The Hybrid Conference Room: New Meeting Solutions

With more geographically dispersed teams than ever - across multiple corporate campuses or even from home - employees expectations for their workday experiences are also higher than ever.

Organisations of all sizes are wrestling with serious issues, especially related to their changing workforces. Even before the pandemic, there was already a significant shift towards more workers and companies embracing hybrid work models. COVID-19 simply accelerated the trend. Now, -organisations are navigating their way back to “business as usual”, employers are largely divided into two camps: those looking to bring employees back to offices, and others trying to accommodate the needs of workers planning to remain in some type of remote environment.

While each model requires different approaches, there are also several common themes. Wherever employees are working, the meetings and conferencing experience must deliver quality and easy collaboration, as well as usability and safety.

UCaaS Platforms for Driving Future Success

As we are now returning to a time when working in the office is once again possible, two converging trends are driving current and future user requirements and expectations.

Many organizations have deployed simple conference rooms using the Bring Your Own Codec (BYOC) philosophy. In this implementation, rooms already have the necessary components – cameras, microphones, speakers and displays. The meeting attendee brings a device that runs the Unified Communications (UC) software and the video codec. They connect the room device(s) and cable(s) to their device and run the meeting software. The room now becomes just a peripheral to the attendee’s device.

The second trend focuses on minimizing the physical interactions in the meeting room and adding functionality to a room system that does not exist in the desktop. Three major vendors (Cisco, Microsoft, Zoom) are offering ‘one-touch’ or even ‘no-touch’ meeting joins in their enhanced rooms that include the codec processing and other capabilities in the room. Having a dedicated processor in the room system enables easy joins, as well as many advanced functions, including audio management, audio clarity, video framing, speaker recognition and more.

hybrid working

Delivering a meeting room solution to satisfy both trends is a challenge. For the best and easiest internal meetings, using a vendor or partner system that includes the codec and advanced capabilities in the room is the answer. However, these rooms do not generally allow the ability to natively join other vendors’ systems. Users attending external meetings on a different platform cannot leverage the capabilities of these systems and need to use their laptop with the built-in low-quality/low-position camera, small screen, etc. In these cases, users will likely regress to joining independently, rendering the room useless for this purpose.

Adding a media management node in your conference rooms may be the optimal (or only) solution going forward.

The concept of a digital (or even analog) conference phone in a meeting room will dramatically limit the room’s potential usage. The reason is quite simple, as users have adopted the UC paradigm of video, meetings collaboration tools, and even Teams and they will likely continue to work the way they did during the pandemic.

One major change is a willingness or even desire to use different clients for meetings based on a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS platform) being used as the meeting host. Employees today are exposed to a variety of conferencing platforms and applications, especially when meeting participants are coming from different companies or organizations, each having their own preferred video conferencing platform.

It’s becoming more common for employees to use multiple meeting applications and clients within the workday. However, this is an issue for the meeting room, as most meeting rooms today are only equipped for the specific corporate platform. While vendors such as Cisco and others are working on the ability to join other UCaaS platforms from their room systems, joining via this WebRTC-based approach is not native and is often missing many advanced controls and features.

For those who want to use a room together for an externally hosted meeting, using the specific desktop client from the platform the meeting is being hosted in is the ideal way to attend.

It’s important to recognise that every video-enabled conference room has all the elements needed to make the desktop device work as a room system codec. While some video bars incorporate those into a sealed system, most implementations use separate components. What if those devices, instead of being tethered to the native room system, could be connected into an open media management node that supports the native room system and also makes the same peripherals available to a user’s own device?

This would deliver the best of both worlds, a room optimized for meetings using the corporate platform, while also enabling users to utilize the room’s assets and join any meeting platform of their choice.

This is exactly what Lightware has delivered with the Taurus UCX, an in-room UC media management node. The Taurus UCX enables the connection of up to four devices (PC, Mac, video room system, etc.), using two USB-C ports and two mixed (USB/HDMI) ports. For most new computers that have USB-C, a single USB-C cable capable of delivering camera and microphone inputs, speaker and screen outputs, as well as a physical Ethernet connection while also charging the connected device.. The Taurus UCX also has Ethernet distribution and management to enable easy connection of in-room devices, such as a room touch screen.

taurus logo

The Taurus delivers an easy way for users to optimize the room to any meeting. There are several advantages of abstracting the peripherals in the room from the in-room UC device. If no host devices are connected, the in-room system that optimizes the corporate UC platform is used as default, ensuring normal operation of ‘one-touch’ or ‘no-touch’ protocols. However, when a user device is brought into the room and connected, the Taurus UCX in the room can automatically allow that device access the in-room peripherals.

Lightware Device Controller

This application also helps avoiding the worst scenario in any conference room - the “un-plugger” who reconnects the room peripherals to their personal device and then leaves them unconnected for the next unsuspecting user. This, of course, generally results in a support call and the need for a technician to visit the room.

The Taurus UCX, in addition to providing the switching capabilities above, is a manageable node. As it connects to the peripherals in the room, it provides an easy way to do remote troubleshooting of all of the media elements in a conference room.

For example, when a user calls the help desk indicating the room camera is not working in the meeting, the normal process is for someone to go to the room to assess the problem.

  • With the Taurus UCX in place, the camera USB actual output is reported in the management tool, making remote troubleshooting possible. For each active port on the Taurus, information about the device and state can be determined (the figure shows the display data for a video port). This enables a remote diagnostician to determine that the camera is working correctly, and the issue is in the codec/processor (either the room system or a user device).
  • Generally, the next step is a reboot of either the room system or the user device to reset the UC and video software as 90% of the time, if a problem is not physical, re-starting the application or machine will resolve the issue. But this is only possible as the Taurus management features enabled the support staff to see that the camera, microphone, and peripheral items were operating correctly.
  • The management solution is designed to integrate with the UC vendors’ management platform and is an easy extension of a Network Operations Centre or Help desk support diagnostic process. This capability to monitor can also extend to immediate assistance or even in-room advice. If a user attempts to connect to the Taurus using USB-C that is only capable of power transmission, not data, the Taurus UCX can detect that, display it in the management window, and can also place an in-room warning on the screen that the cable being used will not support video transmission. This allows for the replacement of the cable before the meeting starts. All of the functionality and reporting of the Taurus UCX is available in an open API, enabling further integration with management platforms and other business processes.

Lightware Device Controller

For organizations planning their return to regular offices and identifying how to optimize the use of in-building meeting rooms going forward, a solution optimizing the corporate platform while enabling alternative UCaaS meetings will be critical. As more rooms and spaces are equipped with advanced UC platforms, managing the last meter challenge in the room is critical for both utilization, satisfaction, and overall success in a hybrid business environment.

Fulfilling the business need for rooms enabling users to directly join external meetings while also delivering the corporate UCaaS standard with the advanced functionality and features for internal meetings will be important for virtually all organizations. While there are other in-room media solutions, the addition of management and reporting and other in-room capabilities makes the Lightware Taurus UCX an in-room media management node that should be considered.