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David J. Danto

 

AV, Collaboration, IoT, Technology, UC and Video Industry Analyst

 

Director of Emerging Technology                                                                                 

Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance  

 

eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org      Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD

(Read David’s Bio)     (See David’s CV)    (Read David’s Other Blogs & Articles)

 

A View From The Road Volume 13, Number 4

InfoComm 2019

 

……It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….. 

I’ve struggled coming up with how to frame InfoComm 2019, now a week since its conclusion.  Multiple aspects of this conference are in transition, with some good results and some not so good results.  It will be difficult to parse out and fairly present the good and the bad, but I’m going to give it a shot.

 

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Firstly, as in multiple conference before, let me explain that I’ve divided the writing chores with Let’s Do Video’s David Maldow.  Personally, while I (and many others) still consider me an industry analyst that strives for impartiality, I am an employee of Poly (the new combination of Plantronics and Polycom) so I will defer the booth visits and product announcements to him (and count on him to cover our great announcements) and focus solely on the themes and my observations of the conference.  There are quite a few to discuss.

 

·       Partnerships: In a trend that I’ve documented before, many manufacturers and service providers have recognized that developing and selling their products and services as a siloed offering will no longer fly in this industry.  Partnership announcements were everywhere at this conference, with collaboration hardware manufacturers boasting about the ecosystems they are compatible with, audio firms adopting one or more of the multiple audio over IP schemes, historically “audio” and historically “video” firms bundling their offerings together, etc.  In the collaboration world there are now very few manufacturers that think they can own the cloud/infrastructure and hardware pieces of a client’s business – and the ones that still do are being recognized as dinosaurs.  People want everything to “just work” and these ‘bundled to work together’ solutions take the onus of achieving success off of the integrator and place it onto these pre-tested combinations.  Additionally, furniture manufacturers are packaging their offerings with integrators and manufacturers to gain a foothold in the space.  There will only be more and more of these partnerships coming to market in the future.

·       Improving AI: Many exhibitors showed improvements in how AI will support meetings.  Cameras that can now more effectively track participants mean manual controls are really a thing of the past.  Microphones – whether called “beamforming” or “tracking intelligence” – can now do a much better job of following the audio sources within a meeting, and new and old algorithms for blocking noise and extraneous content are readily available.  The ‘meeting start’ process is the next target everyone is apparently working on – but there were few new enhancements in that area ready for this show.

·       Evolution not Revolution: There were a notable few new products and systems at the conference this year – such as a new collaboration room planning ecosystem from Stem and some nifty advancements in BlueTooth for AV from Williams AV, but for the most part exhibitors showed incremental enhancements to their products, not new devices.  There are a number of reasons for this, most notably that InfoComm has lost the mantle of new product announcements to other conferences.  New AV gear now tends to get introduced at the larger, international ISE show in February, and new collaboration technology now tends to get introduced at Enterprise Connect.  This also leads to the next observation.

·       Significant Transitioning and Challenges Underway with InfoComm Itself: The conference and its organizers are in the middle of a number of transitions that represent significant challenges for the future of the event:

o   Renaming / Rebranding:  The organization that puts on InfoComm, which used to be called ICIA, then InfoComm, rebranded themselves to AVIXA late in 2017.  The name change (Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association) represented a change in focus for the group – from a focus on technical standards and industry advocacy to a focus on the “experience” of the industry’s work products.  This has had mixed results.  Some embrace the focus on user experience, as this is a trend for many industries.  Others lament that “experience” is not objectively measurable, and merely distracts from the urgent need for industry members to ramp-up their technical proficiency in a rapidly changing world (where IT contractors are taking a lot of AV market share, and traditional AV companies are closing or merging as the industry shrinks.)  I have very strong opinions on this subject, but regardless of how I or others feel, any objective view of the rebranding must conclude that it hasn’t gone smoothly.  Many exhibitors hate the name and (correctly or not) attach to it the blame for some of the other transitions I’ll detail below.  AVIXA certainly didn’t help their cause by taking to social media and practically begging owners of InfoComm swag to “trade it in” for AVIXA swag.  Promotions usually give away or have contests for branded items.  Rarely do organizations take the odd step of asking one to turn past branding in so they can replace it with new.

