Collaboration tools: purposefully choosing and applying media assistants

The changes in Industry 4.0 are demanding ever more collaboration within offices across project teams and between departments – within companies as well as cross-company. More and more often, collaboration becomes a real challenge. Schedules are getting tighter, the results of individual and agile working methods demand numerous iterations at short turn arounds. Additionally, in more and more project teams the members are spread around the world. These teams often do not have the same tools on hand and work at completely different times.

These many factors pose challenges to the industry 4.0. The solution can be found in the guise of digitalisation, which is still too opaque for many people: Digital and interactive AV technology, so-called collaboration tools, are supposed to provide the solution. macom GmbH has seen in many clients before our engagement that this political campaign for “digitisation” actually brings disenchantment instead of alleviating the problem. Clients believe that conventional solutions do not seem to be sufficient any more, the necessary installations are too complex and do not obtain the expected Return on Investment, the entire IT and AV technology is too confusing.

This disenchantment is due to a number of factors but generally starts with a lack of a strategic approach without thorough requirement analysis and proper planning.

What forms of collaboration already exist?

To determine, which collaborative and media solutions provide the most added value for your specific requirements, you must first clarify how your company is going to work collaboratively. We distinguish 4 dimensions of collaboration:

How to purposfully choose and apply collaboration tools

As the table shows, collaboration can be done at the same time at the same location (1st dimension), at the same time at different locations (2nd dimension), at different times at the same location (3rd dimension) and at different times across great distances (4th dimension). The tools for the first dimension are well-known and omnipresent. Presentation tools like paper, white boards, images or the like can be used to assist and demonstrate. These presentation tools will remain important elements of collaboration. But this does not necessarily mean that they are not able to undergo a technical evolution. For example: more and more so-called „Tabletops“, viz. screens embedded into tables whose content can be manipulated by multi-touch, are used. Content takes one step towards interactive. Collaboration rooms which only use tools of the first dimension are found today in the form of meeting corners or basic meeting or huddle rooms. These basic meeting rooms generally do not have tools for communicating with other locations like telephones or video conferencing. You might find white boards, flip charts and possibly an undersized non interactive display for locally presenting power point slides. These rooms are increasingly not meeting modern requirements, and more and more tools of other dimensions are needed.

Most of the best-known second-dimension tools nowadays are web-based. In addition to telephony, often over the Internet as voice over IP, particularly so-called “instant messaging systems” are of great importance. These differ from e-mail systems, a fourth-dimension tool, in the “push” technology, or real-time notification or chats. Some smaller files can also be exchanged via these systems. Currently, most of the collaboration spaces are of the 2nd dimension. In these spaces we find a Display with a connection for a lap top, which is used to share the presentation with the colleagues abroad – very often via Skype or other web conferencing tool. However, these spaces with some more tools available are also frequently hitting a brick wall.

Collaboration tools of the 3rd dimension, like a bulletin board or sticky notes function more as coordination tools than as collaboration tools. They are also usually incorporated in tools of the 4th dimension. For example, digital bulletin boards or even interactive “digital signage” solutions are now available, which can also be used for other dimensions due to their networked functionality.

By contrast, the fourth dimension is by far the most extensive, and today includes more tools than all other dimensions together. The key to their great importance lies on the internet. The internet has allowed multitude of new collaboration possibilities that almost everyone in their working routine has to deal with today. The collaboration room often shifts from the conference room to the individual workstation. Confidential documents can be sent to numerous recipients around the world in real time and at any time -. However this does mean that the recipients generally still read the message later to suit their timings.

Workplaces with Blogs and software tools like Sharepoint and Teams are taking one step further into the 4th dimension. The collaboration within these internet/ team focused forums is happening constantly. It doesn’t matter how large the team is, how far it is spread or when they are working. Alterations are always visible in real time for all participants, processes, decisions and changes can be retraced and commented on. Internal Blogs are popular as a medium for internal communication in some companies as they can help to reduce the quantity of complex and expensive town hall meetings needed and can distribute information quickly and cost-effectively within large companies. Everybody receives the information to suit their individual planning.

What requirements do collaborative working processes place on AV technology?

Due to the shorter time-to-market, agile ways of working like e.g. Scrum are enjoying a great popularity in industry 4.0. Scrum is an iterative approach for smaller project teams that seeks to increase the qualitative value of a product with each increment, using flat hierarchies, clear roles, and shortest communication paths. Communication is reduced to the essentials: There is a regular 15-minute meeting in which each participant quickly summarizes what he is working on and where he sees problems. After that, everyone is informed and can get back to work.

Working methods like these are currently very popular, even among international project teams. However, the 15-minute-meetings are a major challenge for AV technology. Losing valuable minutes before a meeting begins because the display solution does not have the necessary cable connection for the Scrum master’s laptop or the video conferencing has to be started via another device, is not only annoying but wastes resources. Often the setup times are longer than the meeting itself! It is then often the case that participants subsequently have to digitize the information written on whiteboards and post-it notes to upload to an online drive taking even more time. If external service providers are included in the project that do not have access to the in-house support, everything has to be sent by email anyway! Of course, information is often lost with all this complexity. These situations happen every day in many companies.

We are talking about a use case that combines all dimensions of collaboration placing the greatest possible demands on the systems in terms of usability, compatibility and reliability. All this is difficult to solve with a patchwork of different technical solutions for every conceivable application. Rather, an environment has to be created that consists of a unified solution with a high degree of automation. The objectives are clear: Save time, increase productivity.

Why strategic planning is important – Collaboration in transition

It is clear that digital collaboration in Industry 4.0 means more and more often working with colleagues all around the globe and therefore at different times. The focus of AV collaboration tools is shifting away from the first and second to the fourth dimension and further towards a unified system for all use cases.

Obviously providing unified systems a solution includes the challenges of AV design and importantly includes the strategic planning for AV and IT. In the past the biggest issues in system design were items such as the light output of a specific projector or size of screen. Modern collaboration solutions require many more far-reaching decisions to be made. What bandwidths are available in the corporate network? Are there plans to expand the network? How’s the network infrastructure in the rooms, is data stored locally or is a cloud used? How does the system behave in terms of scalability, is the software capable of doing so? Is the IT managed in-house or by a service provider? If it is currently in house, is it worth outsourcing with the integration of the system? Whereto? Which devices are used by the users, are they unified or is there a BYOD policy? What is the support process in place for the hardware? Is it sufficient? How is it structured now systems are business critical?

The complexity of “digitisation” in collaboration should not be underestimated. However, you also not underestimate the potential increased productivity and profit can produce if deployed correctly. We see the currently prevalent problems as being the birth pains of a new age, for a fourth industrial revolution. With Industry 4.0, we anticipate disruptive changes in every area, from automated manufacturing to personnel planning.

Be prepared, feel free to contact us, together we are planning the collaboration of the future.


(Author: Florin Schwarz, Consultant Collaboration & Methods at macom GmbH)


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