By Corey Moss

Here is Part 1.

At the beginning of the CNBC interview, while holding the Trio 8500 (header image), Mary McDowell talks about the very first SoundStation, how it worked, how it made collaboration possible, along with how you would walk into a conference room anywhere in the world and see the iconic shape. Fast forward (as she states), and conversation now focuses on Polycom’s new collaboration cornerstone product which, as she describes, “this does fantastic audio, it does video, and also content sharing, so it’s the full suite of collaboration capabilities.” In short, Polycom presents in the Trio a modern day solution to fit the customer’s overall collaboration needs, while also being the company to bring the first true out-of-the-box collaboration product to market with the SoundStation.

Polycom Trio modern

In response to the interviewer’s next question “is your whole world changing… is this changing the dynamic for you?”, Mary McDowell replies, “we’re changing our dynamic” – leading to the discussion of ‘competitors as partners’ (referenced in part 1).

This is the continuation of the roundtable discussion.

The generation conversation

In most discussions these days, the topic of technology and the generations eventually presents itself. Nowadays the term “Millennial” can mean so many things, however Mary McDowell doesn’t want to look at technology in terms of a particular generation, she approaches it in terms of Polycom providing the product for the end user’s needs, along with the ever expanding possibilities to go along with it – such as the cloud videoconferencing partnerships, and of course Microsoft.

We’re all aware of the newer videoconferencing and meeting technologies with a lesser focus on hardware, and more on cloud and software. Polycom, with their renewed collaboration focus, is providing the products that are in essence becoming the necessary gateway solution for all end users. It’s simply not a “generational” product discussion.

However when looking at the overall big picture of where such collaboration technology is desired beyond the corporate institutional environment, WeWork is one that readily comes to mind, as was discussed in the group. This becomes more of a discussion about the “modern workplace” and those who seek out such places where they can thrive whether needing a desk, an office suite, or an entire headquarters – with the promise of creating environments that increase productivity, innovation, and collaboration. No generational label to this, just a consideration of those who desire the best possible experience when it comes to a workplace environment. Experience, a word that is fast defining what suits the end user’s overall needs.

I’ve discussed Alexa for Business, including some of the companies that are a part of the ecosystem (as Polycom is one), and WeWork has big plans for it as well. In fact, Alexa for Business was discussed in this roundtable meeting, and Mary McDowell has a major focus on building it big.

Generation discussion with Mary McDowell? Not quite, it’s more of a focus on the end user along with their particular needs, requirements – and Polycom’s all-important partnerships – not the particular generation. Although there was some discussion concerning the upcoming generation who will be entering the business market more tech savvy than any generation which has preceded them, zeroing in on those companies to work for which are utilizing the most advanced technology tools.

The Alexa for Business discussion

Announced at AWS re:Invent 2017, at a time when Amazon is highly consumer focused for the holidays, Alexa for Business is more than just a big deal – it could possibly be looked at as the next commercial technology revolution. Amazon Echo, the “Alexa turn on the lights” at home experience, is now ready to start your meeting. Polycom, along with numerous others, have joined the Amazon Web Service (AWS) Alexa for Business ecosystem to broaden the spectrum of this technology offering to end users. Mary McDowell refers to proof of concept with Alexa for Business, further declaring Polycom’s modern day (and future) direction, along with others that continuously remain on the AV industry cutting edge like Crestron, who has been closely partnered with Amazon for Alexa connected home automation. Polycom partner Zoom is also a part of the Alexa for Business ecosystem – no surprise there. More to come in 2018.

AI in the conference room

While watching the CNBC interview, this is the part where I had to really think about what was being said, beyond the interviewer talking about his “goofy earbuds.” It’s getting tougher these days to discern the now, the future and the overall reality from the buzz  – in fact the Association of National Advertisers named “AI” its Marketing Word of The Year for 2017. According to the article in Associations Now, one member said, “It’s not just the marketing word of the year. It’s the transformative phenomenon that’s going to reshape the world as we now know it.”

A powerful statement indeed, however as I say, I really need to hear the facts, or to me it’s just buzz. Or the marketing word of the year in essence.

Roopam Jain, Industry Director, Unified Communications and Collaboration at Frost & Sullivan writes a Viewpoints article Artificial Intelligence – Coming Soon to a Meeting Room near You and states that after years of anticipation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is finally starting to fulfill the promise of smarter collaboration. Jain references machine learning in terms of bringing many innovations leading to better meeting experiences such as intelligent view or intelligent framing in a video call, background noise suppression, and rich in-room analytics for better meeting diagnostics. She also references data, calling it the fuel that powers AI, and specifying how it is abundant. About AI and collaboration, Jain states, “Given the buzz around AI, leading collaboration vendors have shown a deep commitment to incorporating AI into their products and services.”

And, in short, Mary McDowell wants all in for Polycom on AI, along with machine learning (a component of AI where machines are given access to data, allowing them to learn for themselves), some of which she discussed in the meeting. In a Videocall article from May, Will Polycom announce artificial intelligence in collaboration in 2017?, a statement is made concerning Polycom and their close relationship with Microsoft:

With Microsoft and Polycom working together on collaboration solutions for businesses it seems that it will only be a matter of time before Cortana makes the jump into Polycom endpoints and phones that are running Microsoft interfaces.

A look into a near-future crystal ball perhaps? There was discussion in the meeting of Alexa now with AFB — and then Cortana later?

Keep an eye on this one.

Data analytics

Nowadays when talking about advanced technologies in the meeting room, the data discussion in many cases follows closely, where business professionals have the great ability to receive, view, analyze, share and use data. With certain installed devices, end users can obtain real-time insights through data analysis leading to enhanced room utilization information, workflow management, return on investment (ROI) and more.

EE Director II

As the discussion turned to higher end technology, Mary McDowell pointed to EagleEye Director II, described by Polycom as ‘the only smart camera with the technology to make every video conference a true face-to-face experience.’ Along with automatic people-tracking technology, the EagleEye Director II also provides intelligent data analytics to measure ROI when used with Polycom RealPresence Group Series and RealPresence Clariti. She also talked about using microphone data to determine where sound is coming from and focus on the speaker.

Will end users take true advantage of the power that data analytics, the potential of AI, and a more enhanced and engaging meeting experience can bring to them? Mary McDowell is confidently betting on it, along with a bold future for Polycom.

Header image: CNBC Squawk Box interview with Mary McDowell.


With over 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Collaboration Factor and Convergent Tech Talk. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers.