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The No.1 Video Call killer could be a thing of the past

by Tim Presland

Regardless of what cloud-based Video Conferencing (or more now commonly aka “Video calling”) system you currently use or have been exposed to in the past – either as the host or as a guest, you would have had a bad meeting experience due to one common failing point – bad audio speech!

So, put your virtual hand up and keep it up if at least one the following scenarios resonates?

  • Someone says … “can everyone please on mute if you’re not talking?
  • The speaker’s audio drops in and out or clips
  • Robot sounding or even drawn out sounding voices
  • Too much background noise
  • Speakers voice is not loud enough even if everyone else seems fine.

Sure, there might be many more instances you can think of but these would more certainly be the most common experiences I have come across when speaking and dealing with hundreds of people over the years as an integrator of systems.

To rectify bad audio for Video Callings, I’ll broadly categorise into 2 common pillars that will always need addressing in an attempt to ensure that audio quality is of premium quality on any given cloud-based Video Calling system.

Hardware / Software / Configuration – without deep-diving too much, some examples that are notorious of causing bad audio are when connecting to your cloud Video Calling platform via VPN without split tunnelling (can cause robot or drawn out voices),  Windows drivers need updating (audio clipping) or not being supplied certified noise cancelling headsets (too much background noise).

With regards to Adoption Change Management, it might simply be that the end user is not aware of, understands or appreciates the importance of using supplied certified noise cancelling headsets (which strongly migrates background noise).

It’s often the case that certified headsets are left behind, lost or are a hassle to wear, especially when being mobile, so end users will simple self-resolve by using ubiquitous consumer standard grand headsets such as “ear buds” for their video calls.

However, what the end user may not realise is that these devices can pick up and amplify background noise without their knowledge.  These devices simply aren’t designed for cloud-based software codec systems.

The thing is, it’s a double-edged sword!    The wearer isn’t affected, they can usually hear fine but all the other attendees will have a bad experience with amplified background noise and thus the meeting is ruined.   In turn, the natural assumption is that the platform being used is at the heart of the problem and not a singular endpoint device that is the case which can be simply rectified.

So, does that mean you can never use “earbuds” for your Video Calls?  No, it doesn’t.  If earbuds are to be used, ACM simply educates the user on what can happen and advises they should be in a quiet area for their call as this will greatly reduce background noise pick up.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I have explained this.

Real world examples of bad audio within a Video Call using not certified headsets.  

To give weight to this scenario, I’ll give two quick extreme examples that I was directly involved with when someone wasn’t using a certified headset and the meeting was ruined.  The first example wasn’t actually a background noise amplification issue but a constant buzzing sound.   For those familiar with a guitar amplifier earthing buzz, that’s what it was like but in our meeting.   As host, I did the normal thing of getting everyone to mute which didn’t resolve the issue and after that, the most likely step for anyone else would be to restart the meeting.  I on the other hand asked if anyone was wearing earbuds and if so, can they be unplugged and sure enough, this fixed the problem.

The 2nd example only happened as recently as the start of this year when I had a one on one call with a customer that was sitting at their desk in a corporate open air office.  I could hear too many voices and it was loud.  I asked if the customer was wearing earbuds explaining there was an issue and the reply however was that they were wearing Ear Pods.  I explained the importance of wearing certified headsets to which my customer was shocked to know this as their “ear pods were expensive!”

 

So, does Microsoft have a solution for bad audio in Microsoft Teams?

Yeah …. they might well indeed and it’s called Noise Suppression.   But firstly before I cover off testing results, of course, I’ll put in the usual disclaimers of … it’s not a magic bullet, make sure your setup is right (etc), end users are still very much advised and encouraged to wear certified headsets and most of all, be aware of noise pollution in their area.  BUT if all of this has gone out the window then Microsoft may have an AI safety net setting to provide clear speech audio from any device (….potentially).

Straight from Microsoft’s mouth, albeit website, they say this…

Sounds good right!?! (yes pun intended).  So, at this very early stage of its release, our preliminary results achieved from our internal testing it turns out to be very, very promising indeed.   In fact, wearing my old school audio engineering hat and just general tech nerd helmet I’ll go as far as to say …“WHOA MAN!! THIS IS FRICKEN AWESOME!!!”

 

Our test setup.

This wasn’t an over the top test for starters, and I didn’t go low level like running spectrum analysers or picking apart phase cancellation captures but I did have Windows TASK manager open for resource observations.  The test was more of a real end user test but I will also give my 2 cents on a few things as well as considerations on what can and can’t be done at this time of writing.

The test was carried out on a peer-to-peer Teams Meeting.  Endpoints were Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop 2 on Windows 10, thick client install of Microsoft Teams with all the latest updates, running NBN 100 / 50. 4G/5G was not tested at the time.  Video was on for both endpoints from internal cameras and the headsets were Sennheiser MB660Jabra Evolve 75 and Surface Laptop 2 microphone.

