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By Craig M. Durr
Recently, the team at Crestron asked me to evaluate their latest edition to the Crestron Flex family of UC solutions – the Flex MM30, a center-of-table solution designed for huddle rooms and personal spaces. As the lead analyst for Wainhouse Research’s Meeting Room Collaboration practice, this request was in line with topics that I am passionate about – the services and devices that enable group audio, video, and collaboration for today’s businesses. And with a worldwide pandemic accelerating video adoption, times are very interesting. Indeed, what constitutes an excellent solution for a huddle room has rapidly progressed in the last six months alone. Thus, the question I address here is if the new Flex MM30 can meet these evolved needs.
Context: The “not very fast” adoption of video solutions in today’s huddle rooms
In the last several years, increased interest in enabling more and more conference rooms with communications and conferencing technology has been driven by noticeable shifts in how we work, in the spaces in which we work, and even with whom we work. But for all the interest in this subject, one question remains – how successful has the introduction of video conferencing been?
One measure we take of this is looking at the installed base of video solutions in conference rooms. In Q1 2020, Wainhouse Research (WH) updated its modeling of the total addressable market of conference rooms and subsequently installed base of video solutions. What we found was that video adoption was almost 3X higher in larger rooms than is smaller ones. As of 2019, WH estimated there were approximately 48.6 million conference rooms around the world, with nearly 30.9 million of them being small or huddle rooms – those ubiquitous, flexible spaces that accommodate about four people for conversing, collaborating, meeting, or disseminating information. Our data suggested that only about 4.9% of huddle rooms were video conferencing enabled while the penetration of video into the larger rooms was higher, 15.7%. So, the question becomes, “Why is the adoption of video technology so much slower for small rooms?”
Rear view: Challenges to the broader adoption of video conferencing
The irony of this situation is that over the last several years, the industry has successfully delivered key features that were previously perceived to be barriers to the broader adoption of video conferencing. Examples include mobile video to phones and tablets, intelligent cameras, and room video endpoints systems costing significantly less. Now, such features are considered “table-stakes” for many enterprise IT decision-makers.
To look deeper into the contradiction, we leveraged a simple framework – who are the workers (workforce), where they are working (workplace), and how do they work (workflows) – we gathered the following insights into the state of the market as of year-end 2019. (Figure 2)
This figure spells out only some of the reasons, but, the bigger picture is that room-based video conferencing was still holding onto the legacy of optimizing for larger rooms or more “white-glove” situations. here have been great strides in the last few years, but it was not revolutionary enough to change the huddle room adoption of video which remained on a slow, steady course.
The effect of the pandemic
Then came 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic altered the situation entirely. Obviously, it has drastically changed how and where we work, but it also helped to resolve some of the barriers noted above regarding video conferencing adoption.
In many ways, the pandemic has progressed digital transformation by 5 to 8 years by changing the needs and behaviors of most end users in unison. Below is a small collection of data points from various studies highlighting the dramatic transformation that took place in just the first half of 2020, all of which have had a significant impact on video adoption. Before 2020, it would have taken years for many enterprises to achieve some of these numbers. (Figure 3)
Characteristics of the “right” solution for the huddle room in 2020
Wainhouse reviewed the new Crestron Flex MM30 to see how it fits into this new landscape of small room environments.
Crestron already has a solid lineup of UC solutions with its Flex product line. Consisting of integrator solutions, video bars, and center-of-table solutions; the Crestron portfolio has an array of options for virtually all room types.
However, if a customer wanted a center-of-table solution for a huddle room or personal workspace, they had to utilize the more robust Flex M-Series or Flex MX solution, which more than adequately covered these smaller spaces. But, for all practical purposes, the unit itself was just too large for a huddle room. Not to mention, the price point was more in line with budgets for medium to large rooms. The Flex MM30 effectively fills this small room gap in the Crestron’s center-of-table portfolio.
Right out of the box, I found the unit to be delightful. Not only was the device smaller (40% less than the Flex M-Series or Flex MX), but the refreshed industrial design was obvious. I look forward to a similar rejuvenation of the entire Flex lineup.
