Using Google’s Chromebox for Meetings at Xero
Here at Xero we are rolling out Google’s Chromebox for Meetings globally – and for the first time in a long time I am actually excited about meeting room A/V.
Global collaboration is crucial for Xero. Unlike a lot of global corporations that run fairly independently in each country they are based in, we have many teams that have members spread across various locations around the world. For the Xero Internal IT team it has been a huge challenge for us to facilitate the process of these teams working together.
Prior to the Google move we had multiple methods of communication. This led to confusion and frustration between people and teams – “What do I use to talk to person X in the San Fran office?”. There were many options available and nobody was exactly sure what the correct method was. Adding to this confusion, many of our meeting rooms offered multiple connection methods (room PC, local HDMI/VGA, projector, etc) which more often than not could be difficult to set up. Delays in meetings were frequent. As Xero grew larger the problem also increased and productivity was starting to suffer.
Enabling better communication
Early this year we decided to take stock and press the reset button on how we did global comms. We split the project into two distinct parts. One part would concentrate on meeting room setup and the technology we used internally to communicate. The second would focus on how we run our global Xero team meeting and US “all hands” meeting – both held every two weeks. When we thought about how to overcome this challenge it quickly became clear that keeping things as simple as possible would be our guiding ethos and really the only way to “fix” this problem.
The good news is that a major step on this journey had already been taken by moving the company to Google, thus consolidating on the Hangouts platform. It instantly gave us a tool that everyone on the company had access to, gave the same user experience across both OSX and Windows and required little to no infrastructure on our side (besides an internet connection).
Given the standardisation on Hangouts, we started looking at options around streamlining our meeting room setups leveraging this platform. It was at this time we were invited to trial the Chromebox for Meetings devices. Once we got our hands on the first unit, to be honest, we were a little underwhelmed. From what we could tell the setup was basically a Chromebox running a special version of Chrome OS attached to a fairly standard-looking Logitech camera and a Jabra microphone. Once we got one hooked up we were presented with a very nice looking screen… and that’s about it. We weren’t exactly sure what the fuss was all about.
However I vividly remember that lightbulb moment about 10 minutes later when we actually understood how powerful this device could be. Because of its integration with Gmail, the Chromebox knows which meeting is currently scheduled for the room it is associated with and who within the organisation is invited to the meeting. All you need to do is to click the button on the controller supplied with the unit and you’re in the correct Hangout. But the cherry on the top for us was around how the Chromebox presents content. All you need to do is visit http://g.co/present on the device you wish to present on and click ‘Screen share’. Due to the Gmail integration, the Chromebox knows which Hangout you are attending and automatically connects and shares the content wirelessly to that Hangout. We were taken aback. We realised that we could remove all the cables and devices in a room that contained a Chromebox. For the majority of the meeting rooms all we needed was a Chromebox and nothing else. It greatly simplified both the room setup and use of the room – which is what we had been after all along.
Typically AV is an expensive investment and you have to choose which rooms have VC. Not to mention the options are few and far between, you normally need to buy hardware and then connect to a VC bridge. A typical room could cost between $40k to $60k. Now all we need is a TV and Chromebox, which is under $10k combined.
Is it perfect yet?
Granted there are a few issues with the devices. The resolution of the image is subject to the forces of the internet and can scale up and down depending on how good your connection is.This doesn’t happen often but can sometimes be a little annoying. Also the image has a black border around it when sharing which reduces the amount of “real estate” the image takes up when put onto a big telly. These are all minor gripes though. The ability to walk into a meeting room, click once and converse with one of the team in San Francisco as if they were sitting at the end of the table is pretty powerful stuff.
As an engineer at heart, it’s exciting to think we might be close to solving the seemly unsolvable “A/V” problem – and the Chromebox is going to be a major part of that. It’s a little device but we are hoping to do some big things with it here at Xero.