UC as a Service vs. On Premise

It’s a classic technology debate. The decision to implement a new technology solution as an on-premise deployment or move to a cloud delivered service offered by a service provider. This debate rages on nearly all technology decisions from email implementations to video conferencing and collaboration solutions.

For most organizations, Unified Communications implementations include mission critical functions such as voice calling. The decision to move to a cloud consumption model has a lot of areas to consider. Questions around reliability are always raised with cloud services (and in most cases easily addressed) as well as security and the availability of features.

Let’s take a look at how UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) differs from on premise and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

  • Multi-tenacy vs single-tenacy
    For a UCaaS service provider, building a service and delivering it to its customers is a complex task that involves software licensing, service provisioning and more. With many solutions out there, software is licensed and loaded on a server (either real or virtual) and then resources are allocated per organization. In a multi-tenacy model, multiple organizations are being served from the same shared resource. The advantage to this is that costs can be kept down with using the same server for multiple deployments. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to integrate the service into proprietary systems or other tools the company has on premise. In a single-tenancy model, the service provider provisions one set of software and hardware for one customer. This is more of a private setup and allows for integration.
  • Scalability
    Adding a new employee to an organization can be a complex task. IT and other organizations must coordinate for employee onboarding and getting all their technology in place. When it comes to UC provisioning, there are immediate costs associated with adding new users to the platform. In an on-premise deployment, the organization may have to purchase additional licensing in order to enable that user. That licensing is then owned. In the case of a UCaaS deployment, a new user can be added via the service provider. The difference here is that if that user is no longer needed, they can be removed from the service and no longer paid for. On premise, the licensing has already been purchased. Multiply these types of moves, adds and changes over a longer period of time with many new employees, the investment can really add up.
  • Mission Critical
    UC tools (especially voice) are considered mission critical to any business. Many organizations may question the reliability of moving these services to a cloud service. The industry has set standards for high availability (HA) data centers that help ensure the time of uptime guarantee that is needed for UCaaS. When evaluating service providers make sure to understand their data center profile. High availability refers to a facility and system that offers near 100% uptime. This can equate to 5 9s (meaning 99.99999% uptime). Key to any evaluation will be Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between you and the service provider. This is not to say that an on-premise solution will provide 100% availability. There are a myriad of issues that can occur with those deployments, especially since they will likely be housed in data centers similar to a service provider.

The answer of to the question of whether or not to take a UC deployment to the cloud or keep it on-premise is really different for every organization. Weighing internal systems, employee size and features will help make the evaluation more straight forward. Additionally, if a cloud service proves to not work in the long run, the solutions can be moved in house. Finding a service provider to work with that offers a strong base of reference customers and technical acumen you can trust is the first step!

Shopping for AV Control System Programming

At the heart of any audio visual integrated room or environment is likely a control system that facilitates both the communication between multiple A/V technologies as well as the interface to the end user. Control system platforms from vendors such as AMX and Crestron are continuously evolving and providing new features and functionality. One area that continues to be required, however, is the need to program these platforms to the specific room they are utilized in.

Understanding the nuances of control system programming can be rather complex for the user evaluating a new AV solution and even more, how do you know if you are dealing with a provider who has strong control system programming chops?

Here are some key areas to consider and questions to ask:

Defining Requirements

During the evaluation phase it is imperative to understand exactly what your needs are from a control system perspective. How do you want the system to work? What do you want the interface to look like? During this period it is important to consider the end users who will be working in the room day in and day out. If the room is an executive conference room, automation and simplicity will be important. Your CEO will likely not want to have to move through dozens of screens simply to start his or her meeting.  If the users of the room are middle managers who are going to be working with a lot of different content sources or multiple locations, those functions must also be easy to access but also powerful enough to facilitate their meeting needs.

With these questions answered, sit with your AV solution provider and develop a requirements document that outlines all of this information as well as a general flow of how the system will work. Some AV providers will offer a prebuilt platform that provides basic functionality out of the box and your company can simply license this software for their room. If this is the path you follow, make sure you obtain a manual or other usage document that overviews how this platform will work. It will be critical to match this to the needs you have defined.

Project Management

Programming projects can be tricky to manage and getting them completed on time and on budget maybe a challenge for some of the AV providers out there. When evaluating, speak to your solution center about their project management methodology and what steps they will take to ensure timely completion and how they manage their programming resources. Also, it is important to understand if any of the project will be outsourced or if programming is handled in house.

Testing and Quality Control

Once your AV programming is complete, it is critical that the code is tested with the hardware that will be implemented in the room. Speak to your provider to have a full understanding of their testing and quality control process. Particularly critical to this process is when the code will be loaded and tested. If the plan is to ship all hardware to your facility and then load and test the code there, huge problems can arise! It is possible you will have programmers on site attempting to debug bad code instead of technicians ensuring the room hardware is properly installed. Best case scenario for testing is that your room racks are fabricated ahead of time and tested with the completed code at your solution provider’s facility. This will allow for any changes to the code to be made on the fly and to also ensure that wiring and fabrication work is complete and tested as well.

Source Code

A final consideration is what will happen to the source code for your project. If you have contracted for a completely custom programming solution, that code should be provided to you at the project’s completion.  This is incredibly important because if changes are needed to be made in the future by another solution provider, they will need to have access to all source code.  If you elect to use an AV provider’s standard control platform, that source will likely not be provided to you since it’s a standard platform that you are simply licensing.

Control System Programming is the brains behind your AV room so do not take the evaluation of that process lightly. Ask pointed questions of your provider and demand answers and a project timeline. The upfront work will help ensure a successfully implemented room.

How Cloud Services Can Move Your Business Forward

The topic of cloud video conferencing comes up frequently here on the blog as well as around the collaboration industry as a whole. IVCi’s latest offering, Cloud Video Experience, provides a complete video collaboration service from the cloud that includes virtual meeting rooms, endpoint subscriptions, and software for desktop computers and iPads.

The specifications of these services are good to know but the question really is how can a cloud service, such as CVE, help my business?

Ensure Quality Across The Globe

Many multinational organizations invest in visual collaboration technology in their data centers through the purchase of hardware and software. These devices are located a central datacenter (or maybe a handful of data centers). This setup can prove to be problematic as remote employees or particularly distant offices must connect first to the data center (which could be thousands of miles away) before connecting back to another user in the local country.

This bouncing of data traffic can result in a poor video experience. CVE provides POPs (Points of Presence) throughout the world that enables video traffic to stay relatively local to the individual making a call. So instead of a user in Italy having to connect to a data center in the United States, they can connect to their local European POP to use video services. The result is a higher quality image and better experience.

Video for All

In many organizations video is a big part of meetings but those who are not located in main offices are usually forced to call into a meeting via audio only. With CVE, those users can connect with a video enabled computer or mobile device (iOS/Android) and enjoy the same benefits of video experienced by the local participants. This can help maintain relationships for remote employees and keep them more engaged.

Expand Your Reach

In the earlier days of video conferencing connecting outside of an organization’s internal network was incredibly difficult. Even more, involving outside parties such as partners and vendors in a video call required complicated setup and testing. With CVE’s advanced infrastructure and firewall traversal technology, it is far easier to connect to someone on the outside world who is video enabled. And for those who don’t have access to video technology, CVE virtual meeting rooms feature web access (via WebRTC). This web access enables anyone with a browser and a camera to join the video call and participate in the visual experience.

Bridge to the Island

Many organizations have implemented unified communications systems such as Microsoft Lync or Cisco Jabber that include video conferencing functionality along with instant messaging, presence and voice. In most cases, these solutions are not able to connect to video conferencing systems in conference rooms or to mobile devices utilizing standards based software. CVE virtual meeting rooms enable interoperability between all of these technologies and allow everyone to participate in the meeting, no matter what platform they are utilizing.

CVE and other cloud based video conferencing services are far more than technical services with a list of specifications and features. Instead they are services that can truly help move your business forward.