The profile of the tabletop device features recessed sides, but this did not compromise the 7-inch touch screen which still provides plenty of room for touch interaction. The unit features four touch-capacitive mute buttons located on each corner and a green/red indication light embedded just below the peak of the unit. The weight of the Flex MM30 felt solid (2.1 lb.), providing enough ballast to help it stay firmly in one location on the table.
Cable management was clean with built-in wire slots for three cables – an ultra-thin ethernet cable (provided), an ultra-thin USB 2.0 cable (also provided), and an optional Kensington® lock. PoE powers the tabletop component of the Flex MM30. Since my network was not PoE enabled, I used a power injector, which was also included with the kit.
Is the MM30 suitable for my end users in my huddle rooms?
But for you or me to fully understand and appreciate the MM30, I wanted to evaluate it beyond its role of filling the gap in Crestron’s tabletop solutions. To do so, I looked at the Flex MM30 through the lens of 3 categories of criteria that I feel are important to a huddle room solution in today’s environment.
Below I expand on each category and observations that I made with the MM30 solution.
Price/performance that aligns budget and functionality
With huddle rooms being the most abundant room size in many customer’s deployments, it is understandable that IT administrators want to find an affordable solution that enables them to deliver video conferencing to a large percentage of these rooms. The trick is to balance this with a solution that maintains a level of performance that gives their end users a professional, feature-rich experience and is easy to manage by their IT staff. At an advertised price of $3,000, I found that the MM30 met this criterion.
•The Flex MM30 is a full Microsoft Teams® Rooms software experience at an impressive price. In acknowledgment of the importance of affordable huddle rooms, Microsoft has recently introduced a new category of certified devices call Collaboration Bars for Microsoft Teams. These new devices in the Microsoft Teams family are at price points that are compelling for broad deployment in huddle rooms. However, the trade-off with these devices is they do not support all the features that the original Microsoft Teams Rooms products do.
With this said, the Flex MM30 is a full Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTR) device at a price point that is not only low for that category of certified devices, but it is also competitively priced when compared to some comparable collaboration bars. As a full MTR device, this means it is capable of features that may be important to your huddle room strategy such as 1080p resolution, content ingest via HDMI® connectivity, and Direct Guest Join, including support for Webex® and (soon) Zoom Rooms™ software. Also, I am told that future versions of the Flex MM line will also support dual monitors, which the collaboration bars for Microsoft Teams cannot. (NOTE – the Flex MM30 at $3,000 is a single monitor solution.)
•Crestron control system integration on to the device – If your room is set up with a Crestron Control System, you can use the Flex MM30 control to manage room and environmental elements such as lights, window shades, climate control, and AV equipment. All of this is in one tabletop device, which is KEY in a huddle room where table real estate is at a premium.
IT experience specific to huddle room needs
If I were an IT administrator looking to outfit my company’s huddle rooms, I would have a few additional requirements specific to these spaces in addition to the ones I have for all my room solutions. For example, because of the number of huddle rooms and their spread-out footprint, I would want ones that are truly easy to manage and scale. But, “scale” should not be synonymous with “lacking features” or compromising on video and audio functionality. In my opinion, we are at a point that we need to move away from price point driven deployment of webcams and personal audio devices in huddle rooms. Why? In our evolved world, you can expect that huddle rooms will be where your end users will meet most frequently. Their importance is far larger than their size.
For IT to be the “hero,” they need quality, professional devices that they can manage remotely and scale as their needs grow. I found the Flex MM30 easily meets these requirements. Below are a few proof points.
•Full-duplex wideband audio performance paired with a best-in-class Huddly IQ™ Lite camera. The Flex MM30 does not compromise on audio quality. With four microphones and a full-duplex speaker, the conversation is natural when using the device. Combine this with the new Huddly IQ Lite camera - with its 150-degree field of view and 4k sensor – and the results are a professional-sounding experience paired with high-quality video capture.
•The convenience of a pre-wired “UC bracket.” An inescapable fact of a full Microsoft Teams Room system is that it requires several components working together to enable the full-featured solution. The challenge comes when you unbox a new MTR system and find that you have lots of wiring and device pairing to complete, not to mention the need to find a home for all the pieces you don’t want to be seen in the huddle room. Crestron has taken its UC bracket concept and extended it to the Flex MM products, too. I liked this practical inclusion a lot. The bracket had all items securely placed on the bracket, including Crestron’s UC engine, with the wiring cleanly secured and extra tie-downs for other things that you may add near the system.
