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Lync to Become Skype for Business

Lync will become Skype for Business

Microsoft is rebranding it’s unified communication platform Microsoft Lync. Microsoft plans to retool their approach to unified communications, and launch under the name “Skype for Business” in 2015. Microsoft originally acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011.

The Redmond, WA based software giant made significant strides into the Unified Communications space, offering a cost-competitive unified communications platform which included Telephony, Chat, Collaboration and Video Conferencing all from the desktop, laptop or tablet.

Microsoft made a splash, albeit a light one, last summer in the audiovisual industry when they bought a booth to the InfoComm Tradeshow. It seemed to be the culmination of a few years of product development centered around integrating Lync into the classroom, conference room and board room. Manufacturers from Crestron to Vaddio and Polycom to SMART were all developing peripherals as well as room systems built around the Lync platform. While any talk of Skype at these shows were purely relegated to the consumer space, and a consumer grade of product associated with it.

Poised to make a deeper run in the professional av/uc space, Microsoft’s main purpose in attending the show, it seems, was to gather feedback from customers, and perhaps ideas for future products and platforms. With more and more manufacturers chomping at the bit to get a piece of the Microsoft Lync pie, as Microsoft themselves don’t manufacture hardware solutions, it seemed Lync was going to be influencing the products to be revealed at InfoComm 2015, slated for June 13-19 in Orlando, FL.

There was some debate yesterday, mostly on twitter, about what, if any, impact this announcement will have on the audiovisual industry. In short, it won’t be ground breaking, but it will have some effect on the industry. The most notable effect it has on the industry is blending professional and consumer platforms into one hybrid platform that some might argue does nothing well and everything poorly. Time will tell what functionality from the two drastically different platforms will make it into the Skype for Business release in 2015, but reports are already hinting at the user interface changing to look more like Skype and less like Lync 2010 or 2013. Reports also indicate H.264 encoding adoption so Lync will finally be able to directly federate with Skype.

Besides the blending of the “professional” vtc (professional in quotes because Lync wasn’t close to competing in quality or market share with Cisco/Polycom/LifeSize). It will be interesting to see how this will affect hardware manufacturers. Will there also be a hybrid-level set of hardware coming down the pipeline? Something that sits between the logitech table top webcam and a professional camera which connects via, or converts to, USB? Will there finally be a usable product between the $1000 and $3000 price points?

Time will tell, for all factors, how this decision will play out in our industry, and whether or not it will be a success for Microsoft. One thing that is for sure, Skype for Business is one step closer to bridging the comfort gap that prevents technophobes from adopting any modicum of videoconferencing. Also, it will be funny to think about all the telecom professionals now having the title of “Skype Administrator”

What do you think this will mean for the industry? For your users?

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InfoComm 2014 Recap

ic14If you weren’t one of the nearly 40,000 people who attended InfoComm 2014 then you missed out on fantastic technology, amazing people and not too terrible weather.  This year, for the first time since I’ve been going, there didn’t seem to be a prevailing new technology, unless you consider a handful of dynamic collaboration products to be a prevailing technology.

After the years of digital switching, convergence and 4K, this year’s show seemed to offer an improvement to a lot products that were released in previous years, as well and more solutions for similar applications coming to the table. I’ll take you through the highlights of what I liked at InfoComm 2014

As you might have recalled, I wrote about setting out in search for a practical AV solution, not overly worrying myself with seeing all the “latest and greatest” technology that is available, as most of it is outside the scope of my applications anyways. I took a few days to look at specific product categories both from the big booths as well as the small booths before ultimately concluding this year it was all about evolution, not revolution. So without committing to any specific products here are a few things that were big winners for InfoComm 2014:

Collaboration

Collaborative products were everywhere. In corporate settings it enhances productivity, in education applications it enables paradigm shifting “flipped classrooms.” Collaboration products are ideal for large and small rooms alike. Whether it’s wired pods where users can choose to show their content, or wireless display software or hardware designed to allows for full BYOD connectivity without the wires and the hassle in huddle rooms and small meeting spaces, the ability to quickly share content from devices other than installed computers was a big hit this year even allowing them to dynamically arrange, access and edit content.

