Our modern world simply wouldn’t exist without interactivity and innovation. AXA, the world’s biggest bank and insurer, realises this too. So it’s no coincidence that VCS has been appointed as partner for collaborating on and rolling out innovative working methods and smart meeting concepts. In the summer of 2017, the group relocated to new headquarters in the capital city Brussels, with offices covering a surface area of 40,000m². With almost 20 years of experience, we know all about linking functionality to technology. Armed with guidance and advice from A to Z.
“Our task was to ensure that public and internal communications would run smoothly”
“AXA wanted a flexible and dynamic working environment where uniformity and structure were key. A very important aspect for us with regard to AV was the fact that Microsoft Skype for Business was becoming a vital standard. Our task was to ensure that public and internal communications would run smoothly. This type of large, complex project requires the right applications, adapted to each room within the building, spread across 6 floors. The result? A better infrastructure for all of AXA’s stakeholders”, says Monica Righelli.
How did you prepare for such a complex project?
“Internally, we invested a great deal of time prior to the relocation in finding and trying out new meeting concepts for the various types of meeting environments. From the small ‘bubble’, where 4 people meet, to meeting rooms that accommodate 6, 8, 12, 16 and up to 26 persons. Every room needed a different approach”, adds Michael Bullinckx
How did you implement this new meeting concept?
“We created a range of test concepts with newly purchased and existing equipment in order to allow the users to try out the new working methods and technology. At the end of the project, some entire zones had been set up as test cases, where users could familiarise themselves with the future meeting methods”, explains Michael.
Internal communication is important for AXA, how did you tackle this?
Monica: “In the building, 65 flat screens were installed to take care of digital communication. On the one hand, public communication can take place in the customer zones. On the other, there is internal communication for the employees.”
Michael: “The screens are set up in both landscape and portrait format, and sizes range from 42” (105 cm), to 80” (200 cm). The digital signage players are OPS type. This provides a great result whereby only the power cable and a network cable are required.” The graphic content and playlist are managed entirely by the AXA marketing and communication service. They are provided with the following content tools:
AXA is a large organisation where many meetings take place. How did you ensure the meetings rooms were top quality?
Michael: “In a trial project, AXA had used a reservation system on the basis of Android tablets for the meeting rooms, with every user having an MS Outlook plug-in on their PC. Now, they have opted for a personalised meeting room reservation system on the basis of AMX RMS to optimise meeting room usage. Both the existing and the new systems had to remain simultaneously operational during the transitional months.
After six months, the new building and also the existing building were fitted out with the system below:
AXA is a state-of-the-art building. Which state-of-the-art gadgets did you install?
Monica: “In the previous building, the auditorium was used very infrequently because technical assistance was required. That is why we created a high-tech area with huge flexibility in terms of options and usage and whereby users would only need technical assistance in a few cases.”
“After a few months’ use, we have seen that the room is almost always reserved and that the users generally operate the multimedia and lighting themselves.”
Is it possible to record or stream the meetings?
“Absolutely, every session can be recorded in full HD and even in 4K quality. The projected sources, such as clickshare or Skype, the microphones, the far site (video conference) and the cameras are recorded. You can then go back through the entire session, almost in ‘real life’. The recordings are archived on their file platform in the cloud and can be played back using standard media players,” adds Michael.
“Alongside recording a session, they can also be streamed. In simple terms, this means sending the audio and video via the network and then providing it on all types of device, such as Windows PCs, Macs, smartphones, etc. People can then follow the session live, from a distance. Depending on the situation, they also use Skype for Business or H264 streaming.”
And streaming is for all devices?
“If they opt for H264 streaming, they also have a CDN server at their disposal. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network and can be compared to YouTube. The big advantage is that live content can be provided, in the right format, to anyone who is connected to the network. This could involve a Windows PC with Windows Media Player, VLC and an iOS smartphone, an Android smartphone, etc. The user doesn’t have to do anything. He clicks on the link in his invitation email and the CDN server will automatically supply the content in the right format. A smartphone that is connected via 4G will receive lower resolution than a user with a PC with Windows who is connected via a cable to the network on the site itself.”
How do you cope with the different languages?
Monica:“Simultaneous interpretation is provided. The spoken language is sent to a translation cabin where 3 languages can usually be translated. These translations are sent back to the room via the Dante network and those in attendance can then follow the relevant translation via infrared receivers with headphones. The translations (with images) can be sent as separate streams so the persons who are following live can follow the stream in their own language; it’s really useful!”
You even have a Multilanguage room?
Monica: “Yes that’s right, this meeting room has a capacity of around 30 people and has pretty much the same features as Room ONe. Recording (3-languages), streaming (multilingual), simultaneous interpretation, etc. This is to provide users with the same ‘user experience’ but with a very different hardware set-up in the backbone.”
The user interface of the touch panel is identical to Room ONe, with just a few tiny differences that are explained via a built-in help function.
