Connecting Corporations: Bringing the Latest Technology to Meeting Rooms

iStock / Ket4up / RoomReady

When corporations communicate from their meeting rooms across multiple sites and cities, many use technology from companies that specialize in these kinds of high-tech solutions.

Conferencing and collaboration solutions are a $30.8 billion annual business, according to audiovisual trade organization AVIXA’s Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) report on audiovisual industry growth. Growth is expected to continue at 2.4 percent to 2023.

Manufacturers such as Avocor, Barco, Cisco, Crestron, Microsoft and Prysm have begun creating highly integrated videoconferencing solutions that include some combination of display, camera, sound, collaboration software, control, touch interfaces and connectivity, said Brad Grimes, AVIXA senior director of communications.

And end-user companies, for their part, have begun to appreciate quality video collaboration solutions and have incorporated them into their technology strategies.

“Because many have offices around the country and around the world, they require solutions that can be standardized from room to room,” Grimes said.

This helps ease maintenance and usability and is scalable, so new systems can quickly be rolled out across networks. They are secure too, so no one can exploit the system to gain access to the rest of the network.

In the meantime, demand for connected meeting spaces is growing. According to analysts, younger workers gravitate toward virtual meetings as they use technology to connect with others. One survey by technology company BenQ Display found that 55 percent of millennials find virtual meetings productive while only 45 percent of the older workers do.

The difference, in part, is due to the greater amount of technology the younger generations are using to connect with the meeting participants they want. Instead of saying, for instance, “I’ll send you that document,” they can access and display it for participants in seconds. They can call on the input of individuals who aren’t at the meeting and share whiteboards without markers or erasers. Of course, that adoption requires companies that can enable that technology.

A typical RoomReady installation includes speakers, microphones, cameras and large wall-mounted displays. Customers can build their own system using the website.
A typical RoomReady installation includes speakers, microphones, cameras and large wall-mounted displays. Customers can build their own system using the website.

Workers need to connect, even when they are located in different buildings, campuses or cities. For some companies, offering the ability to telecommute by meeting with coworkers over media is a way to attract talent. In that way, they can hire workers who would otherwise balk at moving away from their home city to fill a job position.

RoomReady is just one part of a growing market for conference room connectivity. Founded by an electrical contractor, the company illustrates how some contractors are finding ways to not only extend their reach to new customers and applications, but also bring partner ECs along for the ride.

RoomReady’s solution aims at the growing need for communication, said Aaron McArdle, RoomReady president and CEO. There is no meeting room that can’t be connected virtually, with some proper electrical installation and integration. He has brought his solution to global companies such as Nike to help create thousands of meeting spaces across the company’s enterprise. RoomReady has thus far set up several hundred connected meeting rooms for Nike in Toronto, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. It has about 350 meeting rooms live, with many more in the works.

McArdle was a low-voltage foreman, then a technology director at two firms, where he created a low-voltage technology division. Even early in his career, ECs saw the need for his knowledge in controls.

“I already had a technical background, so [the ECs] asked me to do voice/data/video,” he said.

That is where he learned about the demands for audio/video (A/V) systems that connect company employees across global enterprises. To leverage that experience, he bought out Zeller Electric’s technology division—known as ZDI—in 2007, which has since evolved into RoomReady.

Traditionally, ECs don’t necessarily work closely with their customers’ IT departments, McArdle said. That has created a gap his company has aimed to fill. He brought his brother Jay, who had an IT background, into his new company.

After ZDI launched, its focus transitioned from low-voltage voice/data/video to meeting spaces. One of the ubiquitous questions in that setting is where to hide the A/V equipment.

“Typically, you have an equipment rack in a closet, then cabling [running to the A/V monitor, cameras and microphones],” he said.

This arrangement doesn’t suit every space, especially smaller rooms. For that reason, RoomReady designed a rack that mounts behind a large display, hiding all the equipment, and can be installed faster, without the need to run cables to a closet.

Updating a meeting space may include everything from large formalized conference rooms to huddle spaces that seat one or two employees. Ultimately, the company’s challenge is to provide a technical solution to a nontechnical audience.

RoomReady employs electricians specializing in A/V work (it employs about 100 people altogether), and partners with electrical contracting firms for many installations.

A typical installation includes speakers, microphones, cameras and large, wall-mounted displays. Customers can build their own system using the website, by indicating if they want data in the cloud or on premises and what size and kind of space they need to connect. Users can even provide their drawings, overhead floor plan and other details, so the system can be ready for a fast installation.

The systems can be wired, wireless or both. A wireless system enables individuals to connect or share content, even with the device they bring into the room, and without a cable connection. Or, they can plug into an HDMI port using Cat 5 or 6 cable.

A meeting room equipped with RoomReady’s system will include video conferencing, content sharing for remote and local presentations and collaboration whiteboards. The camera, speakers, microphone and Wi-Fi can be built directly behind two 55-inch HD displays.

RoomReady has an iOS app and software that enables companies to interact with their spaces. Users can sign in to view who has reserved any specific meeting area, and when. They can also join a meeting or contact a person in that meeting.

The company has recently developed a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon system to automatically detect if anyone is using a space. In that case, app users could check their phone to see what rooms in their vicinity are available based on their location. That system is being piloted by customers now, McArdle said.

Companies, such as Nike, are taking advantage of the technology to redefine how they use their meeting spaces. There are different kinds of meeting spaces, depending on the needs of the participants. For instance, Nike’s New York office includes an auditorium with a full basketball court, with technology installation provided by RoomReady.

RoomReady understands that, while an enterprise needs conferencing technology that it can rollout across many rooms, attention must also be paid to other elements if the solution is to allow them to communicate more effectively. The technology must be suited to the content that the company intends to share and it must be installed in a carefully considered and designed space.

“[There must be] appropriate lighting and acoustics to ensure all participants—both within the room and at remote locations—can communicate effectively,” Grimes said.

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