Microsoft, Cisco and Zoom need to simplify switching between their video services on conference room hardware to accommodate a workplace with employees in the office and at home, experts said.
Representatives from the companies said they would improve interoperability between Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom during a session at this week’s Enterprise Connect conference. While companies agree they need to act, industry watchers are skeptical of vendors’ ability to fix the problem.
People need an easy way to use a device to hold meetings on various video conferencing services, said Recon Research analyst Jim Kelly. This kind of compatibility would save companies money while allowing workers choice. Smartphones are a prime example for conference room makers, he said. A worker can easily switch between apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams with a smartphone.
Cisco made a positive move by adding a Google Meet button to several of its Webex conference room devices, Kelly said. With the switch, employees could quickly and easily join a Meet session.
“Ultimately, that would be the dream,” Kelly said. “I just walk into a conference room at the scheduled time and kick off my meeting without thinking about what platform it’s on.”
The smartphone is a poor model for conference room devices, said Ilya Bukshteyn, vice president of Teams devices at Microsoft. Having multiple video conferencing apps on one device makes it difficult for an IT department to manage and update hardware.
“It feels like a dream,” he said. “When you try to live it, it ends in a nightmare.”
Instead, video conferencing services should adopt a web-based standard, like WebRTC, Bukshteyn said. If they did, conference room hardware could use web apps, rather than apps installed on devices, to connect to Zoom, Teams and Webex. However, other panelists were concerned that web apps would have fewer features, which would reduce the benefit of switching from one platform to another.
Video conferencing vendors may never solve the interoperability problem, said Scott Wharton, vice president of the video collaboration group at hardware maker Logitech. For example, there is no universal client for instant messaging, even though it is decades-old technology.
“In 2008, I actually started a business to solve video interoperability,” he said. “The fact that I am here on this panel shows that it has not succeeded.”
Interoperability will grow in importance as companies try to adapt to a post-pandemic hybrid workplace. To be effective in such an office, manufacturers must provide conference room hardware capable of switching between video platforms, such as a PC, that people used when working from home during the pandemic.
“We’ve established the expectation with our user base that everything they do is going to work,” said Jerry Blayne, product engineer at AVI-SPL, a managed audio-video service provider. “I don’t think we’ve caught up as an industry.”
Collaboration vendors have focused heavily on conference room features other than interoperability. Zoom, Cisco and Microsoft have tried to ensure a similar experience between office and home workers by providing the latter a way to read the body language of conference room attendees and giving those in the office better access. to digital elements such as the meeting chat.
Mike Gleason is a journalist specializing in unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the Massachusetts MetroWest region for the Milford Daily News, Walpole time, Sharon’s lawyer and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as local editor of Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.