You can see from the test matrix I wanted to test each setting on a certified headset running both on wired connection and Bluetooth.

And then test on a non-certified device in different environments. Originally it was meant to be earbuds but ended up using the Laptop 2 microphone.

Due to COVID-19 social distancing, we had to test at home but pumped up enough noise (streaming music) to gain some truly incredible positive results. Please note that Noise Suppression is only available on the Windows 10 client at the time of this writing.   It is not currently available on Android, iOS, Browser or Microsoft Teams Room (MTR)

 

 

Where is the noise suppression setting in Microsoft Teams?

Here are some screen shots directly ripped from Microsoft 

Is the noise suppression setting dynamic?

The first thing that I asked myself was …“is the setting dynamic?”, meaning if I’m in a meeting and change the setting, is it applied on the fly to the current session?  The short answer is no.   If you change a setting you will need to hop out the meeting and back in for the new setting to be applied.

And to spell out what might seem obvious but just in case – the setting applied is only for that END POINT – that user, that applied the setting and not the other end points that are joined to the current meeting.  This is regardless if you are the host or guest.

 

What were the testing results?

I’ll skip to the chase.  At the time of this writing, regardless of what headset or microphone we used, only the HIGH setting had a positive impact, and it was really quite significant.  The settings of Auto, Low or Off sounded the same especially using the certified Jabra Evolve 75 and the Jabra by design was probably doing the “heavy lifting” from the very start anyway, so with that in mind, we ditched the Jabra testing and focussed on using the laptop microphone.

With the Auto, Low or Off setting for the laptop microphone there was a slight noticeable ambient background noise when my colleague wasn’t talking and when I say “noticeable”, I was intently listening because I was testing.  In a normal meeting, you wouldn’t think twice, it was a somewhat a “normal” meeting experience, which is to say having Auto, Low or Off at the time of this testing was without any discernible impact.

With HIGH turned on though, it was apparent from the get-go the AI had kicked in fully and was doing something.  It was quiet!   And it was wonderful.   My colleague read her repeatable script we were using for the tests and she was clear.  Really clear!   We then decided to introduce some noise in the way of streaming music from her mobile phone and I couldn’t stop grinning.  The music was about 95% filtered out and that remaining 5% you could hear but it was low and certainly wasn’t distracting or impacting my colleague’s voice – she remained clear.    The music was then turned up to full level and shoved right in front of the microphone as we both laughed.  She was laughing because “…it’s like a full-on party happening now” and I was laughing because I could hear every word very, very clearly.

For our testing, the HIGH setting produced something very special.

 

Why was it so special?

Noise suppression technology isn’t new and I’ve been wowed with other products on the market which yield just as excellent results.  But this is a cloud service and doesn’t require additional hardware or software installs. And being Microsoft AI too, it’s only going to improve as it matures.

It’s special though IMO on 2 counts.   Firstly, the vocal that came though sounded natural.  The background noise was removed, and it didn’t it taint the vocal audio I wanted to hear.  It didn’t clip the vocal, it didn’t sound strange, it didn’t sound synthetic, it sounded completely natural.

The second thing is, out of the box, if someone doesn’t use a certified headset or is not aware of noise pollution it has a significate chance to reduce all that stress, anxiety and work arounds for the host, guest and certainly not forgetting the poor support crew to simply make audio in meetings work as intended – to have clear speech.

 

So, did the High setting hog a lot of resources?

Quick answer is, no it didn’t seem to despite Microsoft putting in a caveat.

Having Task Manager open for resource observations showed a little increase but not that much and to be honest, Microsoft Teams is a general resource hog anyway it simply wouldn’t warrant, IMO, not having it on.   My noise suppression setting is always on HIGH.

 

My 2 cents and wrap up.

In our testing we did have my colleague’s wife happen to chat in on the call too in passing (remember testing was done at home and from a laptop microphone) and she was clear as a bell too when the music was playing, which got me to thinking there’s more to the noise suppression setting than just “removing background noise”.  I dare say (without investigation) there would have to be noise gate and noise compression functions at play here too.  So, if that’s the case, at what tolerance does Microsoft Teams noise suppression AI determine what vocal audio should be included from any given distance and then, at what level is that vocal volume boosted?  All very interesting and something I forward look to investigating with another blog at another time.

 

Quick reference note reminders

  1. At the time of writing, Noise Suppression is only on Windows 10 Client – not available on Android, iOS, Browser or MTR.
  2. The Noise Suppression setting is not dynamic, meaning it can’t be changed on the fly, you will need to exit and hop back into the meeting for it to be working.
  3. At the time of writing, our testing revealed only the HIGH seemed to have a positive impact.
  4. The High setting …
  • Suppresses all background sound that isn’t speech.
  • For this option, your computer’s processor must support Advanced Vector Extensions 2 (AVX2).
  • This option is currently not available if the meeting or call is being recorded or live captions is turned on.
  • Enabling this option uses more computer resources.

