In the last month two new, and quite different, solutions have appeared on the market, both deigned to improve the efficient running of meetings. While the products are new, the concepts have been tried before, without any great success. AV News assesses the chances of success of the newcomers.
Have you ever wondered why it is that with all of the technological accessories available to the business community today, most meeting participants are still reduced to writing notes on the back of envelopes? We are perfectly aware that most of the meetings we attend result in no actions being taken, and there is rarely a consensus about what decisions were discussed – and what was discussed.
Rather like perpetual motion or a cure for the common cold, the rewards for cracking the conundrum of making meetings effective and worthwhile will be considerable. Naturally, the problem has attracted a number of leading technology developers keen on proving that semiconductors can displace the biro, scrap paper and the dry wipe marker.
To do this, they have to satisfy three criteria: (1) any solution has to be easy – not ‘IT manager easy’ but ‘real person easy’; (2) it must save more work than it creates – people who work in offices are naturally lazy, otherwise they wouldn’t work in offices; and (2) it must be interoperable – if it only works with iOS or Android or Bluetooth or whatever, it will sit in the corner and collect dust.
In the introduction to this piece, we indicated that the task of making meetings more efficient with the application of technology has some history. Previous attempts have foundered on one or more (in some cases all) of our three criteria above. Remember PolyVision’s Thunder? Easy? Maybe for Bill Gates. Universal? We only ever saw one.
But the Thunder concept was sensible. It involved multiple projectors, each with its own screen, with whole lot controlled by the presenter from a large flat display mounted on an easel, and contained to a fridge sized box with lots of flashing lights. The wall mounted projection screens displayed a series of digital flipcharts, generated by the presenter or meeting attendees as the meeting progressed. The digital flipcharts could be saved and distributed after the event.
Unfortunately for PolyVision, Thunder was big, complicated and expensive. The company envisaged customers setting up special ‘Thunder Rooms’ – hilarious to anybody with a working knowledge of nineteenth century British slang. Needless to say it didn’t take off.
Since the Days of Thunder, not only has technology evolved, so has the vocabulary of meeting culture. ‘Meetings’ now equal boring, ineffectual wastes of space. ‘Collaboration’, on the other hand, is progressive, dynamic and essential to company wellbeing. How do we collaborate? Well, a lot of the time we hold meetings. Yes, some of these new collaborative meetings involve voice, data and video rather than actually going anywhere, but even so they are meetings.
And so, the goal is to use the technology to make meetings, real or virtual, purposeful, efficient and effective. The latest technology developer to attempt this is Barco. Barcoo has a decent pedigree here – the company’s range of multi-display projectors (five years or so ago?) based on the Windows OS was an early attempt at a collaborative solution impressed us as perhaps being ahead of its time, but undeniably clever.
ClickShare, Barco’s new assault on the meeting room, is described as “a solution that will solve some very recognisable issues commonly experienced in meeting rooms by millions of people worldwide”. At first sight, something with such lofty ambitions is a little underwhelming. ClickShare is essentially a dongle (called ClickShare Buttons, parked in a ClickShare Tray, and hooked up to a Base Unit (mercifully a lot smaller than the Thunder fridge).
ClickShare components are linked together by USB. When meeting participants want to present they plug the ClickShare button into their PC or Mac. This hooks it up to the Base Unit which is in turn connected to the meeting room’s AV system. When the participants want to put their presentation material onto the main meeting room screen, they click the ClickShare button and up it goes via a wireless link.
All the clever stuff is done in the Base Unit. The processing carried out in the Base Unit takes care of issues like laptop resolution, finding the optimal resolution for the content. Video clips, for example, can be shown at frame rates of up to 20 fps. Up to four meeting participants can be onscreen simultaneously.
Barco has some fairly ambitious plans for ClickShare. “When you know that 30 million PowerPoint presentations are produced around the world every day,” the publicity material says, “you can imagine how much time – and money – is lost waiting for technicians to get them working properly” – 30 million a day eh? That’s a decent target audience.
But while 30 million PowerPoint sufferers a day could use ClickShare, the question is how many actually well. Along with ‘collaboration’, the concept of Return On Investment has gone right to the top of the corporate agenda. Barco has all sorts of figures that show how much time is lost sorting out presentation technology problems, but we think that the company is pushing against an open door. Everybody knows what a hassle it is to hook up a laptop to an unfamiliar AV system. and – this is not always the case with Barco – at a reported annual cost of around €7500 it’s not even expensive for a solution that enables meeting participants to just get on with their jobs.
