“Infopresence is this idea that the data is all around you in a three dimensional information space, and that you and someone in the room or a remote location can be swimming in the same information.”
Dave Marvit (pictured right) is an Innovation Strategy Consultant at Fujitsu’s Open Innovation Gateway. This unique institution, located in Silicon Valley California, is dedicated to “activating innovative practices – faster.”
In 2015, the Open Innovation Gateway was looking for an advanced collaboration tool to enable interactions across both virtual and physical spaces. After hearing about the Mezzanine platform and experiencing it at one of Oblong Industries’ showrooms, Marvit and the team saw that the system could not only provide the technical capabilities they required, but that it could deliver significant added value with Infopresence which incorporates presenting, creating, telepresence, webinars, videoconferencing, and teleconferencing.
In this interview, Marvit explains how the immersive information space powered by the Mezzanine system changes the way the team and their partners collaborate on a daily basis. He believes that the use of Infopresence will soon become commonplace in business.
Gloria Lombardi: New corporate practices that nurture a culture of innovation are becoming popular. Among them, Open Innovation is a standout endeavour. Fujitsu seizes this opportunity with its Open Innovation Gateway. Could you tell me more about the purpose of the Gateway?
Dave Marvit: We are a small team inside Fujitsu with a mission to activate innovative practices faster.
At the Open Innovation Gateway we encourage an open ‘frame of mind’. We believe that in order to be innovative we have to have an open mind about new possibilities and new ways of doing things. It’s about recognising that we do not know everything, and that not all of the smart people work for us. Opening one’s mind to new possibilities is probably one the most difficult parts of the innovative process.
GL: How does the Mezzanine system contribute to the Open Innovation Gateway?
DM: From the start, the Mezzanine system looked powerful and compelling. My first reaction when I saw it was, ‘Wow, what is it?’ But beyond first impressions, it is extremely useful. The Open Innovation Gateway is all about promoting and embedding open innovation – connecting, communicating, and collaborating. Mezzanine was the right tool for us to use.
If you’re trying to innovate, especially within an open innovation model, you need to be connected with people inside and outside your company. Mezzanine brings our distributed team members together, virtually, in a productive, collaborative environment.
Historically, the traditional way of conducting a meeting has been through one-way, often slide based, presentations. During the meeting, one person usually shows the participants their presentation, then they ask some questions. But a real innovative model requires everybody to contribute – everyone should be listening to one another, but also be able to react and share those reactions.
The fundamental idea behind the Mezzanine system is that nobody is in charge. Everybody is contributing and engaging in the process very dynamically at the same time, which is fundamental to open innovation.
When you have a group of smart people in the room, it doesn’t make sense to enforce a liner process. The notion that nobody should be in charge in an innovative process is radical; everybody should work collaboratively and dynamically. To us, the Mezzanine system perfectly embodies that radical philosophy of fluid, easy collaboration.
GL: How would you describe its concrete application?
DM: The Infopresence capabilities of Mezzanine change the presentation space into a collaboration space. Everybody who attends a meeting can contribute pixels and content at the same time. By having enough screen real estate – six large screens on the walls – we avoid stepping on each other.
We can invite the people we want, physically into the room, or virtually into a shared information space. We can all contribute to the process, modifying and updating the content. We swim in the same information, in real-time.
Mezzanine provides a shared, immersive, data-rich collaborative environment where all participants – whether from our San Francisco or Japan offices, or from any location – can contribute in real-time. They can move content, video, and images around any of the multiple, large screens in the Mezzanine room, zoom in and expand crucial elements, and add their own content. We’re keen to enable better decision-making, advanced analysis of business data, and real-time collaborative document reviewing and creation. Mezzanine supports the fluid conversations that are needed for ideation and innovative working.
Anyone can enter the Mezzanine room remotely through their mobile devices. They can join from their home office or the train station; they get to see smaller versions of the content, but remote attendees can still make a substantial contribution.
GL: Did you call the Mezzanine room a particular name?
