Collaborative Solutions Hit Mainstream

By Krystle Murphy
Comm. Manager
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 Teams and Zoom, these platforms have been first nature to our industry. When the pandemic began, the need to connect virtually was vital since we could no longer 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 the school district she’d be using Microsoft Teams to teach remotely. She had never used it before – just like so many others. How many others? 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% year-over-year. Verizon acquired Blue Jeans for $500 million. Collaborative solutions officially hit mainstream.  

To discuss pandemic’s impact on collaborative technology and what lies ahead for this solution, AVIXA recently hosted the Power Hour The Future of Collaboration is Here.  

“The future of collaboration, you know what we’re all sort of pushing towards, this hybrid model that allows people to work form 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,” said Nick Nienaber, head of audiovisual for WeWork. “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,” said Dawn Meade, senior AV solutions architect at Northrop Grumman.   

The demand is here. The solutions are abundant – Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blue Jeans, Cisco WebEx, hard codecs from manufacturers like Cisco, Lifesize, and Poly, and the list goes on. But with so many platforms to choose from, there comes the issue of interoperability.  

“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,” shared Meade.  

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

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

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

The increased use of conferencing and collaboration solutions has a big impact on network security. It’s critical for AV professionals to have a higher level of network expertise than before in order to deploy these systems.  

“It doesn’t mean that you, as an AV design engineer, need to go and get your CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate),” says Nienaber. “You don’t need to fully understand 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 – AVIXA market research forecasts this solution to generate $40.1 billion globally in 2021. To learn more about latest issues and trends in this solution area, tune in to AVIXA’s Power Hour Series on conferencing and collaboration.

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Sound & Communications magazine.  

Krystle Murphy
AVIXA, Comm. Manager

As Communications Manager for AVIXA, Krystle Murphy tells the organization’s story through various methods, including media relations. She joined the AV industry in 2007, working for systems integration firm AVI-SPL.