The Collaboration Conundrum Part II (Considerations for Collaborative Systems)

collaboration-conundrum2-1115A great collaboration space allows the people to interact freely and share ideas openly as if they would whether they were using technology or not. The purpose of the technology is to SUPPORT the message and to ENHANCE communication. In my earlier blog about this subject I mentioned that part of the needs analysis should include a study of the users in the meeting or proposed space prior to any new systems are in place. I also noted that this study (observation) would be done without the subjects knowing they are being studied. Perhaps hosting a different meeting for different reasons and using that meeting to not only have that meeting, but to also study how the meeting takes place. Once the information is gathered this will allows the consultant or designer to better determine how communication currently takes place and how to plan a space and include the use of technology to support and enhance collaboration and communication.

Once the usage information is made available and analyzed to help the consultant or designer to determine what the true needs are, then they look at three major factors. These major factors are the environment, interactivity/network and social aspects. I will go into a little detail on each of these major points. But, it is worth noting that there are many more things consultants and designers take into account and this should only serve as a small dose for the reader to get a feel for the complexity that goes behind space and technology planning for collaborative systems.

The first major point I will discuss is the technology and how it applies to the environment. A design engineer or consultant may take several measurements of an existing space to measure ambient light and ambient sound as well as physical volume and acoustics of the space and many other measurements. These help the designer or consultant determine where lighting, loudspeakers, microphones and other technology will be placed. But, I have jumped the gun. The designer or consultant may start to consider technology now, but it is an iterative process and very dynamic. Other considerations are still being taken as well. The designer or consultant is still taking in the data to determine where viewer and listeners will be physically located and how they will interact with all other users of the space. In truly collaborative spaces the concept of presenter and audience or board members and a chair of the board are gone. Most collaborative spaces have to make a strong consideration for all participants having equal standing. This is a considerable design challenge. How do you design a “presentation space” with no presenter position? If you create a space that has a single location for a “speaker” to connect and present from it losses some of its collaborative feel. Yet when the system includes an element of remote connectivity through video conferencing, you have to have cameras and add an element of a “stage.” The major point here is that this is a considerable undertaking that requires a COLLABORATION with the client to have them give input and get a feel for where the system is heading. Some may call this “scope creep” others call this consulting.

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The next point I would like make is about the interactivity and network aspects. I mentioned a little of this above when I mentioned the fact that this space may include a level of video conferencing with remote users. What about adding a level of voting or data sharing for these remote participants. A considerable amount of design and consulting has to be done with the network people at this point. This requires a level of knowledge, skill and attitude about networking and unified communications and collaboration that many in the AV industry simply do not have. Without the proper configuration and network service level these systems fall way short of the users expectations and come nowhere near the user experience that they should have had. If you do not have the expertise in networking, unified communications and collaboration and network provisioning then partner with someone who does. This is critical to a truly collaborative system done right. As I mentioned in my last blog, these off the shelf systems are far from plug-and-play and they require a strong network person to get the full capabilities out of them.

The last, but certainly not the least, important point I will make is about the social aspect of adding collaborative systems to a customer’s solution. The key is to have executive buy-in. Well, duh Max! Let me expand. Sure, you have executive buy-in, you got the P.O. or you were commissioned to do the design work, but do you have buy-in from a usage policy support aspect? Will the executives use the system religiously and will they write and enforce policy that will make the company feel free to collaborate openly and collaborate with full reciprocity? The key is to make sure that executives and management do all they can to remove the barriers to collaboration. All too often those barriers have little to nothing to do with technology and more to do with company culture. When designing a collaborative system business processes often have to change as well.

I am a LEAN Six Sigma Green Belt. I learned a lot about process improvement in the program I took at Georgia State University. I am also a Certified Professional Project Manager and a Certified Technology Specialist for Design and Install for InfoComm in audiovisual. I have certifications from Cisco in network routing, switching and security. I have certifications from CompTIA and for general networking and technology training. I have worked in networked AV, unified communications and collaboration for 28 years now. Why do I tell you all of this? Because all of these certifications and experience are all related and without them all combined, I could not come close to providing anywhere near the solutions in collaboration that our customers need. All of our customers need their technology, environment, network infrastructure, design, engineering and business process needs met. Heck, If I can do it, I know any of you can.