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User Experience and Collaboration Technology

User Experience and Collaboration

“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

With so much discussion around the newest technologies available in video conferencing and collaboration it can be easy to forget about the most important aspect of the technology, users! For collaboration technology to be useful and successful within an organization, the user experience must be addressed first. You can have the latest and greatest conferencing solution become immediately useless if users are unable and unwilling to take advantage of it.

Here are some key considerations when evaluating the user side of collaboration technology:

Meeting Set-up
How easy is it for users to schedule a collaboration session? Is it possible to initiate a call immediately without scheduling it first? What kind of security access must be granted so a user can moderate a meeting vs. simply attend? A poor experience at the very beginning of the process can shut down any chance the technology being used at all, let alone used successfully. It is also important to understand what add-ons might be available to aid in this set-up. This can include scheduling plugins designed for Outlook or Gmail, as well as any web based scheduling tools.

Meeting Join
When a user is invited to a collaboration session, whether video, web conferencing, or other it is important that they can easily join and participate. If they are joining from a dedicated video conferencing system, how easy is it to dial into meeting and what information is needed? If there are multiple meeting ids and codes, the likelihood of failure is far greater. If the user is joining from a PC or Mac, what is required to join? If a plugin must be downloaded that can potentially add frustration to the process. New technologies like WebRTC are making it possible to join interactive collaborative sessions without the need to download anything. This instant on approach creates a seamless join experience and will certainly encourage more users to participate.

“In Meeting” Experience
Once your users have made it past the hurdle of scheduling or initiating a meeting as well as joining, the final component of the process is ensuring a seamless “in meeting” experience.  This covers everything from how to share content to the ability to chat with fellow participants as well as what options there are for customizing the experience. Web conferencing solutions tend to have a lot of options in this regard, making it easy to move content and video around as well as easily initiating private and group chats. For video conferencing calls, the options may be more limiting. In the case of cloud based services like IVCi’s Cloud Video Experience, there are numerous options for controlling the audio and video feeds of participants as well as the video layout.

Other Considerations
Beyond the three main areas above it is also important to consider what happens after the meeting. Is it possible to retrieve a recording of the session? How easy is the recording to download? What sort of reporting is available to the higher levels to see utilization of the technology?  And don’t forget about the network itself. A poor experience with choppy audio and video will make all of the above simply moot.

When evaluating any collaborative technology, begin and end with the user in mind. If the user experience is great, the technology will be used and not only will a strong ROI be realized but users will enjoy greater productivity and success!

Audio Visual Buyer’s Guide

Walk into any conference room and you are sure to find multi-media technology set up to facilitate collaboration. Whether a meeting is held face-to-face or a via web/video conference, the need to easily access and display electronic information is critical to a meeting’s success. Building a new audio visual integrated room (whether it be a conference room, training facility, monitoring center or something else) can be an in-depth process that requires a lot of areas to be reviewed. Our new Audio Visual Buyer’s Guide is designed to help you understand all of the technical, environmental and user components that should be taken into account when beginning the process. The guide covers many areas including:

  • Meeting space considerations
  • What display technology is best?
  • What audio options should I consider?
  • What options are available for video conferencing in the room?
  • and much more

Click HERE to download the guide today and begin your journey to a successful AV room!

Microsoft Lync in the Conference Room

Microsoft Lync continues to grow in popularity as a unified communications solution for organizations large and small across the world. From its instant messaging and presence to full enterprise voice functionality and video conferencing, countless organizations are seeing the value Lync can provide and are connecting their employees like never before.

One particular area of interest in the market is the ability to move Microsoft Lync meetings from purely desktop interactions to room based meetings. The idea of in room collaboration is certainly not dead and teams want to enter a room and have the ability to leverage the very same Lync tools they use on their personal screens. Of particular interest here is video conferencing and content sharing/collaboration.

When creating a Lync Room, here are some important items to consider when making the transition.

THE ROOM

When deciding where to place your Lync Conference Room it is important to pick an environment with good lighting and acoustics. If the room is going to be utilized for Lync video calls, bad lighting would result in terrible quality for the far end.  And with audio, if the room is located next to a noisy area of your office or facility those noises could potentially be heard in meetings. Acoustical panels and better lighting can be added to a room to improve both of these areas; if they are a concern, definitely consult with an AV expert for help.

