“If only someone would build Lync for a conference room”

 

Lync is at the center of one of the biggest transformations in the way we work since the advent of the PC. The workforce is more distributed, with more flexible working hours and getting things done increasingly relies on collaboration with people in multiple locations. Bill Gates was referring to this trend when he said at the launch of Lync 2010, “Lync is the most important thing to happen to the office worker since the PC came along”.

 

In Lync 2013 we have made significant investments in video and collaboration to make it really easy for individuals to collaborate from anywhere and on any device. The new video gallery enables all meeting participants to see and be seen and our mobile clients enable users to communicate and participate in a meeting from any device.

 

Lync 2013 is the fourth release of the Microsoft unified communications product line starting with Office Communicator 2007. The level of innovation we have seen since the start of our unified communications journey has been dramatic, if not unprecedented.

 

One area which hasn’t kept pace with this level of innovation is the meeting room, which is an area where information workers (IW’s) spend a lot of time during the course of a day. As more and more meetings involve remote attendees, the capabilities and expectations of these remote attendees make very clear how far behind the meeting room experience has fallen compared to desktop and mobile.

 

The best effort of the industry to bring communications to the meeting room to date has been with videoconferencing systems (VTCs). Over time, we’ve heard from many of our customers who are dissatisfied with their current videoconferencing experience that they wish it would just work and be as easy to use as their desktop.

 

So what exactly are the problems with conference rooms that make them so hard to use? Many of us who go to meetings on a regular basis know them well:



Time spent getting the meeting started: We’ve observed that it takes 8 to 10 minutes on average from the time someone tries to start a meeting to the time 2-way video is established and content is available in the meeting. Challenges abound in everything from getting the projector working to getting the laptop to project to getting video started.

 

Videoconferencing equipment is not well utilized: Most large companies have deployed VTCs in some meeting rooms but their usage is often limited to those who had the need to install and took the trouble to learn how to operate them in the first place. If you ask everyone else what they know about VTCs, they will probably comment on the camera at the front of the room pointing at the wall and the remote control on the table. This is primarily because the user interface for VTCs is not intuitive and even once it has been learnt, you still need to know the identity of the room you want to call to be able to establish a connection. VTC vendors have tried to improve this experience in recent years but it’s still not as intuitive as using the PC on your desk.

 

Remote attendees feel isolated: For most meetings with content and remote attendees, the in-room participants need to choose which of the two to show in the meeting room as there is only so much screen real estate available. Most often, the in-room attendees choose to show the content which is the subject of the meeting, and not the video of the remote participants. Without the 2-way video connection, out of sight is like being out of mind and remote attendees aren’t able to contribute effectively to the meeting.

 

Meetings are hard to manage: When you finally get the meeting started, you still need to worry about managing the participants, the audio/video and the content being shown in the meeting.  

 

“If only someone would build Lync for a conference room” – anon.

 

We decided it’s time to do exactly that, and at Lync Conference in San Diego, CA, we are announcing Lync Room System in conjunction with our partners Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom, and SMART.

 

What is a Lync Room System?

 

Lync Room System is a meeting room solution consisting of integrated hardware and software delivered by our partners and optimized to join Lync meetings. With Lync Room System you can join an online meeting with one touch and be ready to collaborate with remote attendees in seconds. It has all the equipment you need for great meetings:

1.       High definition touch displays (1080p) for showing video and enabling collaboration. Lync Room Systems are available with 1 or 2 front of room touch displays depending on your room size

2.       High definition video camera for capturing the room in full 1080p resolution

3.       Wideband audio for clear sound from the room and to the room

4.       Table-top touch meeting console to enable the meeting controller to manage the meeting without distracting the other attendees

It’s all brought together by the Lync Room System Edition software, which is a full Lync client optimized to bring the immersive meeting experience to a meeting room setting. It makes joining meetings as easy as on your PC and breaks down the barrier between in-room and remote attendees. Being able to see content and high definition video side by side makes remote collaboration more effective.

 

 

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Lync Room System from SMART, showing the table top console, 2 front of room touch screens and front of room camera

 

When joining the meeting, content and video are automatically shown on large screens. You can easily launch an interactive whiteboard (as shown above) for immersive collaboration with in-room and remote attendees. Using the console, you can switch between different views and manage meeting content, as well as add remote attendees if needed.

 

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The home screen

 

Lync Room System launches into the meeting calendar view, so you can see what meetings are scheduled for the room and join with one touch. Unlike using many VTCs, you don’t need to know the name of the room or people you are calling or the virtual meeting room being used. All you need to do is send a Lync meeting invite from Outlook for the room to show it in the calendar and enable it to join, just the same as joining a meeting from your PC.

 

 

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Changing in-room meeting views from the console

 

The console lets you pick the views of the meeting you want to show in the room with one touch. Sometimes you want to see the video gallery of remote attendees for an immersive 2-way conversation, sometimes it’s the content and gallery together.

 

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Using the console to manage meeting participants

 

From the Participants tab of the console, you can check who’s in the meeting, add or remove participants and mute attendees if the dog is barking and they forgot to mute themselves.

 

For IT administrators, since LRS is just another Lync endpoint, it is managed the same way as Lync clients. Whereas existing VTCs require separate infrastructure, LRS is part of the Lync deployment and uses the same server infrastructure. This integrated manageability dramatically reduces the complexity of deployment.


Each of our partners will be delivering integrated room systems according to our hardware specifications in order to ensure reliability of the meeting room setup and consistency of the experience for end users. Stay tuned for more information from them about availability and features.

 

-Anton Krantz,  Principal Group Program Manager