The display of sources (clickshare, HDMI, Skype, ...) involves 2 large, 84” flat screens (215 cm) in 4K. Due to the arrangement of the seating positions (panel of 8 persons at the front of the room), 46” call-screens have also been provided so that the people on the panel do not have to look behind them to see what is being displayed./p>
There are two motorised cameras that are operated automatically via the activation of microphones. The images from the selected camera are used for Skype for Business sessions or live streaming. They are also sent to the interpreting cabins. The interpreters see the camera’s image on 3 monitors and the source on the flat screen.
AXA also organises a great deal of courses and encourages employees to think creatively; has this been taken into account?
Michael: “Absolutely, the ‘be creative’ room can be used as a meeting area but training and brainstorming are the main activities here. We deliberately chose to only implement Skype for Business in this room. And this project is unique in Belgium, as the touch inputs (touching and writing on the interactive screen) are wirelessly sent to the user’s PC.”
Three 84” (215 cm) touch flat screens in 4K are strategically distributed throughout the hall so that a brainstorming session can be split into 3 smaller working groups which then each do their ‘own thing’.
In the ’large group’ configuration, the 3 flat screens provide the same source (wireless PC) and everyone can follow the wireless actions that the teacher is carrying out on the master screen. Microphones and speakers ensure local audio enhancement, which is handy for the teacher and saves his/her voice during long sessions.
The room is equipped with a digital recorder identical to the one used in Room ONe and the Multilanguage so that the recordings of training and/or brainstorming sessions can be watched again thereafter.
As well as the audio and the PC content, the image of the room with the participants is also recorded via a motorised camera. The sessions can be live-streamed as well as recorded. Again, similar to the other rooms.
The users can operate all this using a touch panel with the same recognisable user interface that is used in Room ONe and the Multilanguage.
From the start, there was an ambition to offer the same user experience in these 105 meeting rooms.
Why did you opt for the Polycom Realpresence product line?
Michael: “Because of the fact that it works like a hybrid system. On the one hand, it is an H323/SIP codec that can connect to other video conference systems from other brands, via virtual rooms. On the other, and this is quite unique, it behaves like a Skype for Business appliance that is configured as a 'room location’ within MS Exchange.”
According to users, setting up a meeting has never been so easy.
Monica: “When setting up a meeting, they invite colleagues and search for a suitable meeting room in the same invitation process. The desired meeting room is then added to the invitation and the room reservation is thus confirmed. So far, nothing much is new, but at the start of the meeting the users in the room will see their meeting on the Polycom touch panel and when they press ‘their meeting’, the Skype session will start and the invited participants will be connected to the meeting, in the room or from a distance.”
It all sounds great, but is it user-friendly?
“Definitely, that was one of our requirements in the rooms’, explains Monica. “The smaller rooms have a 46” flat screen with a static camera. The audio is reproduced via speakers in the flat screen.
The medium rooms have a 55” to 70” flat screen. There is a motorised camera that ‘listens’ to the person that is speaking and then zooms into that person. Either the Eagle Eye Director or the Eagle Eye Producer has been used, depending on the size of the room.”
It is really easy to operate. The user touches the Polycom Touchscreen to start a Skype session and the flat screen comes on automatically. Or he connects his PC via the HDMI cable and this also triggers the flat screen to switch on.
On the meeting room table, there is an HDMI cable that reproduces their content on the flat screen(s). This can also be controlled by external participants (VC or Skype). If the user does not have access to the HDMI cable, he can share content via a local Skype session.
Are you also anticipating the latest forms of meeting?
Monica: “That is why we created the Dynamic Rooms. The intention here is to meet, or rather brainstorm, in an interactive manner. The people gather around the flat screen and can take (touch) notes, annotate presentations, enter figures on Excel sheets, etc. A completely different way of meeting.”
Michael:“There are 2 types of Dynamic Room. There are those with a high table where meetings are held standing up so that participants can more easily move towards the interactive screen. There are also dynamic rooms, with more of a ‘lounge’ atmosphere, that are conducive to relaxed brainstorming.”
To make this new form of meeting even more powerful, a 55” Microsoft Surface Hub is used. The Hub can be described as a flat screen with a touch layer, an integrated PC with dual webcam, microphones and speakers that behave like a Skype for Business appliance. Microsoft has created a closed shell that offers users a recognisable and simple user interface where apps and functions can be found intuitively. Some refer to this as a tablet, but it is 55” in size.
Can you tell us more about the Bubbles?
Monica: “The ‘bubbles’ are small meeting rooms where around 4 people can hold short, informal meetings. These rooms are not included in Exchange and cannot therefore be reserved.”
The user has an HDMI cable for displaying the PC on a 27” monitor, and a USB cable which can be used to connect a webcam and a table microphone/speaker. This allows the 4 people to actively take part in a Skype session by offering improved visibility and clarity, and also providing a better view of the content on the linked, portable PC.
“The possibilities are endless. Don't hesitate to contact us for a demo or more information.”