Clouds and blue sky

As IT services migrate to the cloud which technologies will business rely on to effectively operate? Philip Ross, founder of the Cordless Group, argues that AV will start to dominate as users turn to collaboration technologies.

The future office is an empty office, according to Philip Ross, CEO of the Cordless Group. Ross specialises on the impact of technologies on people’s lives and how they work. The empty office concept stems from the idea that in the future, as companies migrate to cloud services, there will be almost nothing left within a building.

“The servers are going to the cloud, the software is going into the cloud and the processing is in the cloud,” explains Ross. “Buildings used to have servers, with all the power and heat and fire suppression requirements that go with them. Software would be held on network PCs. With the cloud all that is gone. It’s a very real concept and it’s particularly interesting for SMEs at the moment.”

Ross calls this the “thin building”, based on the thin client and, apart from providing flexible, productive working, it’s great for the AV industry.

“Now it’s about displays,” continues Ross. “They’re the window to the cloud. And then it’s about the collaborative technologies. If you get the thin building idea then AV will be the most prominent requirement in future building.

“Traditional IT is under threat as IT departments look to the cloud. With software, networking and data storage in the cloud the IT department slims down. Maybe it will be AV that will become the more dominant part of what happens in buildings because AV is actually about people sharing ideas and colloborating.”

Ross founded the Cordless Group in 1994 to provide consultancy services on the future of work. His practice is based on the collision of three areas: people and behaviours, space and emerging technology.

The Cordless Group now encompasses four companies: Unwired, a research, forecasting and events group; Unwork, a management consultancy; Building Zones, IT installation service provider and Cordless Consultants, technology consultancy.

Ross himself is an economist and studied at Warwick University in the UK. He says he surrounds himself with great technical people and founded the company on a realisation that work environments would be more conducive to effective working if physical spaces, buildings and people were considered coherently.

When these aspects are considered Ross believes the end result is a fascinating and very different looking workplace to the traditional model. “The building shouldn’t be a container for desks and rooms where everyone is given a desk or an office. Where people come at sit at their desk and then go to the occasional meeting.

“If you ask companies about teams and meeting spaces you learn that employees can often not find meeting rooms, they are always booked,” he continues. “A recent survey showed that on average 55% of all the desks in offices are empty at one time. That is across all industries. Basically the office is half empty and yet if people want to come together then they can’t find the right space.”

When a company looks at the activities of its employees and provides technology that supports and facilitates them, the transformation of the workplace is dramatic. “Activity based working is about saying the building should be a real time resource,” continues Ross. “This creates work spaces that are interesting, dynamic and very rich in AV technologies.”

But the activity focus has to remain at the forefront of building development and crucially AV installations. “I’ve seen buildings where people have put interactive whiteboards into meeting rooms behind sideboards, or credenzas. Of course no one uses them because you can’t get to it. It’s a classic example of both the architect and the IT department not understanding how people use the technology.

“I’ve seen cases where companies say we want a brainstorm room. They put an interactive whiteboard in a long narrow room with a table and ten chairs. That’s not what you want. You want an empty room with furniture that can be moved and two or three whiteboards you can huddle around.

“There’s a phrase I hear a lot on the West Coast of America: ‘Classic R&D is dead because people can’t express what they want if they have no idea what they can have.’ It’s so true. A lot goes wrong when people don’t know what is possible. They assume an interactive whiteboard is a way of showing an image and they replace their plasma. There’s no thought on how it could change behaviours.”

Cordless Consultants and its work is very interesting for AV integration firms. “Get to know these consultancies, work with them and understand how clients’ projects are changing,” advises Ross. “What used to happen was the IT department would be responsible for networking and voice systems. The facilities department would procure the AV. They would buy the projectors and the screens and I think that’s changing.

“Everything is IP enabled and everything has to hang off the IP network. AV has moved into the domain of the IT director. AV integrators need to understand IT networking and need to work with IT consultancies. If they are willing to do that it’s an exciting future.”

Ross’ ideas are exciting and provide a positive, … vision of future working. But where did that vision come from. Ross is an economist, he says he surrounds himself with “great technical people” but there’s more to it than that.

“My inspiration comes from the clients that have been brave enough to take a risk,” says Ross. “It’s like all things in life. You need to have some people who get it and there are too many people who are risk adverse and choose the path of least resistance. I have clients who take a risk, they’re bold and they’ve succeeded as a result. That’s what inspires me.”

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