Also, the low profile of the UC bracket enabled several installation options – VESA, wall mount, even under the table. Combined with the additional USB extension cable included in the kit, I believe an installer could easily find an ideal location for the system with what is in the box.
•Managed via XiO Cloud® platform This is where the full portfolio manageability story really shines. IT administrators can easily align the management of these devices with other room and IoT devices through the XiO Cloud management tool. Regardless of room size, all my devices can be provisioned and managed from a single pane of glass.
End user experience that encourages use
As mentioned earlier, 2020 has seen a large number of new end users are adopting video and audio communications at a rapid pace. Although they may have had a crash course on how to do a video call on their PC, many have not yet fully experienced video conferencing in a group situation. Now more than ever, it is essential that the end user experience in huddle rooms be natural, inviting, and aligned with the workflows they know from their UC solutions and PC environments.
•The Flex MM30 is reminiscent of a “campfire,” inviting you to lean into a call. You have several configuration options when outfitting a huddle room, but when the room calls for a center of table setup, the Flex MM30 does a great job of creating a pleasing experience. Having just spent the summer social distancing by camping, I felt a similar experience with the MM30, where the device naturally drew me into the conversation with people around the table, as well as someone on a far-end video call. And, if I am talking to an in-room participant, the Flex MM30 has great audio pickup capturing my voice as I speak across the table. In other words, the low profile of the MM30 is approachable and not intrusive to active dialog in the room while providing exceptional audio pickup for participants on the far end of a video call.
•Seamlessly transition between Microsoft Teams audio experience and video experience. Not all collaboration sessions are video. Audio conferences are as valid as ever in most enterprise environments. What I liked about the Flex MM30 is the same tabletop device provides similar workflows for both audio and video calls. The Microsoft Teams interface has an onscreen dial pad leading the end user to, again, lean into the center of the table. And once the call is initiated, the hardware supports the same experience as a video call where I can easily converse with others in the rooms and know that the audio pickup will be great regardless of whom I am facing around the table.
•The Flex MM30 launches with two major communication vendor options – Microsoft Teams and Zoom. As illustrated in one of the earlier figures, unified communication platforms have become critical to how companies and their employees work in today’s pandemic situation. Not only are 20% more people on these platforms, but 80% more work is being done through unified communications indicating that even the experienced users are using these tools more. Out of the gate, having the Flex MM30 interoperate with both Microsoft Teams and Zoom Rooms is a significant advantage. It should lessen the time and energy needed to educate your end users on how to use the new technology in your huddle rooms because it aligns with the desktop use cases they already know. Everyone wins here – end users and IT administrators alike.
Conclusion – The Flex MM30 delivers value to the huddle rooms
In conclusion, you can see there are a lot of positive attributes to the Flex MM30, making it a sleekly tailored solution for today’s huddle rooms (Figure 6). The Flex MM30 is a well-priced device with features that appeal to both the IT administrator and the end users they support. This solution should be on your shortlist if you are considering a center-of-table experience for huddle rooms enabled for Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
About the author
Craig Durr is a Senior Analyst at Wainhouse Research who focuses on Meeting Room Collaboration technologies and solutions. He provides research on market sizing and forecasts, product and service evaluations, market trends, and end user and buyer expectations. Craig brings nineteen years of experience in leadership roles related to product development, strategic planning, P&L management, value proposition definition, and business development of security, SaaS, and Unified Communication offerings. Craig’s experience includes roles at Poly, Dell, Microsoft, and IBM. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org , on Twitter @craigdurr, or LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigdurr/
About Wainhouse Research
Wainhouse Research is an independent analyst firm that focuses on critical issues in the unified communications and collaboration market. The company provides end-to-end coverage of the UC&C industry, with areas of focus covering unified communications, enterprise video, meeting room collaboration, personal & web-based collaboration, and audio-conferencing market segments. The company acts as a trusted advisor providing strategic advice and direction for both the UC&C industry and its enterprise users. For further details, please visit http://www.wainhouse.com.