Collaboration, whats the use ?

The terms “use case” and “usage and adoption” are at risk of becoming relegated to buzzword status as the term telepresence succumbed to some years ago.  In its defense the term telepresence was great for the sales of video. In a nut shell telepresence was video conferencing with a greater focus on the environment, same technology more focus on the room.  So what will be the legacy of the current fascination with “use case” and “usage and adoption”?

Fundamentally usage and adoption comes down to understanding the use case, If you don’t articulate and understand the use case, you can’t have a high expectation of adoption and return on your investment, let alone a net positive impact  to the bottom line.

Often when use case is discussed we hear terms such as, persona and actors but when it’s boiled down use case equates to who, where, what and how.

  • Who are the participants?
  • Where are they located?
  • What differentiates the participants?
  • What platform will each participant use to participate?
  • What information will be shared before and during the interaction and by whom?
  • What constraints are imposed in order to adhere with governance and regulatory compliance?
  • How many participants will participate?
  • How often will this interaction occur?

This is not the be all and end all of what’s required to understand the use cases and the appropriate use of video but it goes a long way to increasing the probability of adoption.

If we take the time to consider these questions before deploying video we may see “use case” having  a similar impact on the use of video  as telepresence had on  the sales of video. Same technology more focus on its use.

Keep calm, it’s not another whiteboard

Image Source: Cisco Systems

It makes perfect sense to market the Cisco Spark Board as a competitively priced whiteboard and content display. If you accept the value of Spark Board as an interactive flat panel there is no need to sell you on the value of Spark, the platform, but this is where the true value of the Spark Board comes into play.

I don’t classify Spark Board as a whiteboard for the following reasons:

Context vs Content

Whiteboards provide a drawing surface for transient content; Spark Board’s focus is context: an associated history of interaction between, individuals, teams and content. I expect we will continue to see an evolution of greater contextualisation with the Spark Board and the Spark platform with the acquisition of Worklife and future development.

It’s Personal

Whiteboards are intended to be a common resource and as such be impersonal, they have no awareness of the individuals that use them. Spark Board identifies and interacts with the users in the room and seamlessly becomes their work space the moment they choose to connect. Every Spark Board is my Spark Board.

Remote collaboration is not an afterthought

It is often overlooked that collaboration is as much about who is not in the room as it is about who is. Video conferencing is a key part of remote collaboration. We design video conferencing spaces for the people that we hope will never want to be physically present in that space.  (If they feel the need to be there due to a poor experience we have failed).  The video and especially the audio experience must be of the highest quality to ensure that remote participants are engaged and included and never feel the need to be physically present to be an active participant. Cisco understands this and it’s clear to see in the Spark Board.

I see the Spark Board as an on demand personal collaboration device not a whiteboard.

Would I buy a Spark Board?

I see two target markets for the Spark Board:

Small and Medium Business

The price has democratised collaboration  for the small and medium business who may not traditionally have invested in Cisco collaboration. Those late to invest in collaboration may be some of the first to truly capitalise on the Spark Board. I would caution SMB customers who would focus on price, while the cost of entry is relatively low the decision to invest in anything must always be based on value. A focus on price is just a lower cost of failure.

Traditional Cisco Enterprise customers

It stands to reason that customer that have invested in collaboration understand its value and would have a keen interest in understanding where Spark Board and Spark can be leveraged in their organisation. A key considerations is integration. Cisco is not blind to this fact and the progressive updates to Spark  since it’s launch is testament to this.

Back to the question of would I buy a Spark Board. If you ever hear a consultant say the words “I would buy one”, don’t buy it, do some research first. If you here a consultant say “if I were you I would buy one”, then ask them why ? and give their responses due consideration.

The key to technology adoption from a users perspective is familiarity and consistency. Very often we go to meeting spaces to do the same thing we do at our desks or on our mobile devices,  just with more people. In the past the increased audience necessitated different technologies, user interfaces and workflows.  With Cisco Spark and the Spark Board this is no longer the case and that can only be a positive step in achieving a return on your investment in collaboration technologies.


The why, what, how and where of technology adoption.

Image Source: Cisco Systems 

Training is all about how, technology adoption is about much more than how, it’s about Why, What, How and Where.


Why has the organisation decided to make the investment in the chosen technology?

Decision makers know the justification and reasoning for the investment in the technology but this may not have been directly communicated to those who will use the technology.

 Articulating the key business objectives that have resulted in the investment decision provides the users with some context and can aid with their motivation to use the new technology. Examples may be cost of business pressures, competitive advantage or productivity targets.  Articulating why can increase buy-in.


What is now possible that could not have been achieved without the technology investment?

What benefits will accrue to the business from the decision to invest in the chosen technology?

