A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Software Revolution

I’ve written time and again about the rise of software as opposed to dedicated hardware. About AV as a Service (AVaaS). About how all of those black and grey boxes we’ve come to know and love will soon disappear, to be replaced by services running on virtual machines. It isn’t just a rule about audiovisual, but a broad principle: Software eats hardware. So the boxes can go away.

Goodbye Barco Clickshare, hello Mersive Solstice app.

Goodbye Crestron control, hello Utelogy.

Goodbye hardware, hello software.

Goodbye Capital expenditures, hello operational expenditures.

A funny thing happened on the way to the software revolution — nothing.

Not only are boxes not disappearing, but they also aren’t the first choice when either option is available. Given the choice of the Mersive Solstice Pod and the Mersive host software on a PC, for example, clients most often choose the little box.

Why? And does that mean that we were wrong?

As always, the answer is that “it depends.”

For one example, let’s look at a software-based huddle room.

The huddle room seems a natural place to replace a hardware-based system with software. Logitech has even created all-in-one conferencing kits for small rooms consisting of a camera, remote and small form-factor PC to hide behind a display. It’s inexpensive. It’s elegant.

It’s also a difficult solution that only fits some enterprise environments. There are benefits, but also issues recurring issues which might not be ours to solve.

The first issue — and this will become an issue later when we talk about the Mersive Solstice application — is login management. If one is using a large conference room for a scheduled meeting, that room might be built into Outlook as a shared resource and booked for a planned meeting. Huddle spaces are more often used for ad-hoc meetings, and therefore less likely to be scheduled in advance. This leaves the user with a choice of having to log into the machine themselves (easy enough to do with domain logins for those within the organization and useless for those outside of it) or having the room rather than the individual make a call. It also means needing to clutter a small conference table with a wireless keyboard/mouse and making certain that that keyboard mouse is not misplaced or carried to a different room. It ALSO means that each huddle room houses one more PC for an IT department to maintain.

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It might also mean having to make an exception to IT policies on acceptable and supported PC builds. Most organizations have standards, and those standards are more likely to be tower-configurations or laptops than the kind of small form-factor machine which fits behind a display. Not only are we giving the IT group something extra to support, we’re giving them something that might not fit their overall technology plan. There are also obvious issues with invited guest speakers. Do guest logins need to be created for guests to present content? Do they need someone else to login for them? These present operational and potentially security concerns.

Suddenly the elegant and simple solution is revealed to have more costs than we might expect, and not one that fits every organization. There are, of course, some organizations which are very much PC-centric. For those, an in-room computer is probably an excellent solution that fits their operation quite well. We need to remember that this isn’t everyone, and it’s hard to change how an organization works simply for the sake of saving capital expenses on their AV systems.

So wireless collaboration software is replaced with hardware, the system works as an AV system.

Can we build a software-based huddle room as described above, with a PC and a webcam and not depend on user laptops and other AV hardware? Not only can we, but for some environments we absolutely should. What it means — and the bigger discussion regarding InfoComm’s rebranding to AVIXA is wrapped up in this — is that our first questions should not be about display sizes and content-sharing platforms and technological infrastructure. Our first questions need to be about workflow.

How does the organization work? Collaborate in real-time? Save things to a central server and share via PCs? Do employees who spend half of their time out of the office exclusively use laptops, or do they remotely log-in to central machines? Those are the questions we need to ask if we are to focus on experiences.