Bringing the Team Together - Unified Communications at Work

Bringing the Team Together - Unified Communications at Work

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One of the challenges we on the Community Team at Microsoft face is working across distances.  Because we are often on the road, and with the team split between Ottawa, Mississauga and Calgary, getting everyone together for a meeting is a challenge.  I know that Rick in Ottawa and John in Calgary sometimes feel like they're on the outskirts and maybe missing something by not being at the Canadian HQ in Mississauga.  We wanted to do something about this, and, like many organizations with mobile workers throughout the country, needed to find a way to do so without breaking the bank.  Lucky for us, the solution was right in front of our noses.

Over the last couple of years Microsoft has been making heavy use of LiveMeeting for internal meetings as well as the webcasts that we deliver.  One key enhancement in the 2007 version of LiveMeeting, as well as in Office Communications Server 2007, is the abillity to add video and voice to the session directly without need for a telephone conferencing service.  Now, this was just too cool a feature for us and we had to try it.  We found out that all you need is Office Communicator 2007 software, a webcam for each person - we used the Microsoft LifeCam NX-6000 which fit nicely on our notebooks - and a headset and microphone - we used the Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 headset.  Even though the NX-6000 had a built-in microphone we found feedback issues when using it and the PC speakers, which the LX-3000 solved.

After providing all the necessary tools to the team, we tried our first meeting.   The experience was awesome!!  As each person spoke their video feed showed up after a few seconds as the software was able to determine who the active speaker was and switch video appropriately.  For each person I could not only get his/her verbal communication but also their facial expressions and get a lot more from the interaction.  On top of that, we were able to have the entire session (background materials, voice, video) transmitted over the internet without need for an actual phone line - great if you want to cut your long distance bills!! 

After seeing how cool and how much richer a meeting experience we had with some webcams and headsets, we're looking to see if we can take this to the next level.  One of the devices we are looking to use next is the Microsoft Office RoundTable which provides a 360 degree view of those in a meeting room and can also sense the active speaker.  This let's us get away from each having to have a webcam and headset if we are already in the same room.  Should be cool.

As an aside, we did have one learning and implemented one rule for all meetings from now on:  each person must be dressed when attending the meeting and if wearing a bathrobe (now against the rules) not stand up while they are on camera. :-)

Do you have similar issues you're tyring to solve?  Let me know your thoughts.

Damir

 

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  • !!!

    So Roundtable is a super souped up "Common Web cam"?

    If I'm reading it right, Jacked into Live Comm and Live Meeting, It would say be in a room with Rodney and Damir, Rick is in his little hideway (somewhere) with a web cam.   You have a meeting and as you guys flip back and forth the camera adjusts focus on the individual members?

    Now does the system get powerful enough to (with that camera) that say Ruth and Barnaby hop into the meeting session later on in the same room they can use the same camera?  Will it automatically "pick up" those extra entities or let them "sign in" and use that resrouce?

    THAT is pretty sweet.

    So does mean you could have a bunch of those at different locations?   IE:  Redmond with one team of people, Mississauga with another bunch and maybe a whack of guys having beers in Florida and as each person talks in the different location the camera just zooms over?

    What happens tho if there is an arguement between two entities (or more) in the same room?   Does the camera "flip back and forth" while it's happening or is there a big of an "Don't interrupt me while I'm talking zone" on it?

    Either way NEAT.

    So you're going to be giving these away at the security tour right?  *cough cough*

    Nudge nudge... :)

    Cheers

  • Sean, I would not call RoundTable a "jacked-up web cam".  It is really a pretty low-cost video conferencing device with a lot of cool features.  It can, in fact, recognize new folks as they enter the room and sit down and focus on them as they start talking.  There is no need to sign in as it uses voice recognition on its 5 microphones to figure out where the sound is coming from and focus the video to that area - you talk and you are the centre of its attention.

    Now, if you have two folks bantering back and forth "argument-like", the camera will simply stay on who the speaker was last.  The switch to active speaker looks for a few seconds of dedicated sound from a specific location in order to activate.

    It is way cool but will not be given away at the My TechNet Security Tour.  You should be able to see one at the Unified Communications Launch Tour.  I'll put a blog post up about that event on the weekend so you can register if interested.

    Damir

  • Cool!

    Also my apologies to the team at Microsoft regarding the device.  In no way did I mean to infer it was a, well, cheap thing.

    Just "over simplifying it" in my crude way.

    Either way, this sucker is definitely in the "WOW" category.   I had no clue it had the voice recognition in there to allow signing in with that manner!

  • Sean, it doesn't quite allow signing in with voice.  It just realizes there's another person, it doesn't know who it is... ;-)

    ...However, that would be super awesome cool(tm) if it could.

  • Right you are Steve.  The RoundTable knows that a person is speaking but does not know who the person is.  We don't have voice authentication built-in to Windows - though that would be cool.

    Damir

  • I am having a really hard time reading the Unified Communication website.  Some pages have very little contrast between the background and foreground.

    Anyway, I was wondering what the bare minimum software required would be to set up a test conference.  Is the server required, or can you go peer-to-peer?

  • Hi Peter,

    You can find out more about the requirments for Office Communicator at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/office/communicationsserver/evaluate/sysreqs/default.mspx

    And Live Meeting at https://trials.messaging.microsoft.com/site/

    Both have trials available.