What are the training requirements to use and support the technology?

What benefits will accrue to the individual users of the technology?

Use of the technology can be mandated but having and understanding and articulating the benefits to the users will lead to greater uptake. The vendor has sold the benefits for the business now it’s time to sell it to the users to realise that benefit.  The goal should be to have users that want to use the technology rather than resent the use of it.


How will the technology be implemented?

How will training be conducted?

How will users be supported during and after the initial deployment of the technology?


Where can I find more information about the technology deployment?

Where do I go for help if I encounter difficulties while using the technology?

Where are the training resources located?

Training is something that occurs after implementation, technology adoption starts right after the decision has been made to invest in technology.  It’s as much about communication, management and support as it is about training. The most important how in technology adoption is: How well are you communicating to, encouraging and supporting the users.

Five monkeys, a ladder, bananas and some cold water


You may well be wondering what monkeys, a ladder, bananas and some cold water could have to do with usage and adoption of technology.

The title is derived from an alleged psychology experiment. (There is a strong belief this experiment never took place.)

A brief summary of the experiment is outlined below:

Five monkeys were placed in a cage. A ladder was then put in the middle of the cage with bananas on top.

Each time a monkey climbed the ladder to get the bananas the rest of the monkeys were soaked with cold water.

Over time subsequent attempts by any one monkey to climb the ladder would result in a beating from the other monkeys.

One of the existing five monkeys was replaced – this new monkey saw the ladder and the bananas and attempted to climb. This provoked an instant reaction from the other monkeys and the new monkey was severely beaten. Over time and successive beatings the new monkey learned not to climb the ladder.

Each of the original monkeys were successively replaced until none of the monkeys who had been soaked with cold water remained. In spite of this, any attempt to climb the ladder resulted in a beating and no monkey ever attempted to climb the ladder.

A similar behaviour exists in the workplace – we accept existing workflows and practices without question. Time passes, people and technology change, but for many organisations work practices and workflows remain the same.

As you implement new communications and collaboration technologies in your organisation, you must evaluate the need to change existing work practices, or at the very least question them, to validate they are taking full advantage of the technology investment.

There’s no ‘i’ in Team, but there’s an “us” in User


Most of you will be familiar with the term: ‘there is no ‘i’ in team’. When it comes to the adoption of technology for improved business outcomes, I believe it’s key to remember that there is an ‘us’ in ‘user(s)’.

As IT professionals responsible for the implementation and support of technology, we need to consider the ‘user’ as ‘us’. We need to adopt the mindset of a user, to get the best uptake of the technology we are attempting to deploy. We also need to understand – and communicate to the user – that the deployment of technology is not the end of a process, but the means to an ongoing ‘end’ of positives for the organisation. Ultimately the deployed technology is intended to improve business outcomes. Eg: better communication (inside and outside of the organisation); improved metrics; workflow efficiencies; ultimately having a positive impact on customer satisfaction – which should be the base driver for any business.

Users need to remember that IT is not the ‘deliberately make it difficult’ department (although it can feel that way). In many cases IT may be operating within technology, process or budget constraints. They don’t deliberately set out to make it hard.

If you are a user of technology, or in the IT department, there is no place for the term ‘them’ when referring to colleagues. You were all hired for the same end goal, each of you playing your different roles.

In my experience, organisations that use the inclusive ‘we’ or ‘us’ – regardless of the employee’s role – are more open to innovation and have higher rates of technology adoption. This directly impacts business outcomes and efficiencies.

If today you say: ‘they’ or ‘them’ when you refer to colleagues in the IT department, or in other departments, try instead to say ‘we’ or ‘us’.

When you’re a member of a team within an organisation, there is no ‘i’, there is no ‘them’, when referring to colleagues, but there is always an ‘us’. You are all users of technology: for some it’s your job, for others it’s what helps you do your job. Don’t forget you’re all on the same team, aiming for the same goal. Success is very often about mindset: get that right, and the goal becomes easier to attain.


The Definition of the ‘Averagely Perfect’ Meeting Room

Does the ‘averagely perfect’ meeting room exist, and if so what defines it?

My definition of the averagely perfect meeting room or space is a space that has been designed with the minimal number of compromises to achieve the best experience for the intended use cases.

The reality, is that most meeting spaces contain some level of compromise, which may be due to architectural, technology or budget constraints. When we add video conferencing to these spaces, we introduce an additional level of complexity and – in many cases – compromises.

