Tomorrow is Today

conferenceblogThis coming September I will be celebrating my thirty-sixth year working in media technology industries. For nearly all of that time I have been reading about and chatting with others about the amazing future technology will bring us. Those conversations would often delve into the world of science fiction — things like how cool having a Star Trek Communicator or Tricorder would be, how amazing space travel would be, how holograms and transporters would change the way we work. As is often the case with future visions, one rarely stops to realize when we’ve passed landmarks because our imaginations always tend to point us further into the future. Lately, however, it has been difficult for me not to recognize just how far we’ve come along. Maybe that’s because of how long I’ve been involved in the industry, or maybe it’s because I see how different my sons’ lives are from mine at their age — but, whatever the reason, the aha moments have been frequent lately. Here are just a few of them.

Forget BYOD — there’s no need to bring anything anywhere
For the last few years, enterprise IT managers have been struggling to deal with employees bringing their personal devices into the office and expecting them to work. Consumerization is in full force, with people expecting their office environments to function just fine with their smartphones and other devices. Well, forget all that – some information workers are no longer bringing anything to the office — including themselves — and are just staying at home or working from wherever they are. We are at the first point in human history when our homes are better equipped, better connected and more functional than most office environments. This may be because offices have compliance and security regulations that are perceived to be overly restrictive, or because enterprises just haven’t found a way to continually modernize as quickly as individuals. But, whatever the reason, it is a stunning realization to stop and think about. For anything that an employee wants to do that is not supported or permitted by his or her organization, there are a half dozen solutions just an app-store or a click away. In reality, it’s entirely likely that old-school, siloed enterprise environments will just never catch up again. People can connect just about any device they have to just about any service they can think of from just about anywhere they happen to be. How can any organization’s IT department that’s still operating out of divisional silos possibly catch up to that standard? The only way organizations will be able to keep pace will be to embrace new concepts and consumption models and to let actual users’ needs dictate priorities.

Forget videoconference rooms — every room is a videoconference room 

I was recently working with a team designing a new, multi-floor office space. They planned to put an IP telephone and a “starfish” speakerphone in every conference room, but only install videoconferencing in one room per floor. I asked the client’s team why that was the plan. Their first answer was because it was the architect’s recommendation. My response was that we should explore the actual thinking behind the plan — why just phones in the rooms and not videoconferencing. Naturally, the reasons they came up with were the cost and complexity of video. Continuing to peel the onion I explained that typical enterprise grade IP phones and speakerphones would cost this firm about $1,000 per room to purchase. An LCD flat-panel display with an entry-level videoconferencing system (from a number of manufacturers) would cost them about $2,000. Considering that they were already planning to install a flat panel in every room anyway, and that they could also use the video system to make their audio conference calls, the idea of cost being a barrier was debunked. I went on to show how the next reason — complexity — was also a now dead stereotype. I pulled out my iPhone and showed the team the new Cisco Proximity app. All anyone has to do is take out their smartphone and start the app. It pairs with the closest video system automatically and lets anyone dial a call from their address book. (As I mentioned in my January Top 10 Disruptors newsletter, expect to see more firms deploying interface solutions very similar to this.) The idea that videoconferencing has to be difficult is also no longer true. Ultimately, the team realized that there really weren’t reasons not to equip every room. The architect didn’t like that very much, but regrettably any professional trade that wants to keep designing and/or selling yesterday’s solutions because that’s all they know will be left behind. The client, however, was ecstatic. They left the meeting knowing that they had planned a facility that they could take into the future, not one that was locked into the past.

Forget rooms — effective collaboration takes place from anywhere

Remember that Star Trek Communicator and Tricorder I mentioned above, and how they were used by the Enterprise crew to communicate and collaborate? Well, not everyone has realized it, but those tools are here now. They may not look like what we saw on TV, but if you examine it based on function, we’ve already achieved everything we saw. The Tricorder scanned all of the things around it, providing information on its surroundings. We have that today in our smartphones. They connect to public sensor networks to show us such things as approaching storms, and private sensors to show us things like our blood pressure. Oh, yeah, and they’re also phones and videoconference units too. As for the Star Trek Com badge, it allowed people to communicate with colleagues using voice commands and at the same time tracked where the wearer was located. We have that today in advanced headsets (like the Plantronics Voyager Legend.) These units can respond to voice commands and speak to us to tell us who is trying to contact us. It knows if we’re wearing it or if we’re not and it knows how close or far away we are from our desks or terminals. The next generation of this device also knows what you’re looking at, if you’ve fallen-down, if you’re nodding yes or no and a whole bunch of other amazing things. Equipped with these two tools (and a decent wireless connection) I can collaborate with colleagues from anywhere I happen to be as effectively as I could have from any videoconference room of the 1990s. Sometimes I may need a bigger screen (tablet, wall-mounted display) and sometimes I may need a better camera (to see more people) but those really just become accessory issues. Sure, I’d rather have the call from my home office desk or one of the video equipped rooms I mentioned above, but when I can’t be at either place I can still communicate and collaborate effectively. The most important point though is that this communication can take place regardless of the brand or type of endpoint the party I’m calling is using. When an organization plans and installs an appropriate communications ecosystem, everything just works with everything else — straight out of science fiction into reality.

Is any or all of this news to you? If so I suggest that you’re not working with the right ICT (Information and Communications Technology) partner. Organizations have to stop looking for vendors or VARs to “buy” communications technology from. Effective unified communications is not something you can buy — it’s an outcome that happens when detailed planning takes place. This planning has to include end-user input and an adoption plan from day one. That effort leads to correct decisions about things like infrastructure, endpoints, services and consumption models — each customized to meet the specific and unique needs of an organization. When approached correctly (and with the right partners) the world of simple, affordable, any-to-any communication and collaboration just works.

The science fiction of simple communication that Star Trek showed us is here today. If you’re not experiencing it within your organization, send me an email and I’ll help show you how you can.

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.

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