Today I joined Polycom co-founder Jeff Rodman at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as our iconic conference phone, the SoundStation, became a part of the Electricity Technology collection.
As I shared on CNBC’s Squawk Box, I am excited to be leading a company with a rich history of invention and innovation, and seeing the SoundStation take its rightful place alongside technology that has shaped modern communications and technology like the iPod, Apple Microcomputer, Blackberry cell phone and Nintendo Gameboy is an honor and a testament to the work our teams have done for the past 26 years.
Polycom has literally been at the table for conversations that have changed our world.The Soundstation has been there for key conversations between world leaders, artists, celebrities, and inventors. The word “Polycom” has taken on a meaning of its own—I’ve heard customers around the world say “We love to Polycom!” —making Polycom a verb that means to communicate and collaborate together live.
Polycom’s co-founders, Jeff Rodman and Brian Hinman, realized back in the mid-1980s that there was a glaring weakness in the emerging video conferencing technology of the day: a lack of really good sound. Being on a call with bad video quality is tough, but being on a call with poor audio quality is worse—and makes being productive nearly impossible. They understood that the audio problem needed to be solved first or video conferencing would never take off. At the time, speaker phones were available but only had two elements—a speaker and a mic, and they didn’t provide the human to human feeling Jeff and Brian were after.
Jeff and Brian also realized that the market didn’t need another desktop speaker phone, or even low-quality video solution—it needed a multi-user phone system, because people were collaborating in groups more than ever. The winning three-legged design was more than just to make the phone look cool. Jeff and Brian discovered that if they positioned the microphones in a triangle, the phone created exceptional and clear voice coverage from anywhere in the room, just as if you were there around the table in person. That audio innovation is what made the SoundStation business-critical and was the foundation for our high-quality video conferencing solutions as well.
Jeff and Brian homed in on the fact that good, productive virtual meetings needed to feel as human-like as possible, and their passion for human-like innovations in audio, video and content sharing technology is what still drives Polycom today.
For instance, since people aren’t tied to our desks anymore, business leaders and employees alike want to be able to connect from anywhere. All generations, not just millennials and Gen Z, want to incorporate work into life, not fit life into work. Critical decisions need to be made in minutes, not in the hours and days it takes to travel around the world. Communication technology has made the world smaller and brought us all closer together, but without human-like innovations and features, it also lets us hide behind our screens and isolates us.
Even as we navigate our global and dispersed teams, we firmly believe that the conference room is not going away any time soon, although it will continue to evolve as new generations come into the workplace. In today’s world, those conference rooms, meeting rooms, and huddle rooms need to be able to connect to all other meeting spaces. After all, you aren’t going to have a board meeting with twelve people sitting at a table squinting at their laptops. Our cameras, audio, what we put in the room, and the AI that drives it is what makes a difference, whichever video “dial tone” you choose.
Despite all technology does for us and enables us to do, human-to-human connections are the most powerful and productive ways for businesses to drive engagement and productivity. Our mission at Polycom is not to replace in-person communications, but to make meetings and communications as human-like as possible in a global workforce where we can’t always be together in person. Polycom is the next best thing to in-person collaboration.
Polycom technology already creates incredibly human-like experiences with cameras like EagleEye Director that automatically zooms in on the active speaker in a meeting, and with features like Acoustic Fence and NoiseBlock, which block out background noise. New technologies and innovations will make our virtual meeting and collaborations experiences even more human-like and productive. Facial recognition, natural voice processing and control with tools like Alexa, badge identification, and AI-fueled meeting notes, transcription and follow-up are not far behind.
After 26 years of connecting people, we are only at the “end of the beginning” of this incredible company. As we push what technology can do for us – and what it can help us do for ourselves – the best is truly yet to come.