recently hosted the Power Hour “The Future of Collaboration is Here.” According to Nick Nienaber, Head of Audiovisual for WeWork, “The future of collaboration…you know, what we’re all sort of pushing towards—this hybrid model that allows people to work from where they want, whether that’s home or an office space—we’ve had all the tools we actually need to do that for some time.” He added, “What happened is a change in circumstances that made that a requirement instead of a nice to have.”

“Suddenly, if you don’t have collaboration of some sort, or multiple channels of collaboration, then you’re going to have a lot of problems getting your business affairs taken care of in this environment,” Dawn Meade, Senior AV Solutions Architect at Northrop Grumman, said.

The demand is there and the solutions are abundant: Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex, and hard codecs from manufacturers like Cisco, Lifesize and Poly—the list goes on. But with so many platforms from which to choose, the issue of interoperability arises.

“If I’m spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on one codec or one soft-codec solution in my enterprise, and one of our government partners has spent millions of dollars on a different solution, and one of our ‘competi-mates,’ as we call them—our friendly competitors—that we’re partnering with on a major initiative has a third option, we need to be able to talk to each other,” Meade shared.

Are we ever going to see truly interoperable unified-collaboration systems? That all depends on end users and how loudly they give feedback to platform providers, Sharath Abraham, Engineering Manager for AVI-SPL, stated.

Cloud-based collaboration solutions are skyrocketing, but, for certain customers, hard codecs aren’t going anywhere, according to Meade. It comes down to security for clients in government, defense or healthcare, along with anyone who requires hard encryption. Meade said soft-codec platforms can only sell clients on the safety of cloud to a point.

Delivering videoconferencing for members of WeWork has been a challenge that Nienaber has been trying to address for many years. Security and privacy are the main issues. In a WeWork space, the occupants change from one hour to the next; sometimes, he shared, they can be direct competitors. At the Washington DC location, both the Democratic Party and Republican Party have members in the space.

The increased use of conferencing and collaboration solutions has a big effect on network security. In order to deploy these systems, it’s critical for AV professionals to have a higher level of network expertise than they did before.

“It doesn’t mean that you, as an AV design engineer, need to go and get your CCNA [Cisco Certified Network Associate],” Nienaber said. “You don’t need to fully under- stand all of these things. You do need to be able to speak the language, though. You need to be able to communicate some basic concepts to someone that does have that expertise in a non-confrontational manner. You need to be able to say, ‘We need this to work. This is the experience we’re after, and this is the blocker. So, how do we solve this?’ If you actually collaborate and work with people and build that relationship and that understanding, then there are huge benefits to be gained there.”

There’s a huge role for AV professionals to play in delivering conferencing and collaboration solutions. In fact, AVIXA market research forecasts these solutions to generate $40.1 billion globally this year. To learn more about latest issues and trends in this solution area, tune in to AVIXA’s Power Hour Series on conferencing and collaboration at www.avixa.org/events/conferencing-and-collaboration-power-hour-series.

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Sound & Communications: March 2021 Digital Edition
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