Authors: David Mario Smith, Jim Lundy Date: December 23, 2014
Topics: Workplace, Collaboration Research Note Number: 2014-54
Issue: What trends affect the future of work?
Issue: What collaboration technologies and architectures should enterprises leverage?
Summary: The humble conference room is poised to become a multimodal collaboration workspace and the media hub of the enterprise. In doing so it will draw upon other advanced workplace technologies, such as smart content and smart business processes.
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The design and use of office space is changing. Although cubicles still dominate overall, the open workspace is a growing trend. The idea is to encourage ad hoc collaboration, which often leads to breakthrough ideas and innovation. But while open offices benefit collaboration, they still need dedicated space for collective work: the traditional conference room, video-enabled and reinvented as a collaborative digital workspace.
More Collaboration, Everywhere
Real-time collaboration is converging in multiple directions toward integrated web, video and content collaboration, embedded and contextualized within the business workflows it supports (see Note 1). Firms are cutting back on traditional videoconference investments while outfitting offices and smaller meeting rooms with low-cost software-based video that is more standards-compliant, easier to set up and use, and requires less capital investment and support. Many aging legacy room systems will go into maintenance mode, be supplanted by software-based systems, or be repurposed into huddle rooms or other venues.
This is a good move for enterprises. Ubiquitous, presence-aware video collaboration is a good alternative to complex, costly legacy room systems, and video-enabling more endpoints and locations makes it available for use in more activities. Ad hoc, spontaneous interactions can speed up and streamline processes that would otherwise require multiple round trips to complete, and scheduled events will benefit from greater participation by people in diverse locations using standards-based mobile and desktop technology.
The Conference Room Goes Digital
As we noted above, such events will often originate in conference rooms, redesigned with advanced features that transform them into high-value collaborative workspaces. A midsized facility may have only one of these, and even a large headquarters may have fewer than it has today. They will be highly connected, not only with other facilities around the world, but also with ecosystem resources that facilitate their purpose, such as content and process management systems, presence awareness, expertise location and diverse sources of third-party information.
As the number of these connections increases, the roles of the collaborative workspace will expand and multiply as both a port and a destination. It will continue to be a hub of group activity at individual facilities, and also a spoke in the web of connections among enterprises and their business units. The goal is to make it as intelligent as the people who use it.
A collaborative workspace combines the characteristics of an auditorium and a knowledge worker’s office: it is a place where people work both individually and in groups. It should have good collective lighting and acoustics so that everyone can see and hear each other easily, as well as whatever is happening on the “stage.” Each participant should also have:
- Some level of aural and visual privacy
- Plenty of table space, with room for a second chair
- Temporary storage, at least partly secured
- Individual connections for power, network and media
- Multiple ways to engage with local and remote colleagues, both individually and in subgroups
Focus on the People
To be successful, the collaborative workspace has to meet the needs of workers as well as the business, and some of these are contradictory. For instance, we like to gather in groups, but we also value our privacy and want “elbow room” even in a crowd. So instead of being a place that just holds a lot of people doing the same thing, the collaborative workspace lets people go off in smaller groups and do different things without disturbing others.
Mobile and personal technology helps us bridge these competing demands. Recently, an executive with one of our clients told us something surprising. Like most global enterprises, it has room systems where workers gather for regular video conferences. The surprise, he said, is that instead of just sitting down and using the group system in the room, many of his people now bring their own laptops or tablets, and log into the conferences individually via personal clients.
This hybrid approach leverages the sense of community in the conference venue, but gives workers a more intimate experience and a stronger connection with their remote colleagues. Our client said that as an IT person he worries about the overhead of these extra connections, but as a manager he welcomes the added engagement that makes his people more active participants. We agree with him that combining group reinforcement with individual empowerment can increase creativity and productivity in workers, just as social technologies improve their sense of engagement by reducing their real or perceived isolation.
Beyond connectivity, conference rooms will just be better places to work. They will integrate with key parts of the enterprise ecosystem, such as social networks, profiles, calendars and directories. They will also be designed to meet workers’ physical needs, with innovative approaches to ergonomics that reduce fatigue and improve attention span, such as headphones built specifically to reduce office noise.
Creating a Smart Workforce
Younger workers bring an always-connected, highly interactive and deeply engaged sensibility to the workplace (see Research Note 2014-30, The New Collaborative Worker: Your Business Depends On Them). They are highly flexible and mobile, and they take the office with them, logging in at all hours from anywhere. Yet they communicate constantly, on social networks both inside and outside the enterprise. In short, they are highly autonomous and yet deeply collaborative, and the enterprise needs advanced technology to keep up with them. To meet their craving for connection and information, the humble conference room is poised to become a multimodal collaboration space and the media hub of the new enterprise.
