There are many ways to use Decision Explorer® Connect™. It is designed to work with any Windows PC and any sort of clients with a modern browser. In this article, I’m going to describe one possible setup for someone who wants to put together a complete system that they can carry around to conduct meetings, knowing that it will work reliably each time. I will discuss aspects of the choices that need to be made along the way.
Basic kit list
- A Connect system will require:
- A laptop or other PC running Windows 7 or later (Display PC)
- A laptop, or 10 inch screen tablet for the facilitator (Facilitator PC)
- A device with a browser for each participant (Participant Device)
- A projector or other shared screen display
The display PC is easiest perhaps, as it needs to be a laptop or other suitable computer that is running Windows 7 or later (Windows 8 or 10 are fine). You will want to connect this to the projector or public display.
You need to be able to access this computer if you are going to switch between the Decision Explorer® software and Connect™, or if you are using Connect in standalone mode that’s fine. Both software products are used in a “maximized” display mode to keep the display as focused as possible.
The operation of the Connect software is done using a browser, so the facilitator can use any other device that has a suitably large display. It is designed to work on a 10″ iPad display or larger. So this could be a duplicate of the Display PC, or a tablet, or a Chromebook.
Each participant will need a device with a modern browser. The Connect software will work on a device as small as a 3.5 inch display, but it is not the best experience. A 7 inch or 10 inch tablet is recommended, or a laptop or Chromebook with a keyboard if doing a lot of idea gathering.
The key component that makes this all work is the network, and for tablets and most laptops, that really means a WiFi network. Now, most of the time you are able to ignore the details of what WiFi actually means, and how it works. Someone just “has a WiFi connection and that’s the internet yes?”. For the facilitator setting up a Connect system, you need to understand various parts of networking.
First off, let’s separate parts. WiFi is a radio based networking technology, and your tablet talks to what is known as an “Wireless Access Point”, or WAP. The WAP is usually included in a device that does other things as well, like “routing” and might even have a “modem” for your ADSL broadband. Often there is a firewall, perhaps DNS and DCHP. We’ll get to those, but you need to know how they can be separated to be able to set things up in a variety of situations.
So let’s focus on just the Access Point for the moment. You will want all of your participants to connect to the same Access Point. They each need to be able to talk to the Display PC, and if that is also on WiFi, then you must not have a feature called “Guest isolation” enabled. Guest isolation is used to stop one device from seeing and perhaps interfering with other devices on the same network, and in public places is a good thing. But here it is essential that the participants can see the Display PC, so guests must not be isolated. If the Display PC is on the wired part of the network, then this doesn’t matter so much.
Okay, now we have two possible situations to consider: are you in the middle of a desert, or working in an office with the existing network facilities?
One way to use an Access point is completely isolated from everything else. The WAP will run a service called “DHCP” which is what is needed for your devices to get themselves an “IP Number” which is what is needed for them to talk to each other. In this mode, each device connects to the Access Point, gets a unique IP number, and they can talk between each other. It is simple and effective and ideal for a system you carry with you.
The issue you may find is that if people are using their own devices, then they won’t get any email or other messages etc because they don’t have an internet connection any more. WiFi is not internet, it needs a link to outside to make it work, and this is where the wired network comes in.
The WAP will have a wired network connection, which enables the devices to talk to the internet. To link the two, the WAP includes a “router” which can take the messages from the devices and route them to the internet. It will translate them using a protocol called “NAT” (Network Address Translation). When you have NAT enabled, you can plug into the office network and the office sees a single device with a single IP address. The devices can see each other for the meeting purposes, and also get out onto the internet.
Now, some networks are quite controlled, so you will have to talk to the system administrators to get permission to link to their network. Another possible mode has the WAP disable its router, and then each device on the WAP talks direct to the office network for its IP address. If it isn’t your network, you probably don’t want this mode. If you are using the WAP of the offices you are meeting in though, this is probably how they have it set up already, but check guest isolation if the Display PC is on WiFi too.
I’m not sure that there is any router which is going to be simple to use for a wide variety of modes, but one that has good dual-band capabilities and can work in WAP or Router mode is the Asus RT-N56U (amazon link) which has all the features you might need.
Other things to consider if you are putting a kit together include:
- A wheeled suitcase. No, really, a suitcase is a good way to transport a kit with laptops, cables, and tablets. People don’t expect that you will have a few thousand pounds worth of kit in a suitcase, so it looks innocuous. You should of course keep your eye on it, and not mistake it for the one with your clothes in, which won’t help the meeting go so well.
- Power extension cables. Always handy to be able to get power from the side of the room to where you want your computer. Take care to reduce trip hazards, and loop it around table legs to reduce the effects of a pull.
- Charge your tablets up before you need them.
Anything we have missed out? Let us know. Thanks.