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o   Me Too: AVIXA has a significant problem with diversity.  While they have recognized this and have actively taken steps to acknowledge and correct the problem, it is difficult to separate the positive steps they have taken (for example - creating a Diversity Council with multiple public events) from the poor optics they have continued to support.  Some examples include the Woman in AV Award that smacks of tokenism (when no women won any of the other awards this year); one major exhibitor and some minor ones still using female models to celebrate their brand and parties (which industry participants are still debating); and some reports of sexual harassment on the show floor and events.  The short-sighted optics of this year’s ribbon cutting certainly didn’t help very much either.  The AV community wants real change towards equality, not just acknowledgment and token solutions.

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o   Changing Nature of The Show and Industry: Overarching all of the other issues is the simple fact that the industry and conference are changing.  More end-users are attending the conference – bringing a wonderful camaraderie and personality to the event, but one that is concerning to some of the exhibitors.  Reported registration was up about a hundred people, but actual attendance was not reported.  (Other than a handful of very popular booths, the attendance looked significantly lighter to most people I spoke with.  AVIXA could release the number of badges printed to resolve the issue, but they haven’t to date.) The costs of exhibiting at the event are already sky-high and going up, with a number of regular exhibitors taking smaller space this year and even smaller space next year.  Then there was the conference planning itself.  As opposed to years past, the session content had little to no independent (outside of AVIXA) review.  (Some were good, some were terrible – in one case with a panelist having to essentially take over the moderation of the session.)  Someone thought it would be a good idea to put a DJ in the hallway, arguably adding excitement, but making networking and conversations more difficult – the two most important things that most people attend the show to do.  Also, the Orange County Convention Center was in the middle of a connectivity transition, resulting in poor WiFi and cellular service for attendees and exhibitors.  Generally, the list of complaints I heard far outweighs the list of compliments. 

 

There really wasn’t a lot of the biggest collaboration trend (Team Chat / Workflow Platforms) visible on the show floor (other than my discussion of it on Convention TV.) That was an interesting miss considering the ~$20 Billion valuation of Slack on their first day of public trading – just a week after InfoComm.    Expect to see more and more about workflows and Team Chat as the hype-cycle peaks within the next year.  This calendar year still has Zoomtopia, Collaboration Week Silicon Valley and Microsoft Ignite on it, so I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this topic this year.

 

Now onto David Maldow for the product announcements and booth visits.

 

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Business video solutions are hot right now. InfoComm is an enormous show, and the UCC section (which is where the video vendors were located) is just one area of the gigantic show floor. However, this year for the first time, it felt like UCC, and business video in particular, was the belle of the ball. All of the positive attention from the financial world, following the successful Zoom IPO, certainly had something to do with it. Even more so is the simple fact that today’s working teams are culturally ready to adopt video on a massive scale, just as the industry has finally found an affordable, manageable model for deploying enterprise video. The stars have aligned for business video.

Booth Visits and Vendor Briefings

 

AVER: Carl Harvell (Sr. Director of Customer Success and Service), has been keeping busy since our recent podcast about the new AVer CAM540. For the full scoop on AVer’s presence at InfoComm please watch the video and check out our article on their InfoComm partnership strategy.

BARCO: David Fitzgerald (VP Global Alliances), showed me the latest iteration of the legendary ClickShare and the award winning UniSee wall, but I may be most impressed with their Overture solution. All this great AV equipment is only useful if it can be properly maintained and managed, which is hard to do at scale. The Overture solution not only allows support to dig down into specific devices, but does so in a very cool and visually appealing way. I think IT/AV staff won’t just appreciate how this helps them do their jobs, they will enjoy using it.

BLUEJEANS: John Knightly (SVP Product and Solution Marketing), shared the latest from BlueJeans, including adding Dolby Audio and other advancements to their mobile app, as well as bringing Dolby Audio, real time translation, and security enhancements to their Events service. Watch their video for more.

