Interview with Shure Director of Technologies
After a year like no other, IT leaders and their teams are coming back to some semblance of equilibrium. Having moved fast to support the sudden and unexpected shift to work from home (WFH) in 2020, IT must now embrace — and enable — a hybrid way of working. Some employees will remain at home for all or part of the working week, while others simply want to get back to full-time office life. But even that ‘office life’ will be different as meeting rooms and other conference spaces are adapted to accommodate social distancing.
Of course, the exponential growth in use of collaboration platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, has transformed workplace (and social) IT in the past 12 months. As a networked audio solution provider, Shure has been at the forefront of helping organizations across both the public and private sector to stay connected with flawless audio certified for use with these platforms. The company also switched its own collaboration technology platform and is now assessing how to embrace this change across its on-premises conferencing rooms.
"Our templating approach ensures consistency for our users, whichever conference room they're in, from anywhere."
Rafal Komosa explains: “At the outbreak of the pandemic we were in a fairly unique situation in that we were using one platform for desktop and a different platform for conferencing that connected remote workers with our office conference rooms. The conference room platform was purely a videoconferencing tool, whereas the desktop solution offered both videoconferencing and broader collaboration capabilities like chat and document sharing. As COVID took hold, our users naturally switched almost entirely to the desktop platform.”
Komosa explains that this made (and continues to make) sense. “We were all using the desktop platform for just about everything — audio, video, chat, storing and exchanging documents. It was a natural choice for collaboration and conferencing - people simply remained on the same platform they were already using.”
If this was the natural choice to enable remote working, what did it mean for Shure as its people return to the workplace? Komosa continues: “We have a huge challenge ahead of us and I’m sure it’s one many other IT leaders are facing. Users expect a consistent experience from room to room and now they expect the same seamless transition from home to office. How can we make our conference rooms work to support this new requirement?”
Shure’s starting point was an assessment of all 160 conference rooms. “We created new templates for each room type: huddle, small, medium, large, custom,” says Komosa. “We already had templates accommodating these room types, but these needed to be revised according to the new collaboration platform. Why templates? Because process and standardization are essential for a solid IT infrastructure. Our templating approach ensures consistency for our users, whichever conference room they’re in, from anywhere.”
For any IT team experiencing a similar transition, the next challenge will be familiar. Should Shure adopt a slower two-year transition path, gradually bridging the gap between the old and the new - or opt for a faster, more disruptive approach? With the latter approach the current videoconferencing platform throughout all rooms would be shut down and ported to the new technology as quickly as possible — although still likely to take around six months to transition all conference rooms globally.
Like so much in IT, the final answer comes down to budget. That’s because this isn’t just about changing software, but requires physical replacement and/or relocation of all hardware, from PCs and cabling to cameras and room-meeting control devices.
While budget constraints have put a hold on a full-blown deployment, Shure IT will nonetheless move forward with a limited deployment approach of one or two rooms per location. Not a perfect solution, according to Komosa, but one that will set up the company for future success when the budget situation improves.
IT and Facilities have also worked together to define a vision for the future of Shure’s office space. With hybrid working likely to be a permanent situation, they have had to consider whether there will be a need for as much conferencing space. While some people have suggested that a greater number of small, one-person spaces will be needed for people to hold calls safely and privately, Komosa doesn’t agree. “My team is gradually returning to the office and it’s clear to me that they’re craving human interaction. People don’t want to be shut away in small rooms after a year of working remotely, although they do expect elements of the same WFH experience that they’ve become used to.”
Shure’s solution to this is a combination of office layout and technology. “Our Facilities team is putting up safety barriers between desks to enable social distancing, rather than creating more small rooms. We’ll be providing personal equipment, such as our Shure AONIC 50 wireless headphones, which have great noise cancellation. This means people can join conference calls from their own desks with no background noise.”
While Komosa isn’t expecting an increase in the number of small rooms, he does envision more large conference rooms to accommodate socially distanced meetings. Unsurprisingly, these will be fully fitted out with products from Shure’s networked systems ecosystem. “We use our family of products end-to-end, from microphones and DSP to loudspeakers and, of course, there’s (Shure network audio) encryption,” he notes. “So, the only piece of tech we miss is the camera and, for this, Shure has joined forces with Huddly. We have plans to integrate the Huddly IQ AI-powered camera into our conference room solutions.”
Komosa’s reference to audio encryption will resonate with other IT leaders. Cybersecurity is essential in today’s networked world and the past year has been marked by a rise in sophisticated malicious cyber-attacks. Shure has invested heavily in security and authentication standards that continue to be built in to Shure networked products.
“When organizations invest in videoconferencing, they need to make audio devices work securely with the existing technology stack,” Komosa asserts. He adds that industry certifications as well as adherence to security best practices and standards play a critical role in Shure’s technology decisions.
“Like any IT person, I want assurance that the products we use support security standards and will work with our technology. We all look for that ‘Certified by…’ label and if it’s not there, we’ll go elsewhere.”
IT leaders and their teams have kept the wheels on the road over the past year. Now, they’re charged with enabling new hybrid ways of working. “The importance of effortless communication between returning office-based employees and colleagues working remotely cannot be underestimated,” says Komosa. “Videoconferencing is a new norm and the importance of audio quality can no longer be overlooked.”