Modern Workplace , Video Conferencing , | 2017/11/28 at 9:14am

Modern Video Conferencing from an Old Guy’s Perspective

I hold a senior position at Insync. No-one’s older than me. And I break things a lot. Even my position (Old Guy Who Breaks Things) defies contraction to a snappy IT acronym. I like to think (but choose not to ask) that my employers took me on in an enlightened attempt to reach out to that marginalised community, the Users. They’re always breaking things, being slow to learn and even slower to change. It takes an old person to empathise fully with that. I’ve been in post for nearly two years now, and my youngers and betters think it’s high time they saw a return.

So I have agreed to publish some of my findings. This week: buttons.

There are a lot of buttons in the world, and 89.3%* of them are on devices somehow related to videoconferencing. I remember Bernard in Black Books once saying of an ex-girlfriend’s ample posterior, “one had a tremendous sense of value”. As, no doubt, did the executives (IT and otherwise) who insisted on cramming as much technology as they could afford (and then some) into their boardrooms. And after a brief Christmas-toy honeymoon, they realised the full horror of what they had done.

Buttons are most commonly found on Things. Videoconferencing (as an activity and a commercial enterprise) has relied heavily on Things since its inception. The Thing that controls the camera. The Thing that controls the volume. The Thing that dials you in. The Thing that lowers the blinds. There’s even a Thing on the wall before you come in. In the interest of a simpler life for our clients, we’ve been counting Things and can report**:

  • Typical number of control panels in a boardroom: 3 (booking, audio-visual and environmental).
  • Most remote-control units in one room: 7
  • Most Buttons in a room: lost count (multiple menus on a programmable panel)
  • Longest set of instructions on how to use Buttons and Things: 8 pages
  • Most egregious waste of resource: a company of 100 staff with one person just starting VCs for their colleagues, full time
  • So, without wonder: the time taken to start a traditional VC meeting, globally: 10 minutes.

Do you remember Saabs? Saab made aircraft before they made cars, which in some classic models resulted in a dashboard like a fighter jet cockpit. Impressive to look at, glowing orange in the dark, but for drivers in search of the rear window demister, somewhat daunting. This is what the VC industry (techs and execs, supply and demand) conspired to achieve over many years.

So you can imagine my surprise, bordering on scorn, when one of the youngsters told me I was going to walk into a room, see my meeting (created in Outlook) on a tablet on the table, and by pressing one button, join the meeting, all AV guns blazing, PowerPoint preloaded. And then it happened. Now, after many repeats, I’m starting to believe it may be real.

The unlikely hero of this story of User salvation is a company with no AV pedigree whatsoever: Microsoft. All they had going for them (don’t correct me, I just like the story) was they sat with execs in a lot of fancy rooms (including their own) with a lot of fancy gear. Eventually they agreed so many times that everyone hated the stuff that it was time to actually do something. The guy who had too many bad hamburgers started his own chain.

And what, you clamour to know, is this wondrous panacea? Well it isn’t one of those, for a start (I’m the old guy, remember?). But it does make common or garden VC meetings – the kind that drive the business day-to-day – easier, cheaper, more effective and way less wasteful. It’s basically a tablet PC in a plastic case, to which you can attach all manner of video and audio. In something of a revolution for VC, the smarts (and there a few) are in the background instead of the user’s face. Even I struggle to break it.

If you want to know more about the Skype Room System (or the Surface Hub, different use case, same philosophy), you know where to find us. We could set up a videoconference. Oh. Well maybe not this time then…

*My statistics are 60% more fabricated than the conventional 60%.

**These are from the other 40% of statistics: they’re real. I continually test the last one on new contacts and find it substantiated.