Audio-visual, video conferencing and digital signage

Toby Bridgham
Nov 21, 2019 · 5 min read

We were moving offices, we had defined our desired outcome and our strategy, and we had started on our phone system and desk setup.

Moving to a new office allows you the opportunity to completely re-evaluate current setups and look to make wholesale improvements. The area of audio-visual was one of these. For the FT this covered our meeting room experience, specifically video-conferencing, the technology that we used for events in our townhall and large event spaces, and finally digital-signage — the content displayed on large screens around the office. The focus was on Bracken House, but as always decisions made were for global rollout.

Google Meet

Moving to an agile world, where staff could work from anywhere, the solution that allows people to meet and collaborate is obviously critical. Before we moved we had a hybrid setup; our established video-conferencing calls were handled via Lifesize, a classic (H323) video-conferencing solution. But being a Google company, we had many people using Google Hangouts and had established this service in a number of smaller meeting rooms, along with running it as a secondary service in our larger rooms. But, as an example, our board-room was using Lifesize.

The obvious initial choice was to use Google, however at the time, questions were rightfully raised around their ‘enterprise’ credentials. The hardware was basic, performance was sometimes questionable, and monitoring was non-existent. For a digital office of the future, it wasn’t a clear-cut decision.

So we reached out to Google, and as we discovered, it seemed we were in luck. There had been some rumblings of changes coming, improvements, but nothing formal. But on a visit to their offices to meet the product team, via a Hangouts call to Sweden, we were told of what we hoped for. More importantly, we sat in a room with better hardware, including an interactive touch-panel, using a product that was everything we hoped it would be. We were also told of the improvements in the way they would handle VC calls, both over the network and in-room acoustics, through internal development and acquisitions of companies offering expertise in this space.

It was a significant and timely moment. Because of the agreement with the building contractors, which included the AV fit-out, we had to agree on the hardware we wanted installing over a year ahead of schedule. Meaning in October 2017, which had to make a decision. Had the meeting with Google not been such a success, and had we not come out with the confidence in their product, we may have gone down a very different path.

As it was, we agreed on the Google hardware for a percentage of meeting rooms across the building, and at a later date pushed for, and succeeded in, making that every meeting room.

There was still plenty of work to do. We had to get the product integrating with more conventional in-room systems, such as reservation panels and a wireless presentation service by Crestron. The two solutions aren’t designed to be integrated, but with some clever design by PTS we got it working.

Atrium meeting rooms, all with Google Meet

The outcome was everything we hoped it would be. Google Meet may not have all the excessive functionality that some of the bigger VC players have, but it does the basics very well, most importantly it's intuitive to use and just works. The business have adopted it with enthusiasm. One senior manager saying “this is the 2nd best service in the new office”!. High praise. (more to come on his number 1).

Pexip

Just a mention here for another new service we purchased, Pexip. Still a work in progress for us, but the expectation is that this product will allow us to integrate with other VC solutions such as Skype, Polycom and Cisco. Allowing business-to-business calls across platforms. Watch this space.

Digital signage

Clear and effective communication with the business is critical, and now there are a number of channels possible outside of just relentless email. Digital signage services allow relevant messages, updates and news to be displayed across the business. For the FT we had an in-house service that did a fantastic job at simply displaying content, however, it lacked enterprise functionality, such as scheduling of content and controlling who could do what. Nor did it integrate with IPTV. We found all of this in Onelan.

In Bracken House, we now have around 100 screens showing content to staff. What we liked about Onelan is its depth in functionality, some of which we are still getting to grips with and starting to hone. We now have the ability to show content in bespoke screen setups, with multiple types of formats, such as images, videos, twitter feeds, RSS feeds, travel and weather updates. We can even let people know what is for lunch that day!

The solution also drives our wayfinders across the building, directing people to departments, facilities and meeting rooms.

Event Services

The FT continues to diversify its product portfolio, and the hosting of events is an area that is both of significant value to our subscribers but is also profitable for the FT. It continues to grow. Alongside the external events on offer, and again supporting an agile and collaborative workforce, internal events continue to be a popular medium to distribute a message and communicate to staff. As a result, having an impressive and effective event space in the new building was essential.

We engaged PTS, the consultancy group, to help build out the environment. Their remit was to design an industry-leading space for events. In hindsight, we missed engagement with the business to understand their requirements. This may seem logical, but the view was that we would be stifled by opinion and requests. I understand this, but not recognising the non-standard events we do has meant that we have missed some obvious requirements that have needed to be, and will continue to be, retro-fitted. Limited camera options, lack of joy-stick controlled camera, limited microphones and audio recording to name a few. Ultimately we have a high-tech space, which is effective for 80% of events, it’s just not exceptional for all. But it will be.

In regards to technology, we once again mix Google into the setup; ProAV, our installer, integrating it creatively with more traditional AV equipment, using it effectively as our streaming service. Onelan drives our impressive event reception screens.

Up next: printing in the new office with Kyocera

Toby Bridgham

Written by

Head of End User Services at the Financial Times.

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