BOSE: I’ve been prying to get Martin Bodley (Director, Emerging Business) to explain Bose’s interest in the collaboration space ever since they acquired ZiipRoom in January. Well at InfoComm he and his team came through in a big way. They had a lot to show me, and I can comfortably say that their interest in the space is real, and their roadmap is far beyond the preliminary blueprint stages. I can’t share anything (or should I say, any of the multiple things), but I am going to have a lot to cover in the near future. One thing I can talk about, although unrelated to meeting collaboration, is the set of Bose Frames that Martin was kind enough to let me have. They look like Ray-Ran-ish sunglasses, but they work like bluetooth headphones. They even have a mic. I was skeptical about the sound quality before I tried them, as there is nothing in or covering your ears, but they really sound amazing! No joke, this may be the future of glasses, and of headphones.

CISCO: The big news from Cisco was happening across the country at their Cisco Live event in San Diego. However, Cisco still had a large presence, and a busy booth, at InfoComm. It was great to chat with the team about all the big Cisco Live announcements. I’m particularly interested in learning more about the plans to bring Jabber and Webex Meetings/Teams together. Cisco has two massive brands with huge user bases that they don’t want to disturb, but they clearly have a desire to simplify their partners’ and customers’ lives by bringing their technologies together.

CLEAR ONE: Jason Ambion (National Sales Director), and the ClearOne team has been busy. Their devices continue to impress and win awards, as the need for high quality audio in meeting rooms becomes more and more understood. They are also working on partnerships with cloud vendors to make it easier for their customers to use the devices they want, with the services they want.

DOLBY: Dolby has been very busy, and visible, in our space in the last few years. Their partnership strategy in video started with BlueJeans, then extended to Highfive, and at InfoComm they announced a new partnership with GoToMeeting, which will put Dolby Audio into millions of additional business worker ears this year. At LDV, we have evaluated the BlueJeans Room Kit with Dolby Audio, the Dolby Voice Room with Highfive, and we recently presented a webinar on the Highfive/Dolby solution. Jeff Smith (Director, Product Marketing), shares details on Dolby’s strategy to bring their audio into enterprise meeting spaces. Here’s my interview with them.

GO TO MEETING: I had a great conversation with Jen Mathews (PR manager), Mike Sharp (CPO), Paul Gentile (Director of Product Marketing) of the GoTo (LogMein) team. GoTo gets what is happening in our space and is stepping up to offer the new video meeting room experience to their massive customer base. Their newly announced partnership with Dolby is an ideal step in this direction. Dolby audio throughout the GoTo platform is obviously an experience boost. Perhaps just as important, the Dolby Voice Room device running GoToMeeting, provides an affordable, managable, and user friendly way to bring the GoTo experience to the meeting room. The discussion revealed a number of technologies and areas that GoTo is working on that I would not have expected and look forward to covering as they go public.

JABRA: When I met with Jabra at Enterprise Connect earlier in the year, they had just acquired PanaCast. I have been a fan of the PanaCast team and approach since day one, and I was wondering what Jabra’s plans were. After meeting with Karl Bateson and the Jabra team at Infocomm I am more than pleased that they truly get the value of PanaCast, and understand how it can make Jabra a player in the quickly expanding video meeting kit space. While the details are still NDA, the pieces of the puzzle are pretty easy to put together if you think about it. It says something about the growth of the video market if we are attracting audio heavyweights like Jabra. One thing I can say, when they are ready to announce their play, the PanaCast piece has the potential to make their offering truly differentiated.

LIBERTY AV: I caught a very interesting demo at this integrator’s booth. They have a service called Teleportivity, which uses video in a unique and extremely powerful way. Enterprise organizations may have thousands of pieces integrator installed equipment that may require tech support. When something goes wrong, the process of getting the right support can be frustrating. With Teleportivity, every piece of equipment has a label with a QR code. If you point your phone/tablet at the code, you get all the relevant info on the device, as well as the option to get live tech support on video. You can literally show the tech support person what you are looking at and having trouble with. The cumulative time savings that this technology could achieve is massive. As someone covering video technology for a long time, I absolutely love to see people thinking outside the box, and finding new uses for video.

LENOVO: Lenovo showed off their new ThinkSmart Hub 500 for Microsoft Teams.  It is a purpose-built, all-in-one appliance that includes a rotating touchscreen that facilitates one-touch join meetings.  Lenovo is one of a number of firms that are producing hardware solutions to make Microsoft’s software collaboration platforms more functional and useful in meeting rooms.