 

 

 

 

Improving the Teams User Experience using Insights and Telemetry

by Lee Stevenson

One of the biggest challenges with cloud services is network reliability and performance – how can we make sure our people have the best experience possible using a third-party service outside our network? The secret is in using the best data available to us to make informed decisions about network prioritisation, bandwidth and reliability.

A large manufacturing customer reported issues with Microsoft Teams – particularly during Teams Meetings and Calls. The customer had rapidly adopted Teams during the COVID19 lockdown and hadn’t done any network planning or investigation. The customer engaged Insync to review their network readiness for using Teams, based on the expected staff counts per site and modelling general usage of the platform.

Insync worked in tandem with the customers network provider to standardise the network infrastructure as represented in Microsoft 365 through a number of workshops – making sure that we were using the power of the Microsoft cloud and its inherent telemetry on each service to give us insights into issues being experienced.

Insync modelled the customers environment within Microsoft 365, and then deployed network testing nodes throughout the network to give synthetic data points in addition to the user derived telemetry. Once this work is done, the customer can utilise specific Call Quality Dashboards within the Microsoft 365 Teams Admin Centre to understand where their network is being impacted and why. The customer had 300+ segmented location that we could drill down into to see where the issues were occurring and why.

Immediately we identified a number of issues and could easily identify sites with high risk for media quality issues leading to a poor user experience.

 

In most of the above cases, it was the customers WiFi network that was incurring issues with meeting and calling experiences. Once we could identify the network segments in which issues were occurring, we could target individual floors and buildings to determine what was at fault. We also correlated this with user reported poor “rate my call” ratings to confirm. Using the network assessment nodes in each location, we could run synthetic tests through the day on targeted WiFi networks and captured time of day, area and location data. We provided this data to the network service provider to then make appropriate changes to the network in terms of segment bandwidth and prioritisation to ensure a better experience for their people.

As this particular customer utilised centralised Internet egress to the Microsoft cloud, we could comfortably use all sites in their network with WiFi as a baseline for overall network sentiment. Combining this with the wired network telemetry and analytics, we could determine there was no issue with the Internet egress or wired network level issues, and we could rule out any issues with the Microsoft Cloud Service. The customer was concerned that they did not provision enough bandwidth at the sites and this was impacting the user experience, or there was an issue with the Microsoft cloud service. These are always generally the first ports of call when there is a network level issue.

But after reviewing the data, it was clear from the data points captured through the Microsoft 365 Cloud Service that the issues were contained to a number of WiFi networks throughout the customer that exhibited higher than acceptable Jitter and Packet Reordering. This means that on the WiFi networks, voice and video traffic experienced Jitter (packets not arriving when expected leading to buffering and speech delays) and Packet Reordering (packets arriving in a different order as to when they were sent by the service / caller). This massively impacts the people experience.

 

All this data was captured through the Microsoft 365 Teams Admin Centre and Call Quality Dashboard service – enabling your organisation to better see where issues may be impacting your peoples experience and making changes for the better. In this case, the customer engaged their network service provider to make some changes to their WiFi Infrastructure to better support and prioritise Teams media and this has led to a sustained improvement for call quality and meeting quality as well as user-derived feedback such as “rate my call”. It’s refreshing to use this data and be able to make quick changes to the network and positively impact peoples work experiences. Get in touch if you’re struggling with Teams quality and network issues, you might be surprised where the issues lie!

Inside Insync – Alex Pertakis

Today we meet:

Alex Petrakis, Senior consultant

Time with Insync: October 2016

 

Previous notable time in IT industry/customer/vendor:

10+ Years in IT working across various roles and facets of technology.

 

What are your best skills for your role?

My ability to breakdown and analyse an issue and design a solution to solve it. Focus on improving business processes through automation.

 

What do you like about your role?

Being able to create solutions to interesting and challenging problems. A large aspect of my role is automation, so being able to be take a problem and figuring out a way to automate that is what I find enjoyable.

The challenges presented are always different, which requires you to think outside of the box.

 

What trends are you seeing with customers?

Noticing a big push for automation and cloud applications, being able to easily access information across multiple sources. What do you think about the opportunity for Teams for customers?

Teams is a great way to collaborate and present information within an organisation. One of the great aspects of teams is its integration, which allows customers to surface existing applications to employees all within Teams.

 

Where have you used Insync core values in Insync everyday work life:

Going the extra 1.6 kilometres / admiring your work: with technology constantly changing and new automation technologies constantly available, I’ve really had to step outside my comfort zone and learn new technologies that will greatly assist our customers.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

I love exploring, I have a 4WD so I like to check out national parks and go camping. One of my favourite places to head to is Double Island Point.

