Collaboration — and AV’s role in it — has to evolve to encompass an integrated ecosystem.
You may have thought that modern collaboration technology has changed the way people work. And to a certain extent, that’s true. Videoconferencing and unified communications have certainly played a role in redefining where people work (anywhere). But as more enterprises seek to transform how they work in order to gain a competitive edge, make better decisions, and attract talent, they’re looking at tech-enabled collaboration in a different light. They’re looking at it as a part of something much bigger.
“When building an enterprise collaboration strategy, you start at the executive level and figure out, for example what the CEO is asking for, which likely isn’t more technology,” says Byron Tarry, CTS®, Executive Director of the Global Presence Alliance, a consortium of integration firms around the world delivering audiovisual and communications solutions. “In fact, if anything, the CEO is probably asking for less technology. But what executives are asking for is the ability to leverage the company’s people and to leverage collaboration among its people — often at global scale — to move their organization faster and achieve an advantage. In the net, it’s a human issue. They want to take their organizations’ collaborative culture and raise it up — to get people working together better.”
“And it’s changed how we design spaces,” says Kay Sargent, Director of HOK’s Global WorkPlace practice. “It’s no longer about butts in seats. It’s about understanding what people do when they go to an office, why they’re even there, and changing it.”
And it has even meant reexamining the very idea of collaboration to focus on why workers collaborate in the first place — and how they know if they were successful.
“What is collaboration?” asks Jane Hammersley, Director of Global Alliances and Collaboration for Maverick AV Solutions. “Unless we can explain what collaboration is and what a meeting outcome could look like, we're not going to be able to get the right solutions for the customer.”
Analysts have coined the phrase “workstream collaboration” to describe an ecosystem of content, workspaces, technologies, and processes that create a persistent, collaborative environment. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2022, 70 percent of teams will employ workstream collaboration to communicate, coordinate, and share information. Many in and around pro AV see it as the next step in an evolution of audiovisual and unified communications solutions.
A Changing Conversation
Over the past several years, enterprises have gone from standardizing their communications platforms, to unifying them (UC), to now creating collaborative workstreams, where no solution is an island and each influences the effectiveness of the others. But most importantly, in workstream collaboration, the focus is on user experience, not technology.
“The conversation has changed again,” says Julian Phillips, Executive Vice President at Whitlock. “We’re no longer looking at the job of communications and collaboration as its own product; we’re now looking at it as a tool that enhances our workstream, which is about bringing together all the different elements of productivity in the workplace into one ecosystem, all talking together to create that more seamless, more productive, more intuitive or predictive way of working.”
Workstream collaboration is different from traditional unified communications, which often combines audio and videoconferencing, as well as screen sharing and other tools. “Workstream collaboration is now looking at my calendar,” Phillips says. “It’s starting to capture information about what’s being said in a meeting. It might even do live transcription.”
From there, imagine an artificial intelligence engine integrated behind the scenes, picking up the context of a meeting as it’s happening and pulling in real-time data to help inform better decision-making. At the same time, workers are sharing documents and collaborating live, and that information gets updated automatically and added to a meeting summary.
“That’s workstream,” Phillips says. “You may think it’s something for the future, but all that technology is available now. And the reason this is important is because customers are no longer just making a unified communications decision. They’re making other decisions and saying, ‘If we’re really going to transform the way we work, we have to bring all the different elements of work together: data, applications, workspaces.’”
Becoming Strategic Advisors
The role of AV designers and integrators may necessarily change as enterprises adopt workstream collaboration. Even as the industry excels in combining technology and space to create conference and huddle rooms, its long-term value is in translating needs into integrated experiences.
“We need to stop thinking of ourselves as technology companies and start thinking of ourselves as human-enablement organizations and strategic advisors,” says Tarry. “You can’t just put 10 people in a room and magically collaboration happens. Often, half the people in a meeting aren’t actually in the meeting. So, if we shift our mindset from enabling meeting spaces to enabling meetings, then we can advise customers on the solutions needed for effective environments and remote collaboration.”
The spaces where people work and collaborate remain important parts of the workstream ecosystem, but they need to be designed around the work, not around the supporting technology. If anything, all the technology associated with AV and conferencing and collaboration needs to disappear.
“We do a pretty good job of anticipating what technology can do,” Sargent says. “Where we fail miserably is the social aspect. People don’t want to work or be in spaces that are sterile and high-techy. So how do we balance space and technology to create good experiences?”
Increasingly, workspace designers use the words “frictionless” and “seamless” when describing the ideal, integrated collaboration technology.
“Whether it’s in an office, at home, in a coffee shop, in a huddle space, in a meeting space — that workstream has to work,” Hammersley explains. “It has to be seamless, and whatever part gets standardized, like the interface or other technology, it just has to work. Because users don't give technology a second chance if it doesn't work the first time. In those spaces, the technology must be seamless, transparent, and work.”
How Do We Know People Collaborated?
If there’s a Workstream Collaboration 2.0 on the horizon, it includes development of a feedback loop. Not only does it enable effective collaboration and better work experiences, it can also prove it. And technology and skills created by pro AV companies may be key to unlocking this next future.
“There’s a skill set to all this,” says Tarry. “You have to teach people to collaborate effectively. And you then have to be able to measure it.”
Using existing collaboration solutions, enterprises can know there was a certain number of people in a meeting room, for example, but not necessarily what happened in the room. Tarry says the AV industry can help further companies’ understanding of collaboration by helping evaluate how people interact in a space.
“As an AV industry, we’ve struggled to give back any data to customers about outcomes,” Tarry says. “What we need to do now, in order to contribute to the proposition of workstream collaboration, is ask ourselves and our customers how we can start to measure collaboration.”
Consider taking technologies from the digital signage world, he suggests, where solutions may already use cameras and sensors to measure engagement. How might available technology help determine if a meeting consisted of one person presenting for two hours, or six people actively engaged, working together, and sharing ideas? With such information, integrators, designers, and their customers can continuously hone their workstream collaboration ecosystems to maximize results.
Despite the fact that workstream collaboration is almost always mentioned in the same breath as Microsoft Teams and related IT solutions, Phillips sees great opportunity for AV companies to make their mark.
“I don’t think I’m going to make a lot of money selling Office 365 licenses or selling consulting services for implementing Teams, although I may have a partner do that and share in that profit,” Phillips says. “But that’s a specialty service that’s not going to be the core driver of revenue for AV.”
Where AV integrators stand to excel is in making the workstream work. To build out an ecosystem and have a fully integrated workstream — one in which anybody can take any device into a conference, huddle, or co-creation space, and seamlessly enable a natural way of working – integration will be paramount.
“This is where the AV integrator has a huge amount of value that IT integrators do not,” Phillips explains. “IT integrators are great at provisioning networks and delivering cloud services — and more of what we do will be delivered that way — but where the rubber meets the road is in designing, delivering, and supporting spaces where people come together to collaborate in real time. That’s where the AV business has its biggest opportunity.
“If we are to be successful in providing collaboration solutions to our customers, we have to understand the problem they’re trying to solve,” Phillips says. “Are they trying to solve an audio/video communications problem, or are they fundamentally trying to reengineer and redesign the workstreams they have in this new digital workplace. That’s the journey more enterprises are on.”