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Solutions with the X-Factor

Author : Tim Fryer

30 November 2011

Of the recurring themes in the FM industry, the need to embrace new technology is at the forefront, writes Tim Fryer who has recently been impressed at what was on offer at a recent trade show.

Technology is not the only items on the FMs agenda. There are many others of course - reduced bureaucracy, a growing economy and a bit more consistency in policy would all help – and our ability to impact on them as individuals is both limited and long term. But there are other issues of industry-wide relevance that can be tackled on a company by company basis. These include such things as training, communications, energy efficiency, quality service, even health and safety, and a common thread that can facilitate progress in these fields is technology.

‘Technology’, in a sector such as ours that lives and dies by the quality of the people, can sometimes be discarded by technophobes as irrelevant, but I believe people who cling to this view will gradually either be forced to change or disappear.

At the end of October 2011 I visited the Excel centre in London’s docklands for the xSolutions exhibition. This turned out to be an excellent event (and one that I believe will be repeated in October 2012) and opened my eyes not only to some of the best examples of solutions that I knew to be available, but also to some very clever options that I would not have believed possible in off-the-shelf variants.

First of all I have to confess that I did not have time to visit everyone there, so I am sure there were many relevant and interesting products and services I did not see, and my apologies go to them. Of the stands I did visit I was probably most impressed by those offering innovative solutions for business meetings.

The arguments for telepresence or video conferencing are manifold and have been covered by PFM in the past. However, there is no point in realising benefits such as better use of meeting rooms, reduced time wasted by travel and the environmental advantages of less travel, reduced office space etc., if those meetings are not productive.

The early days of video conferencing did little to persuade the doubters that technology offered a realistic alternative to face-to-face meetings. The pictures looked like they were coming from a BBC war correspondent in a desert via video phone with associated time delay problems – not an ideal method of communication!

Anyone who has not been keeping an eye on this sector would have been astounded by the progress that has been made and was on display at xSolutions. One example was Steljes, who are both a distributor and provider of end solutions. On its stand it demonstrated one conferencing solution that used a large touchscreen that could accommodate different views, for example a static reference slide in a presentation that therefore gives the current slide more meaning. What impressed me here was that all delegates, and there could be up to 500 remote connections, would have the full presentation saved – not just the original power point presentation but all additions that were made on the touchscreen, which can reflect whole different directions that meetings can take. To see these changes being made on the touchscreen and virtually simultaneously appearing on an iPad, which notionally could be being used by a delegate anywhere, underlined the opportunities for productive meetings in a whole host of different working situations.

As with the example above where I have picked out a single aspect from a plethora of solutions, I will do the same with Radvision, who had a range of video conferencing demos, one of which was a link to an exhibition in Paris that was running at the same time. While watching some French people milling around an exhibition stand is not rivetting entertainment (and I am sure the French could equally say the same of the UK exhibition), what was striking was the quality of images, some gained from no more than the integral webcam in a laptop. The network infrastructure behind it is what gives such smooth communications, removes the awkward time delays and again opens the door to meetings and conferences of any scale.

Canon showed me their XEED range of medical projectors. Although doctors are not yet allowed to use projected images to make diagnosis, the quality of these images was astounding, even towards the edge of these very large images when projected at different angles. Images of this clarity, which can easily compare with a lightbox, could have huge benefits in terms of reducing the cost of x-rays and providing instant availability to medical staff.

Another projected solution came from Epson, who was demonstrating its multi-PC projection software in tandem with its G series projectors. This solution allows up to four computers to be connected (either with or without wires) to the projector and the screen can be used to display information from any number of those computers. An example the company used was to have a marketing graph, a budget spreadsheet and a web page presentation all on display and therefore easily cross-referenced. A seemingly simple solution that looks very elegant in practice.

For all that the above products and services have a technological ‘wow’ factor it was worth visiting the Saville’s stand to see how effectively they can be when bought together in a designed solution. Offering design and installation services amongst others, the company has the ability to bring projects to life with an eye for the aesthetics that can turn a meeting room with some screens in it into a teleconference suite.

Of course if you have high-tech meeting rooms you need an appropriate way of optimising their useage, and Anders+Kern demonstrated a suitably elegant solution. Among the products demonstrated were the Evoko Room Manager and the recently released RoomWizard II room management system. Both systems offer touch sensitive displays for impromptu room booking. Evoko can also be booked over Microsoft exchange. RoomWizard II can be booked in classic mode, through Lotus or Microsoft exchange.

How to control what goes on in those rooms, along with the rest of the building, was another facet of the show. Creston as a prime example, was exhibiting its 3-Series control system which, claims the company, will “provide a foundation for powerful integrated building technology and advanced home control.” The system is designed more like an IT system than an AV control system, which means that upgrades can now be performed on any individual subsystem - AV, lighting, climate control, and security systems for example – while allowing the other programs to run seamlessly in the background. Previously the whole system would have to be shut down.

There were many other products and services of note – I couldn’t help being drawn to a 55 inch LCD screen on the Mitsubishi stand that was of truly outstanding definition for a screen of that size. However, all of the people I spoke seemed to have one thing in common, they all placed FMs very highly in their list of target customers. Both the practical and procurement aspects of the FMs job are now seen as key when implementing new technology. Some of the AV projects will tread on the toes of the IT department, but the companies with experience of implementing such projects have realised that they will get nowhere without the FM on side.

From the FMs point of view it is a great time to get involved in cutting edge solutions to efficient working strategies, energy efficiency, productive meetings and building control. What is more I think that the companies in this sector are aware that FMs may not have the technical background that IT departments might have, and consequently are eager to engage the FM and make the process as inclusive as possible.

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