Your devices are an entry point for hackers, it’s time to pull up the metaphorical drawbridge

In our recent article Why you need to protect employee identities in order to secure your organisation, we delved into identity management. Another core pillar integral to a robust security strategy is device management.

According to the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Annual Cyber Threat Report, ransomware has become “one of the most significant cyber threats facing the operation of private sector organisations.” With the rise of ransomware and malware, taking measures to shore up your first line of defence has become a critical activity for any organisation, regardless of industry or sector.

 

What does good device management look like and why do we need it?

Device management is important because, in laymen’s terms, it gives you endpoint protection and remediation.  On the most basic level, this means ensuring all devices used by your employees have appropriate anti-virus protection installed.

Anti-virus is one small component of device management, to really secure endpoints you also need to set and enforce clear policies,” says Ross Newton, Senior Consultant, Insync Technology.

The policies Ross refers to includes configuring your Microsoft environment to maintain good mail and file hygiene and prevent attacks via defined spam filters.

The first thing to do is make sure you are running a modern endpoint. For Insync and our customers, this means running in Windows 10 and nothing else. The most recent software has the strongest security capability and offers a variety of tools to assist with device management,” adds Ross.

 

Check the resources available in your armoury

Microsoft 365 offers an array of built in functionality to strengthen your defences. These include Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools like Microsoft InTune and Endpoint Manager.

When correctly configured, InTune and Endpoint Manager provide visibility across your organisation and can identify threats or system health issues as, if not before, they happen. This does require some thought and skill to set up but it is worth the investment. By setting controls aligned with your policies you can push the configuration out to the endpoint and validate it’s state, is it healthy or not?” explains Ross.

Other secret weapons in the Microsoft 365 armoury include Microsoft Defender, a built-in anti-virus solution that ties in with the Microsoft Cloud protection suite. The intelligent software uses pre-set and configurable metrics to signal into a Cloud based endpoint manager and, if a virus or malware appears, it auto detects it and locks down the device to prevent access and control damages.

Device management is not as simple as it once was, these days there’s a lot more to it than just installing an AV solution. When we onboard devices, we generally need to do some work around policy translating and updating. Sometimes there might be multiple MDM or group policies and this needs to be configured into InTune. In doing this, we can guarantee visibility across all endpoints, Windows devices and mobiles, within a corporate environment,” adds Ross.

 

Not securing your devices is akin to unlocking the front door and leaving it open

Failure to secure your devices can result in a number of unpleasant scenarios. These scenarios are further heightened by sloppy security across the board, but according to Ross, either way the risks are endless.

“If you don’t have visibility of your devices, you are opening yourself up to malware and ransomware getting access to your resources, your data and all of your IP. Once malware is on a device, hackers can start harvesting credentials, send these out and suddenly you have multiple unknown users able to access your commercial information,” says Ross.

By focusing on device management as part of your holistic security strategy, you can ensure your endpoints are protected and you can prevent the entire nightmare from ever unravelling.

“With the basics bedded down, you can them focus on things like email hygiene. Do you have the right filters in place, have you got the Anti Spam and malware settings correctly configured?” adds Ross.

 

Just one piece of the puzzle

Whilst device management can be implemented independently, it is most effective when looked at in alignment with identity management.

The more you implement, the more cross signalling you get, the more secure your organisation is. One product or policy can feed signals and metrics into another product to give you a more holistic view of what is happening. Plus, if malware succeeds in running, and a device is infected, this will trigger the connected identities to become locked down and protected. Basically, the greater the level of integration between the two, the more protected you are,” says Ross.

As with many functionalities within the Microsoft 365 environment, whist the capability exists, it needs to be configured and activated. When starting with a blank canvas, it can be difficult to know where to start.

“It’s a blank canvas to start with, not turned on, not enforced. In order to be effective, you need to configure your device management from scratch. It’s logical really to seek advice from people who specialise in this configuration,” concludes Ross.

How secure are your devices? Find out how Insync can help level up your security and protect your IT investment. Contact the team today.

Why you need to protect employee identities in order to secure your organisation

Security is a popular topic when it comes to IT and for good reason. The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s recently released Annual Cyber Threat Report revealed Australians are reporting 160 cybercrimes every day. Yet whilst there is constant noise and chatter about the need for advanced IT security, many organisations are unaware of the specific areas to focus on.

To understand your current security posture, you need to look at four areas:

  1. Identity Management
  2. Device Management
  3. Information Management
  4. Infrastructure

Only in delving into the details of each pillar can you ensure your organisation is suitably protected.

 

What do we mean by identity protection & why does it matter?

Protecting identity is about setting necessary controls to ensure users are appropriately authenticated before being given access to resources.

With good identity management, we can prevent accounts being compromised and the wrong people accessing sensitive information. This is a highly common workplace occurrence as phishing scams become increasingly sophisticated,” says Ross Newton, Senior Consultant, Insync Technology.