THE NETWORK

If your users are already making use of Lync on their desktop then your network has probably already been prepared for a lot more traffic (including video). But adding room systems will put additional strain on your network. One area of particular focus should be your QoS (Quality of Service) strategy. QoS allows you to prioritize different kinds of network traffic to ensure the highest level of quality. For example, video calls can be prioritized over download traffic (if your users are browsing over the same network). QoS can help to ensure that meetings being held in the Lync rooms have the highest quality possible. It many cases, these meetings will be of higher importance and potentially involve executives, making that traffic prioritization critical.

LYNC ROOM SYSTEM MANUFACTURER

It is certainly possible to setup a Lync Room using a standard PC and some off the shelf components (camera, mic, etc) but the experience will not match what users are accustomed to on their desktop. Several manufacturers have partnered with Microsoft to create specifically configured hardware and software that falls under the category Lync Room System. LRSs are available from SMART, Polycom, and Crestron. While the core functionality of these three systems is the same, there are some decisions to be made about number and size of displays as well as whether or not the Lync Room will need to be used for other purposes. Some of these systems are locked only to Lync meetings and others allow integration into other technologies.

It is inevitable that Lync users will want to collaborate in a conference room for some meetings and deliverables. If the above considerations are taken into account then your Lync conference room has the potential to create some exciting collaboration sessions between your users which will only help move business forward!

 

Manage Video Conferencing Yourself or Outsource to a Cloud Provider?

When it comes to running the day to day operations of your video conferencing environment, you have a choice; manage it yourself or outsource management to a service provider. How do you make this decision? What are some of the key points to help understand your organization’s needs?

Option 1 – Do It Yourself
The natural choice for many organizations is to implement video conferencing and then turn it over to IT for day to day support of both the technology as well as end users. This can be incredibly successful or it could be a massive disaster! These are the key questions that should be asked:

  • Do we have IT team members who are familiar with video conferencing technology, its impact on the network and how to do basic troubleshooting?
  • Are we prepared to purchase all of the needed infrastructure for bridging, mobile devices, firewall traversal, scheduling, management and more?
  • Do we have the resources to define and implement best practices and processes for scheduling of shared conference rooms, launching of video calls and who to escalate support issues to?
  • What is the potential impact on IT’s workload with the addition of video?
  • Do we have the personal to help manage special events such as CEO meetings, earnings calls, and departmental meetings?
  • When we do need assistance, what is the escalation path to have our problems addressed?
  • What will happen if video calls do not work well for our end users?
  • What steps will we take to train IT as well as end users?

Certainly there are many questions to be asked when deciding how to manage your video environment yourself. Many organizations do this and do it successfully. It’s just a matter of being prepared and making sure you have the right people, processes and technology in place.

Option 2 – Outsource It
There are a lot of consideration when implementing video. The questions above can be quite daunting and ultimately lead an organization down a path to outsource the management of their video environment. When choosing a service provider to partner with, there are several key areas to focus on during the evaluation period:

  • Expertise
    As evident from above there is a lot of knowledge and technical expertise required to run a successful video operation. Any service provider you evaluate should have expertise across all areas of video including meeting management, network operations, technology best practices, user behaviour and more. The service provider should also be equipped with a full service desk to help with equipment failure and replacement.
  • Adaptability
    No two video environments are the same as unique companies have unique needs. A service provider should understand that and be incredibly flexible with the way they deliver service. This includes flexible contracts and the ability to adjust the operation quickly and easily.
  • Experience
    Companies are constantly popping up as “Managed Service Providers” or “Cloud Service Providers” but it is important to ensure your service provider has a long history of success and experience working with companies in many industries and of many sizes. Managed Services are a hot topic these days and everyone is trying to get in on the wave.
  • Security
    Video conferencing security is of the utmost importance. A provider needs to be keenly aware of all security vulnerabilities possible in a video conferencing deployment and provide recommendations and best practices to ensure access is locked to the appropriate parties. During your service provider evaluation makes sure to ask about security of the provider’s management systems as well as how they will ensure your environment remains secure.
  • Attitude
    A managed service provider is providing a mission critical service that requires them to interact with users at all level s within your organization. The attitude of the organization and its people will be critical to your success. It is important to understand the customer service policies of your provider as well as their stance on going the extra mile and thinking outside of the service box. The worst thing that could happen is that your executives deal with a not so friendly video producer managing one of their calls.
  • Technology Resources
    Many service providers can leverage their own infrastructure to help run your operation and allow you to save money on the purchase of your own. This could include bridging, management applications and registration. During the evaluation, understand what technology will be available as part of your service contract and how to leverage for maximum cost savings and flexibility.

