In the clouds at Spark the Future - Productivity Blogs | MeetingZone
In the cloud - literally

In the cloud - literally

Inspiring people to work brilliantly together - Spark the Future Event report by Jonathan George

The journey to the cloud is much talked about these days, but last week MeetingZone together with Cisco took this to a new level by actually being in the clouds!

I was honoured to be one of the keynote speakers for the prestigious Spark the Future event on 15th May, which was held 243m up on the 72nd floor of the iconic Shard in London.

The night before, sometime after 10pm the events team took our video conferencing room devices - two Webex Board 55s, a Webex Board 70 and a Webex Room 55 up to the 69th floor to start getting things setup.

By just before midnight we had “video enabled” the Shard and I placed a call to my boss Danny Steventon who was on the West Coast of the US attending a Cisco event. For years we have talked about video becoming pervasive. This was truly an example of how using this technology you can video enable any location if you have a network connection available. It’s that simple.

At 5:30am the following day, we were ready and in position after taking the Webex Board 70 and the Room 55 up three flights of stairs to the 72nd floor - the highest habitable space in the building which is open to the elements. Our marketing team’s prayers for a glorious day had been answered and the sun shone in a clear blue sky giving unprecedented views over London…breath-taking.

Inspiring and Empowering High Performance Teams

The MeetingZone CEO, Steve Gandy, opened proceedings around 8:45am. Steve reminded us of the many false dawns we’d all experienced with video conferencing. Now technology has matured to the point where it’s pervasive and part of business processes. He introduced our special guest - Snorre Kjesbu, VP/GM for Devices in Cisco’s Team Collaboration Group.

Snorre’s presentation was entitled “Inspiring and Empowering High Performance Teams”. His message was clear - The age of the individual genius is over, the power of teams has never been stronger. It’s clear that digital disruption is no longer an option for organisations if they wish to thrive and keep ahead of competitors.

He made a very important point…agility, speed of innovation and the war for talent are all top of mind. Having a collaborative culture that attracts top people who are used to using consumer apps in their everyday lives, is a must.

Snorre discussed five key areas:

1. The team canvas covers both physical and virtual workplaces with an array of productivity tools, across various devices integrated into business processes.

2. Collaboration needs to be woven into the applications you already use (later in the talk he demonstrated using Webex Teams to make a video call directly from within Salesforce).

3. Continuous workflow keeps things moving. No longer do we have that static, point in time picture of the whiteboard on our phone. It becomes something live that we can re-visit and add to.

4. The need for “agile” teams to quickly self-form, including people from outside an organisation to come together, do what needs to be done, disband and then move onto the next thing.

5. How persistence enables new team members to join at any point and rapidly catch-up with what has gone before, so they rapidly start to contribute.

For too long people have adapted to technology, now technology must adapt to the way we work. The workers are calling the shots!

I loved the analogy he used to describe how technology must satisfy the demands of both IT (the “parent”) and the User (the “child”). How, the child requires something that is fun and easy to use with no barriers and yet the parent has to balance this what is safe and secure.

The five levels of AI

Finally, no presentation would be complete without the mention of AI. Snorre covered the five levels of AI from Command and Control (arguably where we are today with the likes of Siri and Alexa) through Natural Language understanding to Semantic Understanding with Domain expertise to the Intelligent Team Member and finally to the Team and Strategic Intelligence. It will be interesting to see how this moves from Human invoked AI to where the AI assistance can interject with relevant and contextually useful information.

During his presentation Snorre showed some of what is to come, walking up to the Webex Room 55 system he said “Hey Webex….” and then “join my meeting” - he was instantly joined to his team back in Oslo. The team there not only showed the power of intelligent framing so that the camera automagically framed the speaker, but also how facial recognition could monitor room utilisation by counting actual people in the room - and could also add name cards to participants.

Work is a thing we do, not a place we go

It was then my opportunity to take the stage and discuss the Collaboration Journey. I started with the premise that we come to work to “get stuff done” - but actually we now live in a world where work is a thing we do, not a place we go.

Taking the unit of work for the knowledge worker as the meeting, then technology has for a while allowed us to meet “virtually”. Conferencing originally starting as an audio-only experience. As long as I had a phone, I could join the conference. It was ubiquitous.

However, the experience was somewhat limited, not really knowing who was on the call or who was speaking. At the other end of the spectrum we had video conferencing, which (when it could be made to work) provided for that immersive, face to face like experience, but typically these systems were complex and expensive and reserved for the board rooms and the corner office.

No more beardie-weirdies

They were also notoriously difficult to use, generally requiring the expertise of the magical little people who lived in the basement that rarely saw the light of day, the “beardie-weirdies”. In the middle of this we saw the rise of web conferencing and the introduction of the ability to share your screen into a meeting.

From a user perspective this created a new set of problems, namely what type of meeting should they use for any particular meeting. Factors, like who was joining, where they were joining from, what equipment/rooms might that have access to. There would be no point having a “video” meeting if key participants couldn’t get into a room with the necessary equipment. More often than not, one would have to forgo the richer experience and revert to the audio-only meeting simply to ensure that everyone could join.

It’s just a meeting!

Webex has recently solved this problem as now a Webex meeting allows you to join from wherever you are, whatever device you happen to have access to and whatever network you may or may not be connected to. The experience you get in the meeting is dictated not by the meeting but how you are able to join the meeting. Video endpoints (including Skype for Business clients) can join the meeting. Recent updates to allow multi-stream mean no matter what client you are using you can see the video from all other participants on the call not just the active speaker.

As I referenced at the start of this blog, deploying video systems was previously an expensive and complex task. The goal is to drive the experience such that it becomes both easy and intuitive to use whilst also democratising it and expanding the reach beyond the corner office and the boardroom to the huddle and team rooms within an organisation. This really could be the year where video becomes pervasive.

We also need to stop letting the concept of a “meeting” determine how we connect and when. Collaboration happens on a continuum, not in discrete chunks dictated by someone reserving a room or writing an agenda. Meeting is part of an organic, ongoing connection between people.

We all know that a good meeting should have an agenda and there are many things that can and should happen before the meeting to make it useful and productive. How many of you have been to a meeting to discuss the meeting - the pre-meeting-meeting. Similarly there are things that should happen after the meeting to record the actions, the decisions, the next steps and follow-up. How many of you have found yourselves in the groundhog day meeting where you appear to be having exactly the same meeting that occurred last week because nothing has moved forward or was followed up on. This is where Webex Teams can really help to keep things moving on a continuum making progress towards the ultimate objective.

Where are you on the collaboration journey?

However, this is very much a journey, the collaboration journey that MeetingZone itself has been on, from our early days with audio only conferencing, to offering Webex and now to being able to deliver and consume video as a company. This is exactly the same journey that most of our customers have already started to undertake or are about to embark on.

My closing thoughts were to ensure you consider the user journey here together with the adoption and change management aspects of this. Just buying technology and giving your user’s a login is not going to deliver the outcomes you want. “Build it and they will come” simply doesn’t work - you need to take your users on this journey with you.

Some of you maybe aware of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and my closing thought was to ensure you start with the “Why”!

If you’d like to talk to us about your collaboration journey, get in touch.



Webex, Collaboration, Spark the Future


Cisco Webex, Cisco Spark


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