Soft Codec Integration

With more and more customers adopting Microsoft Lync, and organizations still not able to fully stamp out consumer communication platforms such as Google Hangouts, Skype, OoVoO and the like the importance for high quality products to interface with these platforms has reached a boiling point. For a while there was one company that was ahead of the curve, Vaddio, offering USB PTZ cameras, and the AV bridge to work with computer based applications. This year, however, there were many companies that offered soft codec integrative capabilities. From full room systems designed to work with Lync, to affordable PTZ cameras that plug in via USB.

Laser Projectors

I’m not a huge fan of heights. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t freak out in a car on a bridge, or become terrified when staying in a top-floor hotel, but the idea of being in a lift, or on a tall ladder causes me to cringe. I was really excited about lampless projectors last year, like really excited. Unfortunately I was let down by units that weren’t bright, had terrible contrast ratio and appalling color depth. I understand there were limitations of the strength of the laser that could be used, but it was so disappointing.  This year, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty, depth and richness of the images coming from lampless projectors, ranging from small, low-lumen projection systems to 12,000 ANSI Lumens, 4K, laser projectors. The inner acrophobia suffering part of me is thankful the days where I must climb a tall ladder, or get on a shaky lift for routine, frequent, maintenance is coming to a end.

Hopefully you got a high-level overview of what InfoComm 2014 was all about. Obviously I could write significantly more at lenght about specific products and applications that I thought were absolutely perfect and others that weren’t. If you’re interested in more, please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to chat with you about it.

 

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Barco ClickShare: One click to rule them all?

barco clickshareWith InfoComm rapidly approaching, here in just a few days, I’ve finally gotten my hands on the third and final wireless display unit I wanted to test from last year’s InfoComm, the Barco ClickShare. The other two units I’ve taken a look at already are Crestron’s AirMedia and Christie’s Brio. I still believe we’re in the genesis of wireless display, and I look forward to these units evolving over time, like all technology does. I must admit, I really liked the Barco ClickShare units I tested, the CSM-1, the small, and the CSC-1 the large; both functioned well and with two different sizes each with different levels of functionality, the Barco ClickShare seems like it could be a real solid platform. Here’s some more details:

Couldn’t Get Enough:

  • Frame rate: One problem I’ve had with other wireless display units is choppiness, or lag, in display. The Barco ClickShare flawlessly played a youtube video from my laptop, something that other wireless display units had significant trouble doing. There was no choppiness, or lag, and the audio synced with the video flawlessly, separating this device from its competition, as a true all-in-one solution for a smaller conference room or meeting space.
  • Admin console- The device administration interface was easy to navigate and feature rich, allowing the administrator to not only change the Barco ClickShare splash screen appearance and device settings such as IP address, but also see which Buttons are connected, and which Buttons need to be re-paired with the base station; as well as upload new firmware and sift through logs for troubleshooting purposes.
  • Mirroring lag- The Barco ClickShare mirrors the connected device’s desktop for mac and windows machines. The lag is negligible, to the point where I had no difficulty performing software training using the device, and real time document editing with a room full of people.
  • Physical Size- The Barco ClickShare comes in two models, each with different features and available functionalities. A comparison between the two models can be found here . The smaller unit, the CSM-1 is an ideal size for small huddle rooms and medium-sized conference rooms, where a full rack might not be available. The unit is small enough to fit behind a display, and in my testing I affixed it to the back of my flat panel monitor.  The larger unit, is a bit bulkier, standing over 1 RU in height, and not a full width. Although it could easily be set up on top of a credenza or other AV furniture in a conference room.
  • Connectivity- The Barco ClickShare connection is made between the Button and the BaseUnit, meaning it transmits separate of the network. This is ideal for organizations with strictly guarded networks, or where interfacing with the network team can be difficult. The connection between the Button and the Base Unit in the Barco ClicksShare uses AES encryption for the content and standard WPA2-PSK authentication for when connecting to the SSID given by the Base Unit for mobile connections. 