Whilst securing employee identities has always been a consideration, a combination of increased cyber-attacks, dispersed or flexible workplaces and new technology has led to older, traditional authentication measures no longer being fit for purpose. The trusty password is no longer enough.

People are accessing information now in a very different way. They might use public networks or personal devices, both of which shift the boundaries of security. In the past a firewall might have been your go-to security boundary, now it needs to occur based on an individual employee’s identity,” adds Ross.

 

How to ward off an identity crisis

Regardless of the number of employees within your organisation, managing identities is not difficult – as long as you know how.  Modern workplace technology like Microsoft 365, offers in built tools and functionality to assist organisations wanting to strengthen their identity protection.

  1. Multi Factor Authentication (MFA)

Enabling MFA in your workplace is a common first step to securing identities. There are different options on how staff authenticate; using an SMS code is popular whilst employees with access to more sensitive information or with financial controls might opt for a hardware token solution.

  1. Password Policies

In the past, choosing a word or name and adding a number was sufficient for a workplace password. Those days are gone! To ensure your employees are using strong passwords, Microsoft 365 allows you to set controls over the types of passwords they can choose. This might include banning commonly breached passwords, Or phrases and words that are specific to the organisation.

  1. Conditional Access

Conditional Access policies are key to enforcing zero-trust approach to security.  Conditional Access can apply contextual factors such as user, device, location and risk to control access to organisational resources. By setting clear controls and leveraging your MFA, you can control which employees have access to what information and when they have access.

These three things can all strengthen your identity security when used correctly. Strong identity management will have a knock-on effect to your device, information, and infrastructure management. But if you have no MFA in place, for example, you open yourself up to risks and breaches that can then filter through to other areas,” notes Ross.

Picture this: An employee laptop is compromised due to an expired AV solution, without endpoint protection in place, the hacker begins harvesting credentials to log in, significantly increasing the threat to the organisation as a whole.

“If you take the right steps to secure identity, then you have a safety net in the event of poor device management,” adds Ross.

 

Ask the experts

Whilst modern workplace technology has a lot of capabilities, you also need to configure them to meet your specific requirements. According to Ross, there is often an assumption that the system is set and ready to go.

We talk a lot about the benefits of modern workplace technology but in order to reap the benefits, you need to take the time to ensure your system is correctly configured. This requires a certain level of skill that isn’t often found inhouse,” notes Ross.

Because of this, it is logical to seek expert help. Insync Technology specialises in delivering the modern workplace. The team of dedicated specialists work with a broad spectrum of organisations and are therefore exposed to a diverse array of threats, challenges, and possibilities. These experiences and learnings are then applied to other customers.

“We are constantly learning and evolving. When it comes to security, the level of complexity is high and there is a huge volume of information you need to process in order to understand the technology and how it integrates. With so many moving parts, it makes sense to bring in the experts,” concludes Ross.

How secure are your staff identities? Find out how Insync can help level up your security and protect your IT investment. Contact the team today.

Inside Insync – Ben Wirihana

Today we meet: 

Ben Wirihana, 

Team Lead 

Time with Insync:  November 2017 

Previous notable time in IT industry:  I have been working in IT since 2007, back when 19” CRT’s were the jam. 

What are your best skills for your role?
I enjoy problem-solving.  I may not be able to address all problems by myself, but I can find and empower the appropriate resources to ensure the timely resolution of issues.  

What do you like about your role?
I appreciate the people I work with.  I enjoy working with a capable and efficient team in a supportive environment.  I like the flexibility that I have in my roleas I can work from anywhere. 

What trends are you seeing with customers? 

This year has been challenging.  We are seeing the adoption and integration of technology to improve the effectiveness in communication within organisations.  Workplaces require more robust solutions to ensure their remote working environments remain available and secure.  

What do you think about the opportunity for Teams for customers?
We rely heavily on Teams for our internal and external communications.  I think it is a great and secure solution that can help to bring dispersed organisations back together. 

Where have you used Insync core values in Insync everyday work life: 

“Don’t walk past a problem”.  In our team, we are responsible for the role of dispatch.  It is important for our customers to receive prompt feedback when they require urgent assistance.  When performing the role of dispatch, I am not always able to provide an immediate solution.  When this situation occurs, I take responsibility of the case until a more appropriate resource can be given ownership.  This ensures that there is an available resource to communicate with the customer.  Open communication helps everyone to make informed decisions, creating a better customer experience.  

What do you like to do in your downtime?
In my downtime I enjoy going to the gym, playing basketball and bingeing Netflix.  My goal is to have more time to play video games. 

 

“Return to Work” Tech toys we’re putting under the tree this year

How does Rudolph know when Christmas is coming….?
He looks at the calen-deer.

