Collaboration Tools Enable a Richer Employee Experience
To date, Ulta has rolled out the technology across roughly 30 conference rooms. In addition to its corporate headquarters, the company installed some units at high-end store sites, such as its New York City location, where the IT team added conferencing capabilities to a training room that’s used for new product instruction and sales meetings about new brand launches.
Ulta uses a mix of technologies in its conference rooms, including Crestron controllers and the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform, that all integrate comfortably. During meetings, employees benefit from being able to see each other’s expressions and frequently use Teams’ chat feature to comment on what’s being presented, Whittemore says.
“It’s a richer experience without interrupting the meeting,” he says. “In all forms of communication, lack of feedback is a dangerous thing. Instead of relying on tone of voice or hesitation, you get more visual cues from a person’s face when you’re presenting. It’s more challenging to read the room without video.”
Camera and connectivity advancements have helped increase the availability of conference equipment that’s more straightforward than older versions of the technology, according to Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research.
Users can join meetings by simply clicking a button, and the systems often include high-resolution cameras. While connectivity can still be an issue in some areas of the country, broadband access generally also has improved, O’Donnell says.
“You’ve got to balance the quality of the camera with the speed and size of your broadband connection,” he says. “Those are the two critical pieces.”
Advanced camera sensors and artificial intelligence help the systems deliver better meeting experiences for remote participants by automatically zooming in on speakers, for example, O’Donnell says.
How to Enable International Collaboration
Organizations with multiple locations have struggled to optimize collaboration for years. That was certainly the case for HKS Architects, which has 26 offices in eight countries.
“We do a lot of interoffice collaboration, and when you start working in a 3D building model, latency is just a killer,” says Michael Smith, vice president of IT operations for HKS. “We had people who would literally say, ‘I’m going to open my model and get a cup of coffee; I’ll be back in 30 minutes.’”
This was a massive waste of time and resources and a terrible experience for users. Many employees used laptops that Smith jokingly calls “boat anchors,” weighing up to 6 pounds. The company considered cloud solutions, but viable options were limited at the time.
So, in January 2020, HKS stood up an on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment to support real-time collaboration. The firm deployed 60 Citrix virtual desktops, supported by four Cisco UCS C240 servers (each with four NVIDIA T4 GPUs per server) and a C260 server (with NVIDIA A10 GPUs installed).
“We wanted to stand up a best-in-class environment,” Smith says.