It Was Alright:

  • Mobile- The Barco ClickShare allows iOS and Android devices to connect and wireless display certain types of content utilizing free apps from the App store and Google Play store respectively. One must first download files into the ClickShare app, then connect their device to the ClickShare SSID, once done they can display their content to the screen wirelessly. The Barco ClickShare mobile app also allows the presenter to whiteboard, or annotate on top of documents and photos.  The CSC-1 offers the ability to fully mirror iOS devices with the purchase of an additional piece of hardware, the ClickShare Link.
  • Easy to use- Thought it isn’t a purely wireless solution, since the Barco ClickShare requires a USB Button, the system is very easy to operate. Users connect the USB Button to their computer, and open the corresponding application (Mac or Windows), and then they can press the Button to wirelessly transmit their content to the display. Users do not need administrative privileges on their machine to operate this software, and there’s nothing to download, per se, allowing full BYOD support without worrying about users’ roles and permissions on their computers.
  • Collaboration- The CSC-1 allows multiple devices to simultaneously display on the screen and offers dual screen support, allowing users to collaborate in real time with up to four presenters simultaneously displaying content. The CSM-1 allows only a single device to display, and does not offer dual screen support.

Didn’t Like it at All

  • Native iOS mirroring- unfortunately, this unit doesn’t offer iOS mirroring out of the box, additional hardware is required. While it supports a variety of file types and integrates with drop box to allow you access your files, the one request I have from the majority of my clients is for wireless iPad mirroring. Allowing presenters to use third party apps and mirror the screen would be a real benefit for this hardware, though I understand the limitation is often on the mobile operating system.

All in all I loved the Barco ClickShare, at approximately $1750, the CSM-1 is ideal for small conference and/or huddle room spaces, offering full capabilities for displaying documents from mobile, and full mirroring without lag from notebooks. The CSC-1 expands the CSM-1’s functionality, allowing four users to simultaneously display content, and offering simultaneous audio and video synchronization, and at $3950 doesn’t necessarily price itself out of the market, even for smaller institutions like mine.

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Technology Leadership Series: Introduction

Today I’m beginning a multiple part series on what makes a successful CIO. I’m hoping to explore, in dpeth, the individual personality factors and job responsibilities required to succeed in technology leadership. Whether you find yourself in the role of CIO or CTO, or not, these traits can also be applied to successful leadership within your organization and especially on your team.

At no point in history have organizations so greatly relied on technology to connect them, make themselves more efficient, manage information systems and warehouse data like they do now. With this in mind, the role of the CIO is arguably more important now, than it has ever been. These decisions of a CIO will impact just about every department within an organization. CIO’s have to demonstrate business acumen, leadership and teambuilding skills; traits that extend beyond a keen understanding of technical systems and operations.

Each Friday, for the next several months, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to contact me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

 

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My InfoComm Disappointments

Last week, I wrote about the best things I saw at InfoComm 2013. Today, the subject are a few duds, for me at least. These products aren’t necessarily poor products, but products that either are not fully ready for market, or not quite ready for any application of mine. It’s a short list, but it represents multiple manufacturers and vendors.

1. Enterprise level wireless display streaming

There are more than a few companies, AV or otherwise, offering solutions for “enterprise level” wireless desktop display. Some of the true AV heavyweights all the way to 802.11 wireless companies are offering software and hardware designed to allow users to wirelessly display their device (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone etc) to projectors and flat panel displays. Obviously this represents a huge need in the AV market, specifically for me in Higher Education. Wireless display would be a huge boost for my conference rooms and boardrooms, since often these rooms don’t have any technology built into the existing tables. Unfortunately, the downside is these devices aren’t capable of handling high frame rate. Static content looks great, simple PowerPoint, SpreadSheets, word documents are exceptional. However, animation in powerpoint, youtube videos etc are all lacking at this time.

