Few of us would refute the old adage that in business, you have to spend money to make money. So it makes sense that if you want to hold more effective meetings, you have to invest in them. Over the last few decades, corporations have invested heavily in technology designed to increase individual employee efficiency. But fewer companies have extended this investment past the desktop and into the boardroom. Plush leather chairs and polished boardroom tables are no longer enough to furnish a boardroom Ė meeting room tools are essential to create a fully functional workspace.

Weíve reviewed several meeting room tools that can be used to turn your meeting room into a highly productive collaborative environment. So read on, and decide if you think an investment in meeting room technology would pay off for your organization.

With the increasing reliance on computer-based presentation programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint and the need to access up-to-date information, very few meeting rooms can afford to ignore computers. Ideally, youíll have a networked computer in your meeting room so that meeting participants can access their files directly. Computer prices range tremendously, but you can pick up a decent computer for approximately $1,000 Ė $1,500.

A data/digital projector displays your computer applications. A projector is essential for showing presentations, spreadsheets or video clips to large groups of people. Digital projectors (also known as LCD or DLP projectors) have fallen dramatically in price in recent years. In-Focus, NEC, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba all manufacture digital projectors, which are priced from as little as $2,000 right through to $11,000+.

Copy Boards
Copy boards take your traditional whiteboard one step further by offering a means of recording your notes. The board is connected to a printer, so any notes on the whiteboard can be printed out and distributed to participants. Newer boards can be connected to a computer, allowing you to save notes as a computer file. Copy boards will range in price from $1,300 to $3,000 and are manufactured by companies such as Panasonic.

Interactive Whiteboards
Interactive whiteboards take your whiteboard one step further again. The board is connected to a computer and a projector, so you can actually interact with computer-based information. Now with the information you'd have at your desktop available to you in the meeting room, youíll never be stranded without a crucial fact or figure. Like a copy board, an interactive whiteboard can be used to write and save notes, but the interactivity lets you move, sort and group your notes as well. In terms of pricing, interactive whiteboards are more cost effective than copyboards, as you get the additional functionality for a similar price. Interactive whiteboards range in price from $1,200 to $24,000 depending on the size and projection style (front or rear projection system). The SMART Board and Rear Projection SMART Board interactive whiteboards from SMART Technologies are the industry leaders in this category.

Plasma Display Panels
A plasma display panel (PDP) is a flat-panel display that offers another alternative for viewing a computer image. A PDP is much slimmer than a standard monitor and offers a significantly larger viewing area (42" to 50"). The major selling point, however, is the exceptionally clear, bright image. PDPs are still relatively new to the market and range in price from $8,000 to $20,000. PDPs are manufactured by companies such as Pioneer, NEC and Fujitsu.

PDP Interactive Overlay
If your organization has invested in a PDP already (or is thinking of doing so), for less than $4,000 you can add an interactive overlay for your panel. An overlay adds touch sensitivity and annotation capabilities to your PDP (exactly like an interactive whiteboard). For example, SMART Board for Plasma Displays interactive overlays from SMART Technologies is designed to work with several popular PDPs on the market.

Conferencing equipment is essential for companies that regularly meet with people in different geographic locations. Audio conferencing (a system of phones and microphones) can be purchased for $250 (for a desktop model) to $1,300+ (for a premier system). The leading audio conferencing phones are manufactured by Polycom and Gentner.

Data conferencing lets you share text, images and data in real time. Some conferencing packages, such as Microsoft NetMeeting software, may actually be included free with your operating system.

Videoconferencing uses telephone or data lines to transmit audio and video. Prices for a videoconferencing system range from $600 (for a desktop unit) to $12,000 for a multi-site boardroom system. Leading vendors are Polycom, PictureTel, Tandberg and VTEL.  

Multimedia Cabinets
If your office has made significant investments in multimedia equipment such as video or DVD players, speakers, scanners, projectors, etc., you may want to consider purchasing a multimedia cabinet to store and access your peripherals. In many companies, multimedia equipment is under-utilized because people donít have time to set up and configure each piece of equipment. A multimedia cabinet comes pre-configured with the necessary wires and cables, so all you have to do is plug it in and itís ready to go. Commercial cabinets, such as SMART Expression mobile multimedia cabinets from SMART Technologies, range in price from $3,000 to $6,000, while a customized cabinet will cost you anywhere from $10,000+.

Room-Control Systems
Room-control systems let you control a wide range of electronic equipment (audio, video, projection, lighting, screens, blinds, security and communication) from one central location. Prices have fallen recently, and you can now acquire a system for under $2,000. Leading manufacturers of room-control systems are AMX/Panja and Crestron.

So Is It Worth It?
Making the initial investment in meeting room technology can seem like a costly endeavor. But keep in mind that an investment into more effective meetings can have big payoffs for your company in terms of increased productivity and more efficient group collaborations. Who isnít interested in attaining those objectives?


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