Simplifying meeting room management - the AV/IT challenge

Can’t get the projector or video conferencing working? Cables, adaptors or remotes missing? It is a common problem and it might seem like these issues get in the way of progress in most meetings, but spare a thought for those having to manage this environment. Being the over-stretched technical expert called in just to find a cable or click a button for those unwilling or unable to follow an instruction sheet (which was probably tidied away by the previous night’s cleaners…) can be a bit of a thankless task.

Things were simpler a decade or two ago when audio-visual (AV) meant finding a spare bulb for the overhead projector or acetate sheet for the printer – and it was straightforward to ask someone designated as office manager. Then along came laptops and cheaper reliable projectors and pretty much anyone who needed to could press to switch to external display.

Today, both AV and IT has progressed enormously and along the way, things have become much more complicated.

Low cost flat panel displays can be placed pretty much anywhere that workers might congregate, but with almost anybody capable of having a device they would like to present from; no longer just laptops, but also tablets and smartphones. The options for cables and connectors have therefore proliferated – chances are adaptors will be forgotten, mislaid or lost in a vacuum cleaner somewhere.

Smart wireless connectivity would be a great answer, and suppliers of professional AV systems have come up with several options, but with too much variety and purchasing decisions often made in facilities or workplace resources departments, the consistency and ease of manageability (especially remotely) is often missing.

Many rooms and AV systems already are, or will have to be, connected to the network. Screen sharing, remote participants, unified communications and video conferencing tools are becoming more widely deployed as organisation seek the holy grail of productive collaboration and individuals are increasingly accepting of being on camera and sharing data with colleagues. However, not only again are there many options, users quickly lose confidence after a bad experience.

Keeping meeting room technology under control and working effectively is increasingly a complex IT task, with a bit of asset management thrown in, but few organisations would be looking to put in more people just to support it, despite user frustrations from un-integrated or unusable expensive screens and equipment.

One answer might come from the approach Intel has taken with its Unite collaboration technology. The software can be incorporated by hardware companies into an AV ‘hub’ which allows simple and secured connection from either in-room or remote participants – wirelessly or over the network, so AV cables and adaptors should be a thing of the past.

Helping participants make meetings more productive is one thing, but because the hardware used in the Unite hub has to be based on Intel’s vPro range of processors, remote management and security is built in from the start. Whilst this level of performance might seem like overkill in what is on the face of it an AV collaboration hub, it does open up some very interesting opportunities.

Unite is already capable for sharing and collaboration in meetings, but Intel has made the platform flexible so that its functionality can be extended. This means further integration of IT and AV capabilities, offering a more unified communication and meeting room experience by combining with conferencing systems and incorporating room booking or other facilities management needs.

A powerful in-room hub also offers the opportunity to extend to incorporate practical applications of the Internet of Things (IoT). These could include managing in-room controls – lighting, environmental controls, blackout blinds etc. – but also tagging and tracking valuable assets like projection systems, screens and cameras or ones easily lost such as remote controls. This might be useful for security, but also could be used to check temperature, system health etc. for proactive maintenance monitoring.

Many organisations are adding ever more sophisticated AV technology to open ‘huddle’ spaces as well as conventional meeting rooms and keeping on top of managing it all, with even fewer resources and more demanding users, is an increasing challenge now often being faced by IT managers. They need something to integrate the diverse needs of AV, IT and facilities management and help address the problem. For more thoughts on how to make meeting rooms smarter and better connected download this free to access Quocirca report.