Eric Van Zele, CEO of Barco summed it up, saying: “You can immediately see that it’s a spot-on concept that will make life easier for millions of people every day. And the best thing is: ClickShare is so incredibly simple to use. Click and you’re on-screen.”
But what of the InFocus Mondopad?
Like ClickShare, the origins of the Mondopad concept can be traced back to an earlier generation of technology, when frankly the market wasn’t really ready for it. At roughly the same time as Thunder made its appearance, VTRON introduced an all-in-one meeting room presentation based around an interactive LCD display. It could do some clever stuff: for example, it could be configured to recognise meeting participants mobile devices and to hook them up to the VTRON when they entered the room.
Much of the original VTRON solution is still available as the VBoard 65 but it has been reconfigured and repositioned for the education market. When VTRON first appeared there seemed to be no particular reason why it shouldn’t appeal to the meeting room market, it is simply that everything that has happened since then suggests that the market will be more receptive now.
The InFocus formula for Mondopad is to combine the functions of a telepresence solution, an interactive whiteboard, a PC and a monitor into a single unit designed around a 55-inch interactive LCD display. InFocus says that users will be able to use the one device for collaboration, presentations and video production and playout.
More than the sum?
So what do users actually get in their Mondopad? The key components of Mondopad are: a multitouch, digital interactive whiteboard; an Intel i5 PC running Windows 7 Pro; the Microsoft Office software suite; an Internet browser, and an integrated HD camera and microphones. The Mondopad concept goes beyond that a multi-function device – it integrates the functions so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
For example, presenters can jump seamlessly from a PowerPoint presentation to YouTube video or a PDF, annotating documents onscreen and capturing notes on the fly. New Mondopad Connect applications enable Mondopad users to control their presentations and wirelessly upload content to the device using a smartphone or tablet. Meeting participants can also use the Mondopad Connect app to view the Mondopad display on their iOS or Android devices.
“The Mondopad is changing the way that people present and share information, moving beyond simple slideshows to a fully immersive, multi-touch environment that makes meetings more engaging,” said Robert Detwiler, product marketing manager at InFocus. Mondopad also extends the ability to collaborate beyond the immediate surroundings of the meeting room, with its built-in telepresence functionality.
Customers can add Mondopad as a SIP endpoint on a video conference server or service. Users can also install the desktop client onto Mondopad for an existing video conferencing system, just as you would a PC. For those without an existing video conferencing system, InFocus offer an affordable video conferencing solution from Vidtel. For messaging and other forms of collaboration Mondopad supports industry standard collaboration tools including; GoToMeeting, WebEx, Microsoft Lync and Adobe Connect.
For collaboration at the local level, the whiteboarding functions of Mondopad include the usual range of writing and drawing tools, pens, highlighters, shapes and lines. Whiteboard drawings and notes on meeting visuals can be collected, saved and emailed to meeting participants. Microsoft Office applications have been optimised for touch.
Users can also add, remove and launch documents from the Mondopad’s View/Share folder, which is accessible to anyone in the meeting. Files can be emailed directly to the Mondopad. Meeting participants in the room can connect to the Mondopad via its built-in Wi-Fi so users of the company net work can share content, view and control their visuals from their PC, tablet or smartphone. Participants can also use Mondopad’s WI-Fit to deliver documents to the display or to see what’s on the Mondopad display via a web page served by the device.
Adding ClickShare to a high-end meeting room is something of a no-brainer for organisations who place a premium on time and who subscribe to current principles of collaboration. Technologies that support collaboration can usually be cost-justified in two ways – (1) the direct savings that arise from the deployment of the technology (in this case time), and (2) the ‘soft’ benefits (including ‘improved decision-making’ or the role of ‘serendipity’ in innovation). While the ‘soft’ benefits that might ultimately prove to be the most important, time savings alone would justify the adoption of ClickShare in many organisations.
Mondopad has a similarly compelling rationale for organisations that are about to equip a new meeting room or to undertake a substantial upgrade. With a recommended US price of $5949 it doesn’t represent a huge saving over buying the component parts separately, but that’s to ignore the benefits of integrated hardware, software and contents. But would you take out your existing meeting room AV solution to replace it with a Mondopad? That’s a much more difficult question.