Plush leather chairs and polished boardroom tables are no longer enough to define a boardroom collaborative meeting tools and integrated communication environments are essential to create a highly functional workspace, says Aseem Gupta, chief visionary of Visionaire in a tête-à-tête with AVPro More than 60 to 70% of professional AV is used in boardrooms […]
Plush leather chairs and polished boardroom tables are no longer enough to define a boardroom collaborative meeting tools and integrated communication environments are essential to create a highly functional workspace, says Aseem Gupta, chief visionary of Visionaire in a tête-à-tête with AVPro
More than 60 to 70% of professional AV is used in boardrooms and conference rooms. How has technology evolved within boardrooms?
Boardrooms were always designed to be opulent. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, boardrooms had significant architecture and grandeur. People that frequent boardrooms are normally mature individuals and they have grown to appreciate the high touch and comforts of life. In their professional and personal lives they are recognised leaders and their decisions, thought leadership and abilities are highly valued. For such individuals, boardrooms are always custommade. You cannot order a boardroom off-the-shelf. And therefore, working closely with architects and interior decorators is very important. Over the years, there is an increasing demand for the boardroom to connect to the outside world and networked information delivery systems, ranging from the need to rapidly move data and present data in multiple ways to the several types of technology being used that allow you to create what we call a group display. Much of this data is available in real time so you must have the technology to support real time data.
I personally think that a boardroom that is meant to do only powerpoint presentations is too elementary and doesnt qualify to be called a boardroom. The boardroom technology must assist decision making and make it easy for its participants to be able to have access to all the information that they need to make highly critical decisions. I liken the technology role to what a pilot or a sea captain needs in the cockpit of a large airliner or the bridge of a large naval ship. Without this visioning capability, the pilot or the captain will not be able to control the efficiency of the airplane.
When you consider the importance of decisions taken in the boardroom, the presenters that are managing the agenda wish to seek consensus on the issues and opportunities that are being discussed. The outcome needs to be a winning outcome. For this reason boardrooms need multiple types of displays, the capability to present visual data, audio, real-time imaging, video footage as well as the capability to annotate and write and draw. There is requirement for voting on issues requiring consensus. Ideas need to be presented in a fast-paced environment and the outcome of the meeting is to be captured and translated into action. The function of technology is to support all these needs of boardroom users. Confidentiality is important to boardroom proceedings and often written notes can be lost or worse, wander out of the room. Therefore, electronic annotation and capture of the written notes and proceedings of the meeting need to be secured to avoid leakage of information. The same goes with audio and sounds that emanate from the boardroom. One shouldnt be able to stand outside the room and hear the proceedings inside and with the large penetration of mobile phones that have recording capability; this is an area of major concern. The audio needs to be secured, so you dont have information leakage.
Another aspect that impacts boardroom technology is the flattening of the world. Businesses that warrant a boardroom have far-flung operations. In the past, for a meeting of five people, twenty subordinates would be flown in and would wait outside the room with data if required. Today video-based communication and telepresence is essential in a boardroom environment in fact 50% of the AV requirement for boardrooms revolves around video communications. This technology saves time and makes the process of meeting more green. It has also become a legally acceptable method for a board meeting to be conducted. When I look at my history in this industry, I still remember preparing for a board meeting 25 years ago, and having to paint the 35 mm slides with colour slide by slide. Some of us veterans in the industry will remember the slide projectors from Kodak that made a “khatak” sound when the carousel would shift each time. Todays technology has moved considerably ahead in what we can achieve in boardroom presentations.
AV integration often falters at the users level. How do you overcome that in a boardroom?
Complexity has to, most decidedly, vanish from boardrooms. The most complex user-environment for ICT is the classroom as it needs a high level of user interaction. In boardrooms all the technology including the hardware has to be discreet and understated. We actually end up writing a lot of custom software coding to make the boardroom technology perform without a high level of user intervention. I dont expect a chairman of the company to go through a training programme to run his boardroom. So we have little dots that we paste on the boardroom table that has a show me written on it a command for a camera to be directed towards you. We then use a variety of touch screens that will have a graphical user interface which is custom designed to perform the functions in the boardroom at the touch of a button. The Best User Interface (UI) is one with only two buttons one that says start the meeting and one that says stop the meeting. Human intervention with technology should be minimised in boardroom meetings leaving the participants to focus on the discussion and using their minds to solving the worlds problems, not worrying about the technology. Using language-free icon-driven commands, we are able to overcome language barriers as well. As a board member, it can be embarrassing to struggle with technology and it really defeats the purpose to waste time, or worse, spoil the mood of influential people at critical meetings which will negatively affect their capacity to make decisions.
We also have to provide critical redundancy to ensure that things dont go wrong. Basically, the UI should be so simple that the chairman would not need a technician to help him navigate. Once again we have to consider the security of information and discussion. Having people standing by who are not required to be in the meeting is a security risk.
What are the common challenges a systems integrator would face?
At the operational level, it is important that, as systems integrators, we are brought in at the planning stage. Typically in the region we find that we are an afterthought to the whole process. An architect would have already designed the space, the main construction contractor would have already built the space and the client would have spent all the money on interiors, with very little left for AV technology. For instance I have come across cases where they would install boardroom tables that cost upwards of a million Dirhams with a mere Dh100,000 for technology integration. While IT is always treated separately, AV often gets clubbed with the main contract and the contractor would treat you like he would a plumbing sub-contractor. We generally dont do third party subcontracting since we havent seen great results.
What are the future trends in this sector?
The boardroom functionality is increasing and customisation requirements are moving up. The number of displays required in the boardroom are incremental and most often there are multiple large displays and even individual seat displays that are embedded on the table. There is greater requirement for touch screen annotation and the capability for each seat to be able to function independently. The other trend is Green ICT. Today boardrooms, like other areas in the company are incorporating energy conservation solutions. A trend for the future is use of telepresence and holographic images in boardrooms where a person can virtually attend the meeting from a remote location . I believe that the term AV is also passé. We are in the information and communications technology (ICT) business AV is a subset and included within the ICT realm.