With so many workers operating remotely, and so many disparate teams and partnerships that span multiple enterprises, a key way to improve collaboration is by using immersive, high-definition video to give all participants the best approximation of in-person, face-to-face contact. Fewer than 10% of today’s conference rooms are video-enabled, but we expect that number to reach 50% by 2020 (see Note 2). Video will be the new way to connect people in ways that magnify their intelligence, creating a workforce that is smarter than the sum of its workers.
Smart Content and Smart Processes
Once the collaborative workspace has networked its inhabitants enough to make them smarter, its next important integrations are with two other elements of the smart enterprise: smart content and the smart business process (see Note 3).
The term smart content refers to content containing metadata that routes and schedules it in accordance with its purpose in an ongoing process. Smart content is active, not passive. If a missed deadline threatens to delay a scheduled event, a document will notify and route itself to someone who can take action. Smart content contains information about its authorship and workflow, its destination and purpose, and the recipe of its own making. It also carries embedded security and lifecycle management rules; it can even self-destruct.
A smart process contains metadata about its schedule, resource requirements and desired outcome, so as to “know” its purpose, its progress and when human action is required. Other elements include making hardware smarter with heuristics and machine learning, and providing more data for those learning machines by networking the physical world into the “Internet of Things” (see Note 3 for related research).
The Digital Conference Room
The goal of all this is to ensure that critical human resources are not wasted and that people in a collaborative workspace are there because the room, the business process and the content involved have combined to:
- Notify the right people of what is going on and what action is required
- Connect them in accordance with their roles and availability
- Give them real-time access to the content and other resources they need to move the process forward
Conference rooms that become collaborative workspaces will need an upgrade plan and a budget to provide the infrastructure and amenities they need to do this. Ideally these should include:
- High-end immersive telepresence systems, ready for 3D, 4K, and other enhancements that become available.
- Presence and ESN integration with calendar support and extended metadata for scheduling and expertise location.
- Content integration to bring content into collaboration events, and an automated way to record and archive interactions. At a minimum, preconfigured interfaces with widely-used ECM or VCM products.
- An API and integration layer to tie collaboration to ERP, CRM, sales automation/enablement and other enterprise and LOB process managers for contextualization.
- Amortize legacy group systems in place, making only investments that can integrate them with more distributed endpoints.
- Evaluate conference rooms for two transitions: upgrade the largest into full-featured collaborative workspaces; repurpose the rest as huddle rooms and other group-oriented venues.
- Ensure that new collaboration investments are geared to the new paradigm of multimodal, multiplatform collaboration.
- Build a broad IT strategy to integrate collaboration with smart content and intelligent business process automation.
As real-time collaboration trends toward flexible, low-cost mobile, desktop and software-based group systems, enterprises should convert their conference rooms into highly connected multimodal collaborative workspaces that integrate collaboration with the business processes it enables and the work product that comes out of them.
Note 1: The Convergence of Web and Video
Because of mobility and the cloud, the real-time collaboration market is increasingly converging between web and video conferencing. Traditional video conferencing was the domain of hardware vendors such as Polycom and Cisco. However, software-based room systems from providers such as Fuze, Blue Jeans, Google and Microsoft are presenting a big competitive challenge to the incumbents, who are adjusting and offering their own software-based solutions.
Note 2: The Rise of the Digital Conference Room
Many forces drive this transition.
Connections are getting cheaper, better and more reliable, due to off-the-shelf hardware that cuts capital investments, advanced codecs that reduce bandwidth needs, and cloud networks that simplify billing and ease transmission bottlenecks. These changes will make real-time video available across the world.
Lower costs for hardware and higher-quality audio and video will fuel demand for a more comprehensive collaboration experience. We predict that up to 50% of conference rooms will be video-enabled by 2020 (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Aragon Research Forecast: Percentage of Video-Enabled Conference Rooms, 2015-2020
Note 3: Related Research
Aragon Research has written about smart content in Research Note 2014-40, Your Content Is On the Move: Is It Secure? We cover context in Research Note 2014-34, Leverage Presence to Collaborate in Context. We discuss machine learning in Research Note 2014-48, The Four Phases of Predictive Business Applications, and the Internet of Things in Research Note 2014-39, Will Apple Build the OS for the Internet of Things?
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