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Room video conferencing interoperability critical for hybrid work

Vendors are beginning to take solid steps to make sure their video conferencing apps are interoperable with whatever meeting apps employees want to use.

At many companies, groups of employees are coming back to the office -- either on a full-time or part-time basis. Their return poses challenges for audiovisual teams, IT departments and business leaders, who must confront a different meeting environment than they had prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, video conferencing is a critical part of virtual collaboration; as a result, the number of video apps has exploded. About 75% of companies view video as important as voice, according to Metrigy's "Unified Communications Management and Endpoints: 2021-22" global study of 396 companies. More than half of organizations are expanding their deployments of room video conferencing systems.

Against this backdrop, the majority of companies support more than one video app, and conference room video interoperability has become a necessity. Prior to the pandemic, video use was often limited and usually only available through a single provisioned platform. In 2022, video is ubiquitous, with workers often juggling different video apps throughout the day.

Meeting flexibility was also cited in the Metrigy study, with 75% of participants saying the ability to use their room-based video conferencing systems to join multiple and different meeting apps was an important determinant when evaluating competing products.

Room systems and proprietary limitations

Up until recently, however, many room systems were optimized only for a specific vendor's meeting app. Deploying a simple one-button-to-join system typically meant purchasing a Microsoft Teams or Zoom room, for example, via a bundled package from Crestron, HP, Lenovo, Logitech or Poly. Cisco needed Webex hardware; Google rooms required Google hardware from certified partners. Gateway apps from vendors such as BlueJeans, Lifesize, Pexip and Poly do provide some level of interoperability between room systems and meeting apps, but they require additional investment and ongoing management.

Alternatively, audiovisual (AV) and IT leaders could provision BYOD options to enable meeting participants to use their personal laptops or in-room dedicated PCs. But these devices -- equipped with a variety of cameras, microphones, speakers and screens -- can be challenging to use and require more end-user support. This approach can create issues ensuring that rooms are reserved when individuals schedule meetings from within meeting apps and requires end-user training to ensure employees know how to connect and launch meetings.

Making it easier to join

Thankfully, those days are changing. Now, more than ever before, the vision of walking into a room, selecting the meeting app to use and touching an on-screen button to start a meeting is becoming a reality. Consider, for example, these room video conferencing developments:

  • Cisco and Google said they would enable Webex devices to easily join a Google Meet meeting and vice versa. Cisco is also supporting one-touch connectivity with Teams and Zooms meetings through a Cisco in-room touch device.
  • Microsoft, early in 2022, introduced Direct Guest Join for Android-based room systems. The app initially supports Zoom, but users will ultimately be able to use Direct Guest Join to access Webex and other vendors' meeting apps, Microsoft said. This approach will enable meeting attendees to participate in the meeting app of their choice via one-touch join.

These efforts are still in the early stage, and ubiquitous support is not a given -- for example, those using Apple iPads or Microsoft Surface devices as in-room touchscreens. Alternative approaches still exist for those users, including plugging in a laptop via USB or using a casting device from vendors including Airtame, Barco and Mersive, which also provide easy-to-use screen sharing for times when only in-person attendees want to show something on the in-room screen.

The good news is that the age of interoperability is getting closer. AV, IT and business leaders should evaluate the new capabilities mentioned in this tip and regularly refresh meeting spaces so that employees can use whatever meeting app they prefer in room video conferencing systems.

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