Solution Guide Multi-Vendor Video Conferencing Part 1

Unlocking the Power of Multi-Platform Video Conferencing

Part One: Overview of Platform Interoperability and Multi-Platform

At Cloud Connextions, we have the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of organizations about their video conferencing needs, specifically, the platforms and technologies they use in their meeting spaces, conference rooms, training rooms, boardrooms, and classrooms.  The challenge over the past few years was getting these meeting spaces “video conferencing enabled”. The challenge today is joining a meeting using a different meeting platform (from the meeting organizer).  For example, a Zoom Rooms enabled room joining a Microsoft Teams meeting (and vice versa).

Here are some actual questions we’ve been asked, just in the last few months:

  • The company has decided to move our corporate standard video conferencing platform to Microsoft Teams for users, but are waiting to transition all our Zoom Rooms to Teams Rooms, what’s our best option today?
  • Zoom Meetings and Zoom Rooms is our standard platform, but we have several major customers (partners, etc.) who use Microsoft Teams, I need my Rooms to be able to join their meetings.
  • We are moving to Teams (and Teams Rooms), but we’re keeping Zoom Rooms (and other Zoom services, like Webinars) for a limited number of meetings.

These questions and challenges come up daily, from almost every organization we speak with, regardless of size.  The question may be different, but they all point to the same problem, how to design (or redesign) my meeting rooms to be “multi-platform”?  What’s the best solution to solve the problem, without creating frustrated users, increasing support calls, or limiting the functionality of our video conferencing meetings?

The good news? Interoperability between video conferencing platforms has become an important topic for the platform providers and their customers.  In fact, both Zoom and Microsoft have agreed to “work towards” solving this challenge, with some initial advances made, such as the ability to use your Zoom Rooms to join a Teams meeting, or your Teams Room to a Zoom meeting.

The usual case for this is utilizing the calendaring system available in both Teams and Zoom. An invitation is sent to users and the room system. On the touchscreen controller on the table, there is a Join button, allowing users to walk into the room and start a meeting with a single touch.

Interoperability – a good first step

Implementing interoperability between Zoom and Teams, anyone can send a meeting invite to a room system that includes the meeting join information block from Teams and send it to a Zoom Rooms. The reverse is true also, a Zoom invite can be sent to a Teams Room. When the room system is deciphering this meeting join information block, it will understand that it is going to join the meeting in interoperability mode and present the Join button to the user on the conference room touchscreen controller.

Video Conferencing Room Integration for Multiple Platforms in a Single Room

This is a great first step, but there are a couple “gotchas” from a Rooms perspective you will need to consider.

  1. If you are Joining a Zoom Meeting from a Teams Room, or a Teams Meeting from a Zoom Room, the “join” button operates as expected, but how the room functions, and the controls available through the room’s controller, will be different. Familiar screens, or how to access features, will be different for this meeting.
  2. The touchscreen interface and meeting “controls” will be limited, such as the ability to control camera and audio settings, share content, manage users, and many other rich meeting features may not be available.

Add those two gotchas together, and you have in-room participants who are frustrated.  They enter the room with the expectation to have full functionality, or to quickly move from one application function to another and end up with limited functions and an unfamiliar interface. Yes, interoperability allows us to “join” meetings from the room, but today, that is generally the extent of it.  It’s a great first step, and in many cases, it solves the biggest problem. But it also creates the potential for increased support calls and frustrated users.  Because “it’s not working” is the #1 support call (or message) into the support desk. When users have an expectation of how a technology “should” work, and it’s different, the support calls start coming in.

Multi-Platform – an alternative approach

There is an alternative approach to a platform’s promised interoperability, called Multi-Platform. Designing and implementing multiple video conferencing platforms within a single meeting space.  This approach does not force one platform to operate within another, it allows the rooms to “provide” the appropriate room application for the platforms used.

A universal challenge of the Multi-Platform Video Conference system is the need for some level of duplicate equipment. Because of the Microsoft Teams EULA and the Microsoft implementation, Teams must reside on a dedicated PC. Thus, you will need two PCs, one for Teams and one for Zoom. Additionally, and for the same reason, you will need two controllers, one for Teams and one for Zoom, on the conference room table.

Video Conferencing Room Integration for Multiple Platforms in a Single Room

It is important to note that you will be licensing two different platforms in your Multi-Platform Video Conferencing rooms. There is a charge for the Zoom Room and a separate charge for the Teams Room. For a breakdown on Zoom and Teams licensing (as part of this series), we will be writing a separate post discussing licensing and licensing costs.

Once this design solution is implemented within a meeting space, it provides full functionality of the video conferencing platform.  This means, no loss of the common features or functions familiar to your users, along with the ability to use the in-room cameras, audio and displays.

Both Room Systems utilize the same Resource Calendar, so there is only one calendar for your users to book, no matter the type of meeting. This prevents double booking of the meeting space, provides a clean scheduling flow for your users, and means everyone uses a familiar meeting schedule, regardless of the video conferencing platform they are joining.

Both Interoperability and Multi-platform are viable options when looking to integrate more than one video conferencing solution.  Depending on your use case, one will naturally “fit” better than the other. We are big believers in finding the best fit rather than forcing a solution, so in the following articles in this series, we will explore these use cases and our recommendation for best fit.

Next:  Part 2 – What is Platform Interoperability?

If you have any questions, we are always available to help guide you in your planning, implementation and support of video conferencing within your organization.  Just give us a call or email us.

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