We design meeting rooms for the local participants. We design video conferencing spaces for the best possible experience for the people who will most likely never see the room (if we get it right). The reality is that most organisations build meeting rooms, and not dedicated video conferencing rooms. Video conferencing vendors provide video conferencing solutions – not meeting room solutions. In many cases, all-in-one video conferencing solutions will meet the use case requirements for smaller meeting rooms, but not for larger and multi-purpose spaces. Placing an all-in-one system in these type of spaces is ALWAYS a compromise.

In practice, knowledge is often gained about one second after you needed it when it comes to real life experience. We learn from our mistakes, but wouldn’t it be so much better – and cost effective – to ‘head those mistakes off at the pass?

Here are some of the things I have learned that have influenced how I approach integrating video into meeting rooms:

It’s easier to move walls and pull cables on paper

If at all possible audio visual and video conferencing requirements should be designed into the space at the earliest phase of development. Having an understanding of the use cases and their required technology should inform and – where possible – be accommodated in the design of the space. Room aesthetics, architectural finishes, and engineering requirements may still result in compromise, but the earlier this is addressed and understood the better.

Try these on for size:

Try and adopt the mindset of the intended users of the room, and also the remote participants if including video conferencing.

Where would you prefer to sit, why? Where is your least preferable seating position and why? What can I do to improve the experience from this position? It may be as easy as increasing the size (of) or raising the screen, or changing the shape of the table or room orientation.

When you add video conferencing you need to also consider the remote participants experience: can they see and hear everyone clearly? Is it a worthwhile experience from their perspective?

Could your grandparents use it?

We sometimes forget that employers don’t ever advertise for ‘users of technology’ as a key component of every job description – unless, of course, it’s a role in IT! It’s our job to make the role people were hired for easier – not harder. The use of technology must be intuitive and our language on control systems and labeling must be common place. Over the years I have walked in to many meeting rooms and have been presented with multiple cables on the desk (none of which were labelled!), or a control panel with ‘techno speak’. If I myself, as someone who does this for a living, struggled to use them, what hope does an infrequent user have?

The “how long is a cable” question?

This is something I see more and more these days with the advent of the all-in-one off the shelf packages. The length of the supplied cable should not dictate the seating position. The preferred seating position should dictate the length of the cable. A straightforward fix, but often overlooked, and results in a compromised user experience.

‘Easy’ takes up space

It doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands to add ‘easy’ to an AV enabled meeting space, but it does take additional ‘magic boxes’ that need to be accommodated in that space. It’s best not to have these items on show as it can intimidate some users and attract unwanted attention from others.

“The magic doesn’t work anymore, do something!”

So you created the easiest and most popular room in your organisation. As is the case with technology, it fails sometimes. How quickly can the ‘magic’ be restored? This is the key to maintaining adoption. Most of us remember the extended wait for the coffee – no matter how good the coffee was once we got it – and in most cases would prefer not to have to go back to that coffee shop again. You must design serviceability into your meeting spaces to maintain adoption. Yes, you can fit a lot of technology behind a 65” screen, but how easy is it to replace?

Much of what I have outlined is common sense, but experience has shown me that common sense in many cases gets blinded by technology. If I were to distill my experience down to one statement it would be: “Is the space inviting and fit for purpose?”

A space that is fit for purpose that people want to use is perfection!

Create meeting spaces people use because they want to, not because they have to!

“Forget about video” to find its greatest value

Over the years I have participated in hundreds – if not thousands – of meetings via video conferencing, but not all my experiences were the same or equally beneficial.

There were some good, some bad, and some ‘just ok’ meetings. I have looked back at each of those experiences and have found there is a common theme to why some meetings are better than others.

Before revealing what I see as the common theme, let’s look at some meeting types in ranked order of suitability (or quality of experience):

1 The Head to Head

This is a meeting where there are only two participants (sometimes referred to as a ‘point-to-point’ call). Without doubt, this is the best meeting type: it’s intimate, we have each other’s full attention, and there are no distractions.

2 The Linchpin

This is usually a meeting of 6-10 participants, and the person vital to the meeting – the Linchpin – attends via video. They are critical to the progress of the meeting’s outcome and they spend a lot of time leading the discussion, and have the full attention of the group.

3 The Dick Turpin (Stand and Deliver)

This is similar to the Linchpin but is more of a lecture style meeting/event due to the audience size (one expert: large audience), and is often described as ‘Lecture Mode’. There is one focus of attention and the person delivering the presentation or speech has the full attention of their audience. This type of meeting works best where the audience can see the presenter as well as all other audience members – especially if there is Q&A.

The meeting types that I have found that aren’t as conducive to being conducted over video are:

4 The Reverse Linchpin*

Once again we have a team type meeting, with a group gathered in a single location (eg boardroom or huddle room) and one participant that has joined the meeting externally via video. In this instance the Linchpin is situated within the group. Whilst the remote party is a willing participant, they are somewhat distant, and may become disengaged as the majority of interaction (intended or not) is amongst the group, and consists primarily of lots of cross-table discussion.