It’s that time of the year again – we’re on the countdown to Christmas and we bet you are too. 2020 has been a very strange year, and I think we can all comfortably say people are looking forward to 2021 in a big way. With a vaccine on the horizon and things starting to get back to some level of normality, our customers have been planning on a return to work in some capacity in the calendar year 2021.

If you just want to see 2020 out and then think about things in 2021, we don’t blame you. But if you’ve got to plan out your workforce return to an office or campus, here are some stocking fillers for your Christmas list.

We’ve assessed all the best workplace technology and here’s what you should be looking at for any return-to-work scenario.

Get in touch for the best advice and prices on the below units – don’t buy twice with the wrong advice!

Personal / Exec devices

If you’re after a great portable speakerphone that is Teams certified, has great audio characteristics and also acts as a battery charger for your phone – look no further. The Sync 20 is new from Poly and retains their excellent audio performance for small areas and is portable for the mobile worker or exec who wants something quick and easy to use in their office or small meeting room. Portable, cost-effective and attractive.

Poly Sync Speakerphone

Poly Sync 20 Photography

Small Office / Huddle Room

Massively popular this year and into the future is the concept of small drop in spaces, or huddle rooms – providing a quick and easy way for people to collaborate with remote or external contacts without tying up a big meeting room, or unable to have a sensitive conversation at your desk. We’ve found these to be slick looking, easily portable and deployable, running the Microsoft Teams Room for Android client. These are natively supported in Teams and also can be managed via the Teams Admin Center for complete visibility and troubleshooting. Popular for small meeting spaces, exec rooms and even a power worker in their work-from-home situation if they need a dedicated meeting device. The roadmap for these collaboration bars is strong with dual HDMI out and HDMI ingest coming to the platforms in the future.

We recommend the Poly X30/X50 Collab Bar as the go to item for these types of rooms.

 

 

Medium Room

Moving up to a larger set up and more permanent may be required for some workspaces in your organisation. These might be more dedicated meeting rooms where you need to have an easy to use solution to join Teams meetings, or Direct Join* with Zoom and Cisco WebEx. These spaces are your traditional meeting room spaces, with something resembling a ‘codec’ and some form of camera. This gives you some ability to add and modify your experience – add more cameras, add more microphones and speakers etc.

The simplest console + codec on the market for a medium sized room is the Logitech TAP – simply connect this to an Intel NUC hidden under a table or behind the display – and this turns your meeting room space into a simple to use console.

Couple this with a high quality Logitech or Poly USB video bar, you’ve got an inexpensive and easy to use solution for the bigger size meeting rooms. Logitech sell preconfigured bundles that require minimal cabling and IT support to get moving.

An alternative is a Front of Room solution like the Yealink A20 which is a collaboration bar with a simple Teams Console accessory that minimises cabling (the Console can connect to the A20 unit via Ethernet (not Layer 2/3/IP)) and delivers a great audio and video experience at a cost-effective price. Keep in mind this is still a collaboration bar, so if you want expandable audio and video experiences, these will be limited.

Larger Room

The Crestron Flex Integrator Kit is hard to go past as a starting point for a larger room – with an insane amount of addons, extensibility and traditional Audio Visual options like room automation – the Integrator Kit is your starting point. Work with a trusted AV partner that understands the Microsoft ecosystem (like us) to get a fit for purpose build that incorporates the right camera technology, the specific audio experience you need and an appropriate budget. Crestron is a traditional staple in large enterprises and complex environments like Universities where the meeting and lecture experience is paramount, with ease of management and reporting standard around meeting room usage, patronage, hardware failures and monitoring.

Just Plain Cool

 

Poly RealConnect for Microsoft Teams

If your budget doesn’t stretch to re-fit out meeting rooms, never fear. There is a simple and easy way to get your staff and colleagues into Teams Meetings using older legacy videoconferencing spaces. It’s called Poly RealConnect for Microsoft Teams. This cloud-based service integrates with your existing Office 365/Microsoft 365 environment at a service-level, allowing you to insert “coordinates” into your Teams Meetings that older videoconferencing units can understand. This, and the One Touch Dial service, allows simple ‘join’ buttons on older videoconferencing gear to allow a single touch entry into Microsoft Teams Meetings. No dialling silly long strings and confusing email looking addresses. You’ll need a partner to sell and configure for you, but once that’s done its set and forget, just make sure you invite the room to the meeting!

Surface Hub 85”

Shipping now, the Microsoft Surface Hub 2 in an 85” size is something to behold. Sleek and sophisticated looking, this will light up any collaboration or executive space with an interactive meeting room experience. Not as expensive as you might think for the size and collaboration ability – look for these to hit the market late 2020 and early 2021.

