Tag Archives | technology

Small but Significant: Are Huddle Rooms the Right Fit?

Huddle Room

Huddle Room Technology featuring Vaddio GroupStation

Over the past few years colleges, universities and corporations have adopted a more agile approach to meetings and working in groups. One of the ways companies are making this change is by implementing huddle rooms, which allow for more flexibility, and better opportunities to collaborate or to meet, whether it’s a decision making meeting or a group brainstorming session.

Huddle rooms, or small conference and meeting rooms, are designed in such a way as to reduce the clutter, so to speak. These rooms are often smaller than a traditional conference room and feature a small table, and likely a flat panel display. Users can walk into the room, plug in to a cable cubby, or connect to a wireless display appliance and they are off and running in just a few seconds; certainly streamlined over a traditional conference room or boardroom setting.

There are a number of available options when it comes to sourcing hardware, or software, for huddle room presentations. Seemingly every manufacturer in the switching and control market has a huddle room product, and from the number of press releases I receive on a daily basis, the quantity and quality of huddle room technology is only going to increase. Whether the application is for presentation, group study, collaboration, or even videoconferencing there is no shortage to the supply of huddle room solutions.

When thinking about potentially outfitting a huddle room, there are solutions that run the gamut from simple plug-and-play options, to wireless technology, to small solutions that incorporate full control systems as well as videoconferencing capabilities. It’s imperative for technology managers to evaluate products not only on the quality of the technology, its consistency, reliability, and ease-of-use but also to make sure the solution meets the application.

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Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2014  AVTechnology Magazine 

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Google Classroom: Aiming to Overtake the LMS?

Google Classroom

Last week Jason Thomas tweeted a link about Google Classroom, an all-in-one solution for teachers and students create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and easily communicate within their classes. Classroom’s marketing materials even include it is designed to enable teachers to do “more teaching and less tech-ing” I kid you not, that’s on their webpage.

Google, the search giant, over the last several years has made strides to diversify its offerings, seemingly taking on every established sect of the technology industry from social networks to web based music players, mobile telephones to small web-based laptops and tablets. There isn’t a part of the technology market, with the exception of IT hardware, where Google isn’t currently attempting to be a competitor.

Google Classroom is the Mountain View, California based tech company’s foray into education; unifying the services offered as part of Google Apps for Business and tailoring it to meet the needs of education institutions. Google Classroom offers familiar services such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides staples of the Google Apps environment but also combines it with the ability for teachers to collect assignments through Google Classroom, easily distribute ‘handouts’ or allow students access to presentations and documents used and discussed in class.

Google Classroom offers an impressive amount of functionality to Google Apps users in education. Before technology managers get up in arms, Google Classroom isn’t ready, yet, to truly compete with or overtake traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS). There are still several key features traditional LMS powerhouses offer for which Google Classroom doesn’t yet have an answer- gradebook, lecture capture integration, online lecture posting/viewing, managed/monitored web discussions so on and so forth.

As it stands now, Google Classroom is a tremendous benefit for schools/colleges/universities not currently using a full-fledged LMS, but isn’t yet ready to overtake or even compete for the business of institutions using LMS already. It will be very interesting, however, if Google chooses to continue working on Classroom and expand it’s functionality, it could become a huge player and ultimately one of the highest used LMS companies, but that’s still 10 or more years away, if you ask me.

I just want Google Wave to come back.

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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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My week with AirMedia

Crestron AirMediaLike every designer, technician and technology manager I am often asked about the possibility of wireless display; because it’s incredibly difficult to connect a cable to a port on a device, or so my clients say. So in effort to appease my clients within the University where I work, and also the ones outside the university, I’ve taken to looking at a few wireless display (or “wi-di” as some people are calling it) units to see if this mythical unicorn of picture perfect display without a wire actually exists.

I was able to get my hands on Crestron AirMedia. I’ll not waste more of your time, here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • Easily addressable- In an enterprise setting, IP addressing can quickly derail any system that operates over the existing network. Apple TV’s are great products for wirelessly displaying iOS devices, but they only work if they are on the same VLAN. Crestron’s AirMedia connects differently, allowing users to work across VLANs. That’s a big winner for me, since our wired connections (which the box requires) and wireless connections operate on separate VLANs.
  • Management Interface- There is a very simple, easy to use, web interface for each device. One can change the device’s IP address, if a static address is desired, or add company logos etc from a centralized location with no advanced knowledge required.

The Bad

  • Requires wired connection- while this isn’t a terrible fault, and certainly one that is easily remedied, this device requires a wired ethernet connection. Unlike some wireless display devices which can operate off the wireless network, the AirMedia requires a dedicated ethernet connection. In some cases this can be as simple as adding  a hub to an existing rack, but in more “pesky” enterprise network environments it might require another connection to be installed.
  • Application Crashing- The initial application I installed, as prompted by the device’s landing page, would frequently crash, causing the desktop mirroring to drop out. To be fair and honest, I was using a 130 slide powerpoint presentation to test, so I’m not sure if it was something I was doing that was overwhelming the mac-based application.
  • Poor frame rate- this one is in the bad column because it’s to be expected, right now, in wireless display devices. For the most part, at this time, this device isn’t expected to be capable of through-putting a full youtube video; rather it is mostly designed for document sharing, power point presentation etc., perhaps in the future an upgraded device will be capable of handling video presentation, then it will be a big winner.
  • Limited file types supported from mobile- Mobile devices account for the largest percentage of wireless display request, for me. I can’t think of a time when someone has asked to mirror their desktop computer to a projector wirelessly. One thing I didn’t like was that this device doesn’t handle wireless display mirroring of ipad/android tablets and smartphones. In fact that was the biggest complaint I received from the few clients I allowed to take it for a spin.

The Ugly

  • Lag- While I was under no illusion this device would handle high frame rate content, like animations and movies, I was appalled at how frequently the display connected to the AirMedia lagged behind the computer it was mirroring. I assume it wasn’t a bandwidth issue as my office has 40mbps down/ 96 mbps up. At any rate, after about the sixth slide in a presentation the lag between the computer and the display would be two seconds, and eventually reached 10 seconds, which is an eternity when you’re giving a presentation.

All in all the device worked about as well as I could have hoped, if you eliminate the lag difficulty. AirMedia works with more devices than the apple TV, offers more functionality than the chrome cast and costs significantly less than Barco’s Clickshare.

I’m certainly not saying this device isn’t a winner, or it cannot be a good fit for your application. It is not a blanket winner, for me, but there are certainly a few applications and rooms for which it is the perfect solution.

 

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And So it Goes… Saying Goodbye to Windows XP


“And so it goes…” as Kurt Vonnegut would say, time and time, again in Slaughterhouse Five to indicate death.

Today is the day that technology managers have been either dreaming of or dreading, the end of support for Windows XP, the staple operating system (OS) from technology giant Microsoft. After approximately 13 years, Windows XP will no longer be supported, nor will security patches be developed and released, despite glaring security vulnerabilities routinely exploited by hackers.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Windows XP accounts for nearly 30% of desktop computers according to researcher NetApplications, while Windows 7 holds an approximately 49% share of the desktop OS market. Windows XP is favored among “computers” requiring a small footprint- digital signage units, automated teller machines (ATMs) and control systems for water, sewer and electric plants.

Some campuses started early, and pushed to migrate machines from Windows XP to Windows 7, the university I work for completed their transition two years ago. However, lately I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter among fellow higher-ed technology managers about forming (yes forming) teams to handle the transition to Windows 7, with target completion dates extending to the end of 2014. Windows 7 is two versions behind the latest Windows release of 8.1, and is four years-old in its own right. User adoption seems to be the main hurdle to overcome; as software and hardware manufacturers have released updates to make interfaces and programs compatible with Windows 7, and a majority of Windows 8.

It will be interesting to see how these application critical machines, especially ATMs, are maintained to limit the vulnerability to numerous hacking threats to which their archaic software is susceptible. Will financial institutions and utility providers upgrade their software? A Citigroup Inc. spokesperson is quoted as saying “Citibank is in the process of migrating ATMs away from Windows XP; we have plans in place that will maintain the protection of our ATMs during this transition.”

 

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Late To the Party: Why BYOD Policies Matter

If your organization doesn’t have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy than congratulations for being incredibly late the party. The implications of BYOD on enterprise technology, whether audiovisual, network bandwidth, security measures or repair and support are vast and often not appropriately considered within the overall enterprise technology plan.

Affordable, user friendly, technology is widely available. Users often feel more comfortable conducting business from their own devices, whether it’s their iPhone they send corporate email from, or a tablet they use to take notes, or work on files with sensitive information, users are putting corporate security at risk for organizations who haven’t fully thought through the BOYD revolution.

Additionally, for technology managers like myself who focus on the audiovisual aspects of an organizations technology plan, considering the weight of BYOD in presentation system design is incredibly important. Unfortunately, with the wide variety of technology available to consumers, there isn’t a standard for display connections, standard resolutions, digital signal paths; so on and so forth.

Yes, BYOD allows employees to be more agile; to perform work away from their traditional desktops. But failure to create and maintain strict adherence to a BYOD policy can spell doom for any organization’s technology plan. A proper BYOD plan should consider all relevant factors, including the most important X-factor in any corporate setting: the end user. A rock-solid BYOD strategy employs representatives from key areas within a company, here’s a brief overview

  • Legal– a move to BYOD can bring up a number of potential employment and contractual issues.
  • Accounting/Finance– members will need to perform costing projections to see if BYOD is the most cost effective solution
  • IT– the network team will need to consider remote access, security and most importantly the affect on software licensing
  • Sales Teams- I can all but guarantee somewhere, within any organization that has a sales team, someone has made a sale using their own cell phone, or iPad. These can be important users to have as allies, and their input can be incredibly important.

 

 

 

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Technology Leadership Series: Caring

There’s an old adage that is used quite often. In fact you can probably find a cross-stitched pillow bearing this monicker at any craft store. It says, “People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It’s certainly sometimes true, but I never ask my mechanic how much he cares about my car, or me, before I ask him to change my oil. One of the most important pieces to the puzzle of corporate culture is is whether or not employees can consistently answer the question “Does my supervisor, or someone at work, care about me” with a yes. Employees want to work for managers and leaders who are caring.

