The State of Enterprise Collaboration — The Joke’s On Us

When you think of great comedy, many things come to mind (depending upon your age).  It might be Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch or Abbot and Costello’s Who’s On First.  It might go back as far as the genius of Sid Caesar or be as recent as sketches from Saturday Night Live.

In all of those examples we laugh because of the silliness or ridiculousness of the situation and the straightforward manner in which the comedians present them to us.

Lately, however, our industry has spent time sharing and laughing at a new comedic video that portrays a conference call in real life.  People bounce in and out, very few ideas get shared, and everyone wastes time being unproductive.  We point to the problems, have a belly laugh at how it shows the situation just like the last time we experienced it, and let the silliness make us laugh so hard we’re brought to tears…and for that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Conf Call In Real Life CapWe are the experts — meeting professionals who are supposed to understand the technology and the human factors and provide the expert advice on conferencing and collaboration — and the best we’ve been able to do is offer up collaboration solutions so poor that we laugh right along with them.  We’ve gotten so far into the rut of delivering only the solutions that we know how to deliver that we just keep right on delivering them, regardless of how poorly they perform.  We build these same rooms that we did twenty years ago when there were no smartphones, no tablets, and everyone just went to the same office and sat at the same desk every day.  When the experience is poor, we blame the end users for not understanding how our technology works.  We let newspapers and blogs publish garbage in the form of insightful advice, such as “make sure there is an agenda” (as if no one thinks of agendas for meetings) and “video cameras might make people self-conscious” (as if people feel they are presentable enough to go to an office but feel they are so hideous looking that no one can stand to look at them).

Shame on us.  We should be bringing collaboration experiences out of the 1980s and into the present.  We should be creating the next generation of tools instead of just finding new ways to combine and sell the last generation of tools.  It’s time to change our ways:

  • We have to stop building average size conference rooms that require special programming to control and training to operate.  It might have been that hard to do forty or so years ago but it really isn’t anymore.  We’ve kept it hard so we could keep selling the programming services.
  • We have to stop suggesting integrated videoconference rooms are expensive and hard to design, install, and program.  All the unnecessary complexity is driving users either to inferior, webcam-based solutions that help no one or audio conferences that let participants zone out and/or be excluded.
  • We have to stop saying that enterprise collaboration requires interactive whiteboards that need a week of training and a rocket scientist degree to operate.  If a fifteen-year old can’t figure out how to use the whiteboard by stepping up to it and just starting (like they can with an iPad) then we should finally take the hint that after twenty or so years we’ve been going about it all wrong.
  • We have to stop thinking about our meetings (and our client’s meetings) as videoconferences and/or audio conferences.  We are having meetings — with people.  Video, audio, and data sharing and collaboration should just work — on whatever device you happen to have nearby — all the time — easily.  Think about how flat-out ridiculous it is that we can’t see the remote participants when we’re using a conference room that wasn’t equipped with a videoconference device — when nearly every person attending at all locations is carrying one or two devices that are better equipped than the room.  (In a typical meeting with two rooms, fourteen participants, and about twenty smart devices that all have video cameras “we have to do an audio call ‘cause the videoconference room was unavailable.”  How crazy is that?)

We’ve seen presentation and collaborations modalities die before.  No one uses a Caramate anymore or, for that matter, any 35 mm slides (despite how amazing a well-programmed multi-image presentation can be).  We don’t use overhead transparency projectors anymore nor do we use the LCD panels that kept them alive a few extra years.  And while this may be a newsflash to some, the door is closed or closing on enterprise use of video projectors.  Conferencing and collaboration — meetings — the way we’ve done them for the last 20 years — will be the next to go.  Next-generation solutions will involve both endpoints and infrastructure.  They will be intuitive to use, available on any platform and on multiple platforms combined into one meeting for second-screen experiences — and in every room.  They won’t require days of programming and weeks of training to operate.

Where will you be while all this is happening?  Having a belly laugh at videos poking fun of the past or advising your clients on what the future holds?  Don’t let the joke be on you…

About David Danto

David Danto has over 30 years of experience providing problem-solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds, including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology.

7 Responses to “The State of Enterprise Collaboration — The Joke’s On Us”

  1. Chris Fitzgerald Reply June 23, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Very good and interesting.
    Is there a longer-form version of this?
    The question it raises is: “how?”
    (what is the way forward?)

    • Hi Chris – There is no longer version of this blog, but I have written other things on the subject. All of my blogs are listed on my site – just type into any browser. The way forward involves a number of approaches and solutions. Step one is questioning why we haven’t changed our approach to the AV room in thirty years ( ) step two is to take a fresh approach – simple, less custom for custom’s sake, using the savings in design, integration and unnecessary operational manpower to increase the available simpler technology. If anyone needs a hand I’m always happy to help provide guidance…

  2. Ironic though that every technical difficulty exhibited in the youtube video is intrinsic to every mobile conferencing platform moreso than H.323. Can we say that the distance meeting technology of the future has not yet hit the market?

    • Hi Barry, while I understand your point at the surface, the “between the lines” message of that entire clip is that almost none of the issues would have happened if a visual collaboration environment was used – and each participant probably had an equipped device in their pocket or on their PC or Mac. Regrettably though, they weren’t in a “videoconference room.” I’m not comparing the relative quality or reliability of each platform, but rather pointing out that our outdated perceptions of how we collaborate – in dedicated rooms that happen to have the right technology – only serves the firms that have a vested interest in keeping those limited rooms expensive and complicated. Every “room” can and should do visual collaboration – a lot more simply and for a lot less customization and cost. I’m typing this on my home family room’s table right now, but I could just as easily be typing this in a hotel room or at my desk. ALL of these spaces are collaboration rooms – I can share video, data and rich media from all of them to any type of system (hardware or software.) My clients install ecosystems and infrastructure that allows this any-to-any collaboration. If our “real-life” actors could see each other and share data the entire meeting would have been different. A “meeting” in real life should use technology as easily as the participants used the chairs in the room -available everywhere, no training needed, no exorbitant costs, no custom programming.

  3. David – you hit the nail on the head. It isn’t about what kind of meeting (Audio/Video, etc). It is about enabling the client for their required business outcomes. If the technology is difficult and distracting, it is just part of the problem.

  4. Perfect description of the conversation we have daily with customers and VARs. I truly believe we’re caught up in a market shift with a base of resellers really struggling to transition their business models.

    One of the issues we see here David is that the general (and lets not over generalize) AV reseller today does not know how to fundamentally change their business model in order to guide their customers to the new world.

    They have spent the last 20 years monetizing the sale of AV solutions and do not understand how to shift their business to the “new world.”

    As is the trend, going forward the conference room that we need to focus on utilizes a single media device for audio and video projection (a screen and audio system with a multipurpose codec for videoconferencing, streaming, signage, and more). Services are delivered from a virtual implementation either locally deployed or in the cloud. People reference those services by the use of their own personal devices (BYOD).

    The reseller and VAR community profits from providing those services and supports and looks at their revenue model over 5 years and not just the palette they’ve shipped this month.

    This is very foreign to most and as such the typical focus on pushing product remains much as it has for the last x number of years.

  5. Well said, truly a case of reality bites, we have many skills to offer in such a collaborative market but yes if we do not wake up and smell the very obvious, we will be side tracked by telco’s and ICT companies who delivery collaboration within the enterprise with ease.