Exception: Barco Clickshare– Barco’s solution is great, it works well, handles higher frame rate than competitors; the only downside is for me it’s cost prohibited at an advertised price of $4900.00 per location.

2. Lampless Projectors

Managing technology in 100+ rooms across three campuses isn’t incredibly easy. Especially when dealing with projectors that are unmonitored, meaning they aren’t capable of reporting status or information back. I was really excited to see the evolution of lampless projection, this year, in hopes I could ditch my supply of extra lamps in favor of quality laser projectors. However, while there were more manufacturers and options this year for lampless projection, I was still incredibly underwhelmed. Great strides are being made in projectors to accommodate more ANSI lumen capabilities in a small chassis, however, the lampless projectors all seemed dim dull and lacking color profiles necessary to be useful in my applications. I’m really hoping to be able to migrate to lampless projectors one day, I’m just waiting for them to have more robust color, higher brightness and contrast and have crisper images.

What did you think? Were there any products or ideas that stood out at this year’s InfoComm that might not be “completely ready?”

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My Take: InfoComm’s Big Winners

InfoComm this year was a blur. Last year I did UBTech and InfoComm and felt like I had way too much free time. This year, to correct this, I decided to load up on meetings and stay as busy as possible to make the most of the InfoComm experience. I wrote a little, last week  about my time in the CTS prep class and subsequent test; and the inherent value of continuing education. I feel the best approach to the InfoComm experience is to balance a little better between the Show Floor Only mentality, and the Load Up on Meetings stance. This year’s InfoComm was the largest show on the east coast, and it was massive. Here are my top winners from this years’ show.

  1. 4K
    We all remember the incredible consumer demand centered around the introduction of 3d displays and projectors a few years back; this year’s big staple for all manufacturers was 4k. Unlike 3d, I think 4K/8K will enjoy far more stable demand in both the consumer and professional AV markets, especially once content beyond digital signage and computer generated signals become more prevalent. The caveat is, if this content doesn’t become readily available, 4k/8k will wind up serving a very niche market. In my opinion, the two winners for 4K at this years’ show was LG’s 84″ 4K monitor, and Christie’s 4k 60hz projector. I would love to own both these pieces, but have to wait until the cost comes down.
  2. MS Lync Integration
    Shortly before last year’s show in Las Vegas we began implementing Microsoft Lync; and I went to InfoComm looking for all the AV I could possibly integrate with Lync to enable it to be a full UCS for our campus. I was incredibly disappointed, and almost frustrated to find out there were no real AV appliances ready to integrate with Lync. Around that time, Vaddio released the Easy USB line of professional USB peripherals for computer based web conferencing: Webex, Skype, Google +, MS Lync etc. This product line represented a solution to a few of our problems at an affordable price point. This year, however, I was blown out of the water by Vaddio’s Huddle Station and Group Station integrated approach to computer based Web Meetings. I look forward to implementing this product line to address a number of needs we have in conference room video conferencing capabilities.Additionally, Crestron was a big winner in this space. They debuted the Crestron RL system designed to integrate Lync for professional Video conferencing. With solutions for single and multiple displays, and system control and automation, Crestron as made incredible strides to reaching the those using Lync. I’m really interested in seeing this product in action in a live demo.
  3. Cloud Conferencing
    Two years ago I was hopping on an elevator in my hotel to head to my room after a long day at the show; I noticed the group standing next to me all had red badge holders (exhibitors) and saw them eyeing my green badge holder (education customer) and my heart sank. I really didn’t know if I could handle another sales pitch, especially on an elevator with no escape or distraction. As it turned out these fine people were from a startup called Blue Jeans Networks, allowing users of different VTC systems to meet seamlessly in the cloud. Cloud Interoperability Providers represent a tremendous benefit for organizations with different methods of VTC to be able to connect with each other. This year there were several other key companies in this market. I look forward to seeing how cloud interoperability grows and becomes more affordable.