Staying Connected, Trivia and Company Culture

With offices located around Australia, staying connected and communicating effectively as a team is a central component to the success of the Insync workplaceFrom day one we have focused on implementing several mechanisms to embrace the modern workplace and to ensure employees feel connected 

As part of the establishment of Insync – founders Nathan Belling, Stuart Moore, and Damien Margaritis considered company culture as a strategic business pillar, and at its core – the company values.  

 

In an office environment, you might have a break room, communal dining area where people can mingle and destress – adding that social aspect to the work environment. As a hybrid workplace, we face the challenge that day-to-day social interactions may be lost. One way we try to combat this is to hold a team social event – usually something fun and with a bit of friendly competition.  

We’ve tried a few different things this year – including Funlympics event, Jackbox games, virtual beer, and pizza get-togethers – somewhere our employees across Australia can join their peers and colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere. This time it was to compete for trivia supremacy and bragging rights.   

Team bonding is an essential ingredient for any high performing team and trivia is a great way to have a good time and bond as a team. Most people enjoy this activity as there tends to be a variety of questions that cover a range of topics. 

One of our team volunteered their experience in running trivia and was given the responsibility of host and trivia master. They’d written five rounds of questions including general knowledge, movie quotes, current affairs, geography, and video games (as a tech company, a sports round would have been lost on many of us!) 

Our employees were divided into five teams of four chosen at random by our Chief Happiness Coordinator, Emma Schellhorn. Each team had a separate chat set up a few days prior so they could easily communicate with their team members – some even had customised backgrounds for their team! 

The first task was to decide on a team name and the scribe. We had some inventive names – The Quillers, The Underwood Appreciation Society, Jars Jars Binks, Kickass, Team Four Seasons Landscaping Supplies, and Eeee – we have no idea! 

As a Microsoft Partner, we opted to use Microsoft Teams to host the virtual event. Designed for businesses, Microsoft Teams can manage large volumes of attendees and has advanced functionality to manage audiences and to mute others! Microsoft Teams has recently added the functionality to spin up break-out rooms, however, we choose to use Teams chat to discuss answers between team members.  

Team Four Seasons Landscape Supplies won by a mile with 36 points, congratulations Stuart Moore, Benjamin WirihanaJenna Blake, and Philip Smith you are the Insync Trivia Champions! 

The key to staying connected while working remotely is to spend time with other employees within the company – even if this is virtual! Holding regular events including monthly company-wide updates and events can all contribute to a sense of community and connectively – and ultimately support a positive work culture 

Learn how Insync Technology can implement vibrant, connective communication tools within your company by filling out the form below or reaching out via the contact us page. 

 

microsoft products

Transitioning from G-Suite to Microsoft 365

The first few days and weeks in a new job can be daunting as you begin to navigate a new position, company, and its systems. For me, the biggest challenge was the migration from G-Suite to Microsoft 365. Over the past 11 years since I left high school, I had worked solely within G-Suite or with Mac Desktop AppsDuring this time Microsoft has made significant advances in cloud and Artificial Intelligence and had infused them into their productivity platform. Keep reading to learn more about my experiences with the two competing suites. 

On streamlining process 

In any role within an organisation there are several repetitive tasks that need to be completed on a regular basis. In marketing these generally, entail ongoing company updates on marketing activities and campaigns. 

One of the programs I managed as part of my previous role was the customer feedback program for over 300 business sites (which the company I worked for managed), and thousands of individual customers – this included generating reports, monitoring engagement, data validation, and management updates. To streamline this process there were six Google Forms (one for each of the Industries) and a central spreadsheet that pooled all the information, from here Google Data Studio would generate reports. To correctly analyse the data not only by industry but across the business (e.g. food quality, presentation, service quality etc) we hired an external partner to automate part of the data management. Which meant each time the automation failed you would either need a firm grasp of spreadsheet coding or you would need to lodge a ticket – which often took days! Due to the large volumes of data being processed Spreadsheets would often crash or you would experience “real-time” data delays. As a result, a large percentage of my time was dedicated to resolving issues and program maintenance rather than data analysis and Plan for Improvement (P.F.I) strategies. 

In comparison, Microsoft 365 offers several solutions to reduce and even eliminate time-consuming day-to-day administration tasksand by using Power BI – data analysis is simple and straightforward. Automation is possible across multiple platforms including PowerApps, Power Automate, or SharePoint, and have the capacity to work across multiple products within the Microsoft 365 suite. This has quickly become my favourite feature of Microsoft 365, not only does it streamline workflow, but offers a simple solution that anyone no matter what their technological proficiency can set up – no-code automation. In less than an hour (once I had sat through some of the Microsoft Power BI training Microsoft), I was able to set up a number of Marketing Social reports and have them automatically post to a central Marketing SharePoint page which I had created using the template available, these now automatically refresh, giving our management virtually real-time data on our marketing reach, analytics and results. 