Do you UNPLUG? Are you, as a technology leader, CIO or CTO view your employees as people or as resources? Are you caring enough to allow your employees to unplug? A good indication of how much a company or a leader cares is the balance they create, and insist on, between work and non work. I have worked places that have really struggled with this- requiring me to be available for phone calls and emails when I was on vacation, even internationally; or discouraging me from taking vacation altogether. I’ve also worked for companies which required all employees to use all their vacation days each year. As a leader, caring can simply be allowing your employees to have a life outside work that is more important than their life at work.

Do you DEVELOPAnother old anecdote has a Mid and Senior Level executive talking, the mid-level executive asking the Senior if they can send some employees to training. The senior executive replies with “what if we pay for their training, they develop the skills the need, and then they leave?” The mid-level executive ponders for a minute then retorts “what if we don’t train them, and they never leave?” One key way to be caring os to develop your people. Nothing is more caring than helping and allowing your employees to be able to take the next step in their career, even if it isn’t with your company.

Do you REWARD? Recognizing employees’ contributions is a free, and easy, way of affirming a culture of caring. Whether it is sharing positive customer experience feedback throughout the company, or regularly scheduling appreciation lunches, employers who recognize and reward the hard work their employees contribute understand the value they bring to the organization.

Caring is significantly more than remembering birthdays, and writing get well soon cards when people are sick; although these are important as well. An easy way to retain key employees is to be caring, allowing them to unplug when they need and want too, pouring resources into developing them for the next step and then rewarding employees’ success regularly.

Each Friday, for the next several weeks, 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 email 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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Technology Leadership Series: Humor

It’s important for leaders to have characteristics that are unique to business, or work, such as delegation, team building, management skills and organizational vision. It’s also important for leaders to have characteristics that are foundational to personal interaction. For example, leaders need strong interpersonal skills, empathy and humor just as much as decisiveness, intuition and budgetary skills. The importance of humor as a leader, or at least a sense of humor, is essential. I’m not suggesting that stand up comedians make great leaders, nor that leaders are necessarily the funniest people in the room. All I’m suggesting is humor generates a positive energy within your team that is extremely important to success.

No matt how much research, planning, development and documentation goes into your work, inevitably there will be times where bad things happen. Whether it is the launch of a website that has been three years in development that produces bugs that weren’t present in the QA phase or a control system that errors out during a high profile audiovisual installation. How a leader reacts and chooses to handle these failures can make, or brea, a successful team. This is where a good sense of humor can pay off. Encourage, and allow, your team to be comfortable laughing at mistakes instead of crying over them. If you are constantly learning to find humor in the struggles your work environment will become happier and healthier. The type of environment your employees look forward to working in, rather than dread coming to each day. Make it a point to lighten the mood by joking with members of your team, and use humor as a method to keeping the workplace emotional environment light. These actions help keep productivity high and morale levels even higher.

Each Friday, for the next several weeks, 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 email 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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Technology Leadership Series: Development

Good managers work diligently to get the most out of their employees in their current positions. Great managers work tirelessly to prepare their people for advancement. While the difference in practical application is ever so slight the difference between the two philosophies speaks volumes. Getting the most out of employees is important, and greatly benefits the organization; however, spending time on each employees’ personal and professional development is better than to simply seek efficiency and productivity. The concept of leadership and professional development isn’t new, nor revolutionary, but often times the execution of this concept leaves much to be desired. There are several ways to improve professional development within your organization to ensure your people aren’t just high performers but that they are ready to take the next step in their careers.

Have a plan. Provide guidance on professional development and options of a career path for all employees. If you have employees approaching their review, or work anniversary, take the time to ask them “where do you see yourself going within the organization?” Share your thoughts as to where you see them going and what opportunities exist for them to be challenged.

Know what you can change.  It’s crucial for leaders not only to attempt to provide professional development for all personnel, but to do it correctly. In reality, people don’t change all that much. As a leader, know your people, and know not to waste your time attempting to put in what’s been left out. instead try to draw out, or improve, what’s already there. In other words, hone strengths, increase core competencies but don’t waste time trying to correct or eliminate fundamental weaknesses that are too deeply ingrained.

Celebrate Resignations.  This may be a hard pill to swallow. I’ve worked with, and for, several leaders who constantly say things to their employees like “I want you to be the best you can be” or “I want you to be successful at the next level.” These are great idioms to use to encourage your people to continually grow, but they’re useless maxims if you don’t mean them. If what you really mean is “I want you to be successful at the next level, as long as you wait until an opportunity at the next level is available within the organization” you’re neither helpful nor honest, rather probably self serving and spiteful. True professional development is the mindset of, “I want you to succeed at the next level, even if you have to leave to do so.”

Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with or for constantly tell me how excited they are to talk with employees years later and see where they are, and be a resource for them. Professional development doesn’t end when an employee leaves the organization, great leaders make themselves available to continually develop and mentor professionals. Every employee wants to work for a leader who can help them get to the next level.

Each Friday, for the next several weeks, 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 email 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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