LOGITECH: When you chat with Simon Dudley (Head of Sales Enablement and Analyst Relations), you don’t just get the latest from Logitech. You get a current perspective on the industry from one of our best thought leaders. We start with the Logitech Sync announcement. The fact that management of massive deployments of Logitech devices through enterprise work spaces has become an issue that needed to be resolved is what I call a great a problem to have. Logitech Sync solves this problem simply and cleanly. Check out the video for the rest of the Logitech announcements, and a great discussion. See the interview here.

MICROSOFT: I had a great chat with Kendra Baker (Sr. Product Marketing Manager, MS Teams Devices), about today’s new chat-driven work culture, and how Microsoft Teams is working to support it. At Let’s Do Video, we see video as the top of the productivity pyramid as it is the most effective way for remote workers to collaborate. However, the base of the pyramid is now team chat. We use video, but we live in our team chat. There is so much to be said about how team chat empowers remote (and non-remote teams) in a way that makes work more manageable and even enjoyable. But the key to my conversation with Kendra is that Microsoft clearly gets it. They are a big company and can dabble in many things, but this is no dabble. I hope to continue the conversation so I can share more with you about Microsoft’s plans to get us all using MS Teams.

NUREVA: Every time I demo the Nureva Span Workspace on the Nureva Wall it has added functionality and an improved workflow. Nureva is also constantly developing their popular HDL300 audio solutions, adding new features like “Active Zone Control” to further improve the meeting experience. While a visual canvas workspace isn’t the right tool for every working team, it is the ideal workflow for certain types of collaborators who are enjoying massive ROI from Nureva deployments.

PEXIP: The Pexip and Videxio combination is a match made in heaven (or Norway, which is pretty close to heaven from what I hear). Rarely do two teams merge into one so seamlessly, and hit the ground running so quickly. It was great to see old friends from both organizations, wearing the new Pexip colors, working together at the booth, at their analyst/partner breakfast, and at their multiple parties (they know how to make the most out of InfoComm). Jordan Owens (VP, Architecture), shares the details on the new Pexip on this video interview, and the latest developments to their platform. Pexip stands out as really having no direct competitors when it comes to the basic nature of their Infinity platform, despite being in the middle of an increasingly crowded and competitive market.

POLY: The software revolution caused a massive sea change in the videoconferencing industry. The largest ships had the hardest time turning with the new current. Companies like Polycom had to decide what kind of company they wanted to be in this new world. There were many questions regarding what Polycom was going to do, what Polycom should do, and where it fit in this new generation of business video. These questions have all finally been answered to just about everyone’s satisfaction as Polycom and Plantronics formed the new Poly Company. The Poly has pulled together a new exec team, with some very familiar and reassuring faces, and they are focusing on what they do best. There is a magic spot where we, as human beings, connect to the cloud services that we love so much. We call this, “the endpoint”. Whether it be a speakerphone, camera, all-in-one video room system, we need an endpoint to make it all happen. Poly (both from the Plantronics and Polycom side) has always created great endpoints, and the Polycom team has a historic understanding of the enterprise video market. The new Polys’ roadmap, as explained in my video interview with David Danto (Director of UC Strategy and Research), simply makes sense, and their latest products are getting a lot of good buzz.

SENNHEISER: The word is out. “Good enough audio” is not good enough for business. Superior audio provides great ROI by making working sessions more productive, and less mentally straining. Companies with great names in audio, like Sennheiser, are quickly realizing that their products aren’t just needed for audiophiles and for high end workspaces, but for every day working teams. Jim Fairweather (VP Americas Sales & Marketing), shares in my video interview how Sennheiser is partnering with companies like Zoom and Amazon to certify their products for their collaboration services to meet this need.

STARIN: LDV owes an enormous amount of thanks to the Starin team, and Chris Neto in particular, for allowing us to record the videos embedded above at their booth. Integrators and resellers have an important new role in our industry. The gear is a lot easier to install and far more reliable than in the old days. The need for integrators today is not so much to make sure the gear works, but to help us understand how best to use the gear to support our workflows. By helping give a voice to independent analysts like LDV, Starin is furthering the discussion beyond the typical financial analysis of industry vendors, and into the trends and workplace realities that are driving the future of our industry.