On collaboration 

The last time (2008-09) I used Microsoft collaboration platformsit was lagging in cloud-based collaboration in comparison to Google. Nowboth platforms provide multiple desktop and mobile apps that enable collaboration between employees through collaborative documents, video conferencing & meetings, instant messaging, and many more 

As with many contemporary companies, my previous company and Insync rely heavily on instant messaging for collaboration. Whilst Microsoft was the first out of the two companies to develop a web messenger app with Microsoft Messenger/ MSN in 1999, Google Hangouts in my experience has a simpler user experience its main benefit being that the messaging client is integrated with Gmail and enables aeasy one-stop tool for communication – instead of overcomplicating it and having multiple desktop apps open. 

Despite this, my recent experiences with Teams Meetings have unveiled several features (especially for the workplace) which overall surpass GSuite capabilities. The four which resonate with me the most are the recent updates to Teams Meetings.  

  1. Teams capacity – everyone can join the conversation, with the capacity of a team size increasing to 10,000 in May 2020. Google in contrast struggles with 15+.
  2. Teams have adapted to new meeting etiquetteif you do not want to interrupt the speaker?  No problem, raise your hand! 
  3. Presenting capabilities – whilst Teams has had the option to choose your background since early 2020, their most recent announcement at Microsoft Ignite to have you slides presented with you in the foreground is a natural evolution with the transition into hybrid work environments. This is particularly relevant to companies like Insync Technology who hold regular training and webinar events. 
  4. Live captions are now able to attribute the name of the speaker when generating captions during a meeting. A great feature when referring to or, conducting interviews! 

On content development

Content development is fundamental to any Marketing Strategy. As a result, my previous role entailed content development for point of service, fact sheet, website, company communications, social media, and the company magazine – it was a central component to my everyday work. To ensure it was not only informative but quality content I would often use software such as Grammarly to help improve my writingI no longer need to copy and paste into another software (then paste and reformat once it has been reviewed). With Microsoft 365 – Word has an ‘editor’ feature built into the program which not only checks spelling and grammar but helps to refine clarity, conciseness, formality, punctuation, and vocabulary – a handy feature when producing large volumes of content! 

However, the most impressive advancements Microsoft 365 is within PowerPoint. I would often use Google Slides to create editable templates for our sites and during pitches to the board at my previous company. It enabled me to create on-brand templates and control (to a degree) what was editable to another user, in addition to its core function as a presentation tool. There were many limitations to using Google Slides the most frustrating being that it often distorted and corrupted images placed into the presentation, especially if it was to large or there were multiple pages – this was particularly common if you tried to print the document. It also had limited presentation functions and no capability to record.   

PowerPoint has been designed to help users improve their presentation skills and ensure that the information is easily digested by the viewer. The presenter coach is a particularly useful tool to optimise the delivery of your presentation, something that would only be possible after you had presented or by practicing with friends and family! 

 On G-suite vs Microsoft 365  

One thing Microsoft 365 has really focused on is the ease of transition from the G-Suite. Not only in terms of technical competence but in terms of getting to grips with the products within the suite and ensure end-users have relevant and comprehensive guidance on all of the applications within the suite. Microsoft has a handy Adoption Centre to centralise all its end-user and IT pro guidance for getting the most out of Microsoft 365.

Whilst the user experience is not as simple as Google the use of AI technologies and understanding of the core use of each of their products really sways in their favour – especially in the terms of productivity. Put simply – Google is simple for simple use cases, but for cloud & AI-infused productivity gains, as well as a more cohesive experience – Microsoft wins hands down.

Inside Insync – Sharon Peacock

Today we meet:

Sharon Peacock

Office Administrator

Time with Insync: February 2019

Previous notable time in IT industry/customer/vendor:  Prior to commencing with Insync I worked in the medical industry as an Administration Secretary for 25years.

What are your best skills for your role?

As an Administration Secretary, I find being flexible, approachable, and able to time manage are the most important. I can definitely say any tech skills are off this list!

What do you like about your role?

My previous roles prior to at Insync were very different, here no two days are the same. I like the variety. Each day I work across multiple areas of business from Service Desk, Accounts, Sales to working with the project team – it’s great to work with such great people. I also really value the flexibility I have for work-life balance.

What trends are you seeing with customers?

In my position, I have really noticed the impact COVID has had on our customers.  COVID meant a lot of customers had to relocate their staff to work from home, this meant quite a few orders came through for headsets etc. Working from home has become the new trend.

What do you think about the opportunity for Teams for customers?

From what I know about IT – and that is not a great deal, Teams is a great communication tool for internal and external customers.

Where have you used Insync core values in Insync everyday work life:

“Don’t walk past a problem” as it will only get bigger! And incorporated in this is being open and honest.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

I usually like to keep busy.  I like to be at home doing gardening and presently I am trying to finish decorating my home.  Away from home, I love to go camping to reconnect with the universe.  The beach is another favourite to visit with my husband and girls, especially the dog beach!