DM: We named all the rooms of the Gateway after different elements. For example, Wind, Fire, and Wood. The Mezzanine room is called ‘Water’ because it provides the fundamental element of fluidity. It is fluid in the sense that the communication goes everywhere. The name reflects the fluid nature of the innovative process that we try to harness at Fujitsu’s Open Innovation Gateway.
GL: Could you give me an example of the types of meetings that you have in the Water room when using Mezzanine?
DM: Recently, we had a meeting on the future of Artificial Intelligence. We asked a group of subject matter experts to come and contribute to the process. We started by taking a team member’s presentation, putting it on one screen, and taking a snapshot of a key part of a single slide. In the middle of the presentation another participant plugged in their computer and put content on another screen, and added a few comments to the initial presentation. We ended up with a dynamic, fluid and very productive meeting. We’d never get nearly the same results without using a Mezzanine system.
Mezzanine is now part of the way we operate on a daily basis. We use the Water room even for less epic situations. For example, we can just contact one of our start-up partners, and ask them for a few minutes to discuss an issue. We pull them virtually into the room; they use their tablets which are connected to Mezzanine. We share documents and highlight any troublesome paragraphs. Then we can all mark-up changes collaboratively in real-time. It feels very natural.
GL: Did you have any challenges along the journey?
DM: The technical part of the process was smooth. One of our challenges was communicating to the finance team why we should buy the Mezzanine system in the first place. It is a whole new kind of solution for a problem that many people do not recognise.
Initially, we showed some of the videos that the Oblong team put together around their Mezzanine solution, which helped. Then, they tried it out by themselves. That was the turning point. It was only by trying it out, that its value became easier to understand.
Unless you experience it, it’s difficult to explain what Infopresence is and why it is valuable.
GL: Do you think that the use of Infopresence will become ordinary business practice in the future? Or at least, inside Fujitsu?
DM: Absolutely. Infopresence is going to become as much of a part of business practice as telephony. Just as mobile phones and video conferencing were adopted, ultimately the same will happen with Infopresence. It’s going to be part of the ICT (Information Communication Technology) continuum.
As more companies start using technologies like Mezzanine, we are going to see more connected rooms. Immersive meetings across sites will become more commonplace in the future.
GL: How about the costs involved with the equipment? Will companies with fewer resources be able to adopt it?
DM: At some point, the costs of the equipment will come down as is common with new tech. Early adopters, like Fujitsu, help to make the technology accessible to everyone else. The companies willing to buy and use the latest tech help drive down the price for others.
GL: One aspect that makes Mezzanine’s Infopresence capabilities so innovative is its ability to create a continuum between the digital and physical workplace. Do you have any final thoughts on that?
DM: Business processes are becoming digital. But, it’s always about people communicating with each other, creating and sharing new ideas.
John Underkoffler, the founder and CEO of Oblong, once said, ‘Different size problems require different size interfaces’. Some problems can be perfectly addressed on a mobile phone; other problems require a larger screen like on a laptop. Big, complex problems may require lots of screens on physical walls. So the notion that digital surfaces of different sizes solve different kinds of problems matches the way we, as analogue human beings, interact with the digital world. The Mezzanine screens bring location and relationships to insubstantial concepts.
Sometimes, we have too much information for any single screen. We cannot see it all at once. We cannot establish relationships between the different pieces of information because the space is too small. Infopresence provides a different experience. With so many screens that are inter-connected, we can put things that are related next to each other, and move them around in a fluid way to expose and highlight the relationships that generate meaning. And we can do that in a group setting.
Doug Engelbart invented the computer mouse in the early 1960s. Unbelievably early. At that time he said that the mouse was a good idea because people are used to reaching out and pointing at things. For him, the mouse was an attempt to connect humans with the digital world through normal human behaviour.
In a similar way, the Mezzanine system taps into with how people work comfortably in physical spaces. It lets us put different pieces of information in different parts of our space, matching the natural processes analogue human beings use to process data. The power of Mezzanine comes from making the digital technology work in a human manner.