5 Five tables of Five (Feeding time at the trough)*

This meeting type usually consist of two or more groups of participants, and is probably the least productive meeting type, as there can be a higher level of distraction, and in many cases lots of side-bar conversations that make it harder to concentrate.

If I were to have listed the above meeting types in rank order as ‘in-person’ (or ‘in-the-flesh’) meetings, the ranking would be the same. That is why I say: “Forget about video” to find its place of greatest value.

For communications to be engaging they do not need to be ‘in-person’, but they must be ‘face to face’. The first three meeting types listed are more conducive to natural face to face communications, whilst the other two meetings types are less conducive, and that is the common theme.

When I discuss ‘use case’ with customers, the first question that comes to mind is: “If I were to have this type of meeting via video (as I usually would in person), would I consider it an environment conducive for a productive meeting?” You should do the same. If you consider the meeting type to be ineffective and a less than ideal experience in-person, stop and think what options are available to make the setting more conducive to natural communications and an improved meeting experience.

*Note: placing the camera along the longest meeting room axis may increase the amount of face to face communications, but may limit the number of participants.

Why video-conferencing fails to be adopted

Audio visual consultants using an ipad device | Vidica

Over the years we have helped many customers select video-conferencing solutions. Sadly, not all of them have successfully adopted the technology. Adoption is the greatest challenge to achieving the return on investment and the competitive advantages that video has to offer.

Recently, we have seen great improvements in the ease of use of conferencing solutions but we have not seen proportional improvement in adoption rates.

So, why does video-conferencing fail to be adopted and how can you improve the outcome for your business? To answer this question, we reviewed our experiences with customers over the past decade, many of whom deployed identical solutions in the same way but achieved very different results.

We discovered the key reason why video-conferencing fails to be adopted: lack of ownership, specifically lack of organisational ownership. Ownership is the elephant in the room when it comes to achieving adoption. Ownership of the need, the use and the support of video-conferencing is the critical factor for adoption. Lack of ownership leads to low adoption. Also, it must be ownership across every facet of the business. Individual ownership provides only transient adoption – once individuals leave or change roles, adoption plummets.

Vendors, resellers and professional service organisations can assist your company to acquire video-conferencing technology, but without user buy-in and ownership it won’t be fully adopted. You know your users better than anyone coming in from the outside, so at VIDICA we work with you and your team to ensure we understand your needs.

You can buy the best conferencing solution and the best advice in the world, but you can’t buy ownership; it’s organic, it’s home-grown, and without it there is no adoption. That’s why we advocate working with users throughout the entire process.

Three critical factors in successful adoption of video-conferencing

Many organisations invest in video-conferencing but fail to successfully adopt it, while others, with almost identical deployments, succeed. Why is this so? Successful organisations have a greater understanding of three things:

1)    Why do you need video-conferencing?

2)    How are you going to use video-conferencing?

3)    How do you plan to support video-conferencing?

The answers to these three questions are the key to successful adoption of video-conferencing. We recommend answering them thoroughly before any investment in video-conferencing. If you leave numbers 2 and 3 until you have bought the technology, you will have much lower rates of adoption, as you will lose the confidence of your users in the early days of deployment.

Why do you need video-conferencing?

We have deliberately used the word ‘need’ rather than ‘want’. If a better alternative, such as face-to-face meetings, was available, you would not use video conferencing. So, your circumstances indicate that you need video conferencing, and you also need it to be used.

For instance, telehealth and distance education organisations have high take-up of video-conferencing. Face-to-face exchanges are not an option for them due to the distance involved and/or the limited availability of resources. These organisations have clearly identified their needs and they put significant effort into making video-conferencing the best possible experience for all involved.

We have also highlighted the word you deliberately. No one understands the needs of your organisation better than those who are involved in its operation on a day-to-day basis.

How are you going to use video-conferencing?

It is critical to know how you are going to use video-conferencing, right down to detailed user workflows and the communication of these workflows to users. Failing to involve users in determining the use cases and their associated workflows leads to lower rates of adoption. Involving users in the decision-making process gains their buy-in and also provides you with the opportunity to manage any unrealistic user expectations ahead of deploying video-conferencing.

How are you going to support video-conferencing?

Knowing how you will support video-conferencing is critical. We have observed a direct correlation between adoption levels and the prevalence of in-house support, especially in the non-vocational sectors such as law and finance. However, lack of support is a symptom of, rather than the reason for, low adoption rates.

To uncover the key reason adoption may remain low, see our next blog, “Why video-conferencing fails to be adopted”.