Football season is upon us and it's always a big event in New England, where I live. I can't say I really follow much of football (except for the Superbowl) but I do like learning about the technology behind it, along with other major sports (I watch the Superbowl for the tech commercials - and the snacks too, of course).
The sports world invests incredible amounts of capital in new technology (and it shows in the ticket prices for many teams). Technology enhances sports by developing cutting-edge equipment, discovering advanced training methods, and allowing fans to buy tickets online or even interact with athletes via social media. However, sometimes sports enhance technology for the rest of us; at times the advances they enjoy trickle over to nonathletic realms as well.
One such example is software called PlayerLync, which is in use by more than half of the National Football League to share content among tablet devices; coaches, players and staff can review plays, read critical documents and collaborate on ideas. Now the product is expanding to other businesses as well since it offers multiple advantages not reserved exclusively for sport teams. Since I possess lots of file and video content myself and I always like to see what's coming down the bend I took a look at PlayerLync to find out what made it interesting.
What is PlayerLync?
PlayerLync is a client/server collaboration application which allows efficient delivery of files to iOS tablets or laptops running Windows 8.1. It allows users to push and pull videos and documents to other individuals or groups in the organization, so specific content can be tailored to the right groups, eliminating the need for them to manually retrieve or search for material. This enables organizations to truly go digital and harness the power of up-to-the-minute information, eliminating the need for printed manuals which might quickly become obsolete. Businesses can share best practices and guidelines to ensure that their material is useful and universal.
PlayerLync provides a calendaring system for shared events to help keep employees in sync. It also gathers statistics about individual usage of data, tracking who accesses content to help provide better insight into how and where the content is used.
What's different about PlayerLync?
PlayerLync doesn't stream video to devices over a network, since that can be problematic in situations of poor network bandwidth or device overload, and it also requires the device to be online and accessible. Instead, content is pushed ahead of time to the internal storage of the device where it can be played locally without or without a network connection. As someone who frequently goes "off the grid" I can appreciate having all my files on me, rather than on a server I can't get to thanks to network unavailability.
A high-compression scheme (video files can be reduced to 3% of their original sizes before transmission) coupled with intelligent synchronization can send content at 30 times the speed of other technologies. For instance, PlayerLync states they "can compress and deliver nine hours of high-definition video in 17 minutes in low-bandwidth environments without quality loss, eliminating bandwidth strain or the need for streaming and buffering."
Synchronization can be set up to run immediately or via what they call "Automatic Sleep Mode Synchronization," whereby files can be transferred to devices even if they're in sleep mode or not actively in use. This can be customized to only deliver large-scale files over a Wi-Fi network as it becomes available, so that users don't rack up excessive data charges over 3G/4G connections.
How is PlayerLync used?
PlayerLync wanted to make the process as simple as possible in order to maximize its appeal across a diverse user base. As the graphic shows above, users can deposit content in specific shared folders and the material therein will be sent out to the recipients configured to receive it (depending on the sync schedule for devices). Recipients who have been set up to receive multiple files can choose which ones to download first, helping them to access needed information more rapidly.
It's not just a one-way process, however - users can work with the content and make notes which they can then share with others (say for instance during a conference call one of the invited attendees couldn't make). Annotations can be used to point people to specific sections of content (such as a segment of a video file a manager wants an employee to review).
Users can also create their own content - like recording a video on a tablet and send it back to corporate headquarters. All changes to content made on devices are backed up for safekeeping.
Since content is matched with specific users or groups, if users change roles their PlayerLync access can change as well, removing the irrelevant/unnecessary information and providing them with a new set of data specific to their job responsibility. Playerlink also uses application programming interfaces (APIs) which can tie into existing systems such as those used by Human Resources or Learning Management, allowing it to be used within those platforms.
What is required to run PlayerLync?
No change to existing tablets, servers or networks is required to use PlayerLync; all that is needed to utilize it is the software itself, along with the configuration required to deliver content to the right people/devices.
Is PlayerLync secure?
The software can run exclusively on an internal network using company-owned equipment; files are not kept on nor do they pass through PlayerLync's systems. Furthermore, the application uses 256-bit encryption security, which PlayerLync points out is "the same encryption used by banks to safeguard financial data." Tablets also come equipped with security controls such as passwords and biometric sensors which prevent unauthorized users from gaining access.
Content is accessed within the PlayerLync application and cannot be copied from the devices. The centralized management interface also lets administrators easily erase tablet content, even if the device doesn't have an active network connection (or it has been deliberately disabled to thwart remote administration). PlayerLync can set the frequency of how often a device needs to "check in" remotely, and if it fails to do so within a certain time the local application will wipe all content on the device. Once a legitimate user logs in, the content can be redelivered if necessary.
Where to find out more
The PlayerLync site offers more information such as a blog, resource center and other materials. The blog has articles on training and learning management topics. You can also schedule a demo to see it in action; I attended one myself and found it compelling.
If you've read my articles for a while you'll probably know that I favor simplicity. I like products that seek to do one thing and do it well rather than those "everything but the kitchen sink" packages that try to fit every possible need (and which require extensive troubleshooting when they have problems). To me, the most interesting element of PlayerLync is the way it can deliver a specific set of information - whether sales data, IT training material or financials to be shared among accountants - to people as needed. In this packrat age where servers are rarely cleaned up, wiki and Sharepoint sites must be constantly maintained and even enterprise search tools don't always provide users with what they truly need to know, getting the right flow of information is crucial. PlayerLync seeks to answer the question of "What do employees need to do their jobs today?" with one word: "This."
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.