STARLEAF: William MacDonald (CTO), showed me the latest from StarLeaf, including their new Pronto service for their meeting room systems. With Pronto, you don’t have to schedule the room system, you can just invite yourself to the meeting, walk into the meeting room, and put your phone down next to the StarLeaf system. The solution will connect wirelessly to your phone, pull the meeting info, and let you click the touchpad to start the meeting on the room system. You can also use the Pronto Cable to connect your laptop which also will start your meeting from the touchpad, as well as let you share content to the monitor. StarLeaf has a lot on their roadmap, and continues to make headway with their Open Cloud offering, so we will be sure to check in again with them soon.

STEM AUDIO: Jacob Marash (CEO and Founder), is reinventing the way we do audio. We recently presented a webinar together, where we explain how the new Stem Audio Ecosystem works. With Stem Audio, the devices themselves (while cutting edge) are really secondary to the software that creates the ecosystem. This unique software provides a visual interfaces which helps audio installers do everything from designing the room, to choosing the devices, to testing room coverage, to “tuning” the devices for best possible sound. It even offers a touch interface to start your video call. I expect you will be hearing a lot more about Stem Audio in the near future. Watch my video of our conversation here.

T1V: I caught a great demo at the T1V booth of their ThinkHub solution. I love the idea of a virtual workspace (or canvas), that any worker can contribute to regardless of location. T1V has a number of differentiators, but I was particularly impressed by the variety of content they can support on the workspace. Rather than just supporting the ability to share files, team members can share their entire laptop as a content item up on the big screen. The ability to work with our devices, and not merely share files with our devices, brings a whole new level of applications to the virtual workspace concept.

VDO360: Dan Freeman (CEO), is always working on the next thing. Dan demoed several cameras, including their new Compass PTZ with 10x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. At full zoom it was picking up the smallest details from across the convention hall. He also showed me the new Navigator Auto Tracking Camera. Auto tracking is incredibly popular now, and this is a very affordable approach. It uses audio to track the active speaker, and worked surprisingly well with all the background noise at the show. Dan had several NDA projects to share with me as well, so be sure to check back later in the year for the next big thing from VDO360.

YAMAHA: Meghan Kennelly (Manager of Global Marketing & Communications) showed me the newest Yamaha meeting room solution. Based off customer feedback from their CS-700 Video Sound Bar, they created a new version designed for bigger spaces with a separate camera (the Huddly) for placement above a monitor. The new ESB-1080 Enterprise Sound Bar has enough audio muscle for bigger spaces, while keeping the popular speakerbar form factor.

ZOOM: Zoom is the center of the business video universe. The first words out of almost any collaboration hardware vendor’s lips at InfoComm, was about how they are working with Zoom. The Zoom logo was in countless booths. Zoom’s success is so unprecedented that it has changed the competitive stance of many of our industry leaders. Previously, we had a limited market, and the big video vendors were fighting over the same Fortune 50 fish. Zoom’s amazing success, and unbelievable reception from Wall Street, has validated a massive expansion of our entire industry. In other words, Zoom is doing so well that they are actually helping their competitors by redefining the market. Everyone is more interested in finding new customers than poaching competitor accounts.

Esther Yoon (Product Marketing Manager, Conference Room Solutions), shared the latest features and announcements on collaborative tools and in-room intelligence in our video chat here, but what is more notable in the video is her constant focus on the user experience and user happiness.

The Zoom near obsession with happiness is not just a marketing gimmick. I’ve spoken to some rather large Zoom accounts and they haven’t all chosen Zoom based on features and price alone. The Zoom culture, responsiveness to customer requests, and feeling of real partnership is as much a part of their success as their leading platform. To get a real sense of what makes Zoom so unique, you must go to Zoomtopia this October. This will be my third year covering the event and it is always a great learning/networking experience, and a lot of fun.

 

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That’s it for this edition of A View From The Road.  Look for the next one in early November, after Zoomtopia and Collaboration Week Silicon Valley.

 

 

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This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He is the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology and Poly’s Director of UC Strategy and Research. David can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. 

 

All images and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.