There were lots of other great things that I would love to buy and use, but aren’t great fits for my particular application requirements: Projection/Display mapping technologies, waterproof speakers, speakers that looked more like art than actual speakers and a host of fantastic other products. Sometimes I wish I could win some sort of AV lottery and just have all this great technology.

What were the three best things you saw at InfoComm?

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Five Tips to Delivering Outstanding Customer Service

Whether you’re in the rental/staging markets, home theater, enterprise level integrator or and IT Manager; offering superior customer service is imperative to the success of your organization. Customer Service is more than just responding to negative feedback, following up on customers’ needs and satisfying requests. Consistently excellent customer service is creating experiences for clients that cause them to become cheerleaders and advertisers for your business. There are five easy ways to create excellent customer service experiences, position your company to have repeat high dollar transactions and leave your organization well poised to be recommended by your clients.

1. Do What the Customer Doesn’t Expect

It’s common sense, and simple business etiquette to completely satisfy customers’ requests. Exceeding Customer expectations is what makes the difference. Having worked in higher-ed I’ve worked with multiple integrators and resellers, what stood out for me, are the little things. I hired an integrator to implement an AV design for an 11-classroom building, I created a detailed scope of work with highly specific requirements, I expected it to be filled. This integrator fulfilled each requirement and they also provided me with substantial information I didn’t request such as all pieces of equipment’s serial numbers, warranty date and estimated end of life date in a convenient, easy-to-read spreadsheet, and applied the asset tags I was going to have to add to each piece of equipment. This small, unrequested, task saved me a good number (20+) of hours in recording and inventory management. Though I didn’t specifically ask for this information the provision of it was incredibly valuable to me as a customer.

2. Be Honest with Your Customer, But Respectful

Joshua Stackhouse wrote an article recently with this as the first point; but it bears repeating. Customers and clients often have a vague or broad idea of what they want in their project. Clients may want the latest and greatest, while not knowing exactly how that will impact their environment. While I love to give my clients everything they ask for, especially if they have the budget to afford it; I can’t, in good conscious, recommend they move forward with anything that doesn’t fit in their existing environment. Exceeding customer expectations can mean considering the whole of the existing environment.

It’s also imperative to be honest with your clients when communicating expectations regarding timeframe. A few years ago, I designed a system, sent it out to bid and asked the integrators to provide a detailed timeframe for completion. The vendor I selected timeframe was XX days. Imagine my surprise when two weeks after XX days had passed and we were still going back on forth on systems not functioning as they were described in the scope of work. It is imperative, in order to deliver exceptional customer service, to complete projects on time, and to be honest about timeframes.

3. Communicate Quickly

In my experience, as a consultant and as a customer, returning correspondence or phone calls is best done promptly. Whether I’m fielding requests from a client or waiting on information from an integrator, communication needs to be quick. I’ve learned something as simple as returning a phone call or email with “I got your email, I’m working on another site today, but I’ll touch base with you first thing tomorrow.” Simple communication allows the customer to know their request was received, and provides them with a timeframe to hear back from you. Good communication skills and practices can cement a culture of exceptional customer service experiences

4. Support Your Existing Projects

One of the more interesting challenges I’ve had as a consultant is how to budget my time between new projects and supporting existing projects. The decision to support existing projects with an equal priority as bidding on new projects really helped me grow my business. At the time it seemed counterintuitive to make this decision, but it turned my existing customers into my best advertisers by providing service “above and beyond” what my customers expected.

5. Offer Your Client a “Test Drive”

As an integrator, if you’re designing a system for a client, offer to connect them with someone who has a similar system. Give your customers the options to connect with existing users and find out what they like and don’t like about their systems. This is a simple step, which goes a long way. The more information placed in the end-user’s hands the better. Equip your customers to make informed decisions, and they’ll become cheerleaders and advertisers for your business.

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