The decision to manage video yourself or to outsource to a service provider is a big one. With video becoming more and more critical to business operations, video calls cannot fail and the technology must work every time. If you decide to manage it yourself make sure you have the staff and the resources to devote to it. Training on the technology and user best practices will be critical. And if you decide to move to a managed service provider, make sure you ask the questions discussed above and anything else that is relevant to your organization.

With the right management in place (either internal or outsourced), video can be a huge success for everyone and help move your business forward!

4K Video – Hype or the Real Deal?

Every few years it seems a new technology comes along that claims it will revolutionize audio visual technology. The most recent on the video side is the proliferation of 4K video. But is this new technology simply a fad or something that has the potential to make a real impact?

What is 4K?

4K is the next step in video resolution and represents four times the amount of pixels currently offered in 1080p displays. 1080p technology is widely used in both consumer and professional markets. In fact, one can walk into a store and for a few hundred dollars purchase a quality display and Blu-Ray player capable of displaying beautifully rich HD images. 1080p offers a resolution of 1920×1080 (2,073,600 pixels). Ultra High Definition offers a resolution of 3840×2160 (8,294,400).

It is important to note that there are a few different flavors of 4k. “True” 4k is actually 4096×2160 pixels and is something you would see in a movie theatre. The difference lies in the variations between the aspect ratio (height to width ratio) of a movie screen vs. a TV). In many cases television manufacturers will use the term Ultra HD instead of 4k. With all of these extra pixels, picture clarity is substantially increased and the nuances and detail of images are exponentially improved.

All of those extra pixels sound great, but why should I care?

If you are a photographer, images will truly pop off the screen. In most cases, digital photos are massive pixel wise (a 20mp camera creates an image that is 5472×3648 pixels!), and with an Ultra HD display more of those pixels can be seen on screen, creating an incredibly life like presentation of the photo.

For video content, Ultra HD is still in its infancy. There are currently no television channels that broadcast in Ultra HD. However, Netflix has begun to offer its original series, House of Cards, in full Ultra HD. Additionally they have announced that Orange is the New Black will be available in 4k shortly.

How about Video Conferencing and Collaboration?

Ultra HD is opening up some exciting new doors for video conferencing and collaboration technologies as a whole. First, with Ultra HD displays viewers can now view more participants on screen in even higher resolution. Since Ultra HD is basically 4x the resolution of 1080p, it is possible to view 4 different video conferencing participants in their full 1080p resolution at once. Second, and perhaps most important, sharing content in a video session with Ultra HD is potentially game changing. When viewing high resolution CAD drawings or medical images, more of the image data can be displayed, as opposed to scaling down to fit a 1080p setup. The result is a much more detailed image that can be conveyed to remote participants.  For medical applications, an MRI, for example, could be shared and nearly all of the detail presented.

Ok, I’m intrigued now, but how much is this all going to cost?

UltraHD and 4k are relatively new technologies but the cost of displays and distribution products have dropped since their initial release. Consumer 4k TVs continue to decrease and can be had for just a few thousand dollars. As adoption continues the cost of entry will continue to drop.

4k is here and the technology is continuing to evolve. Unlike fads like 3D TV, 4k has some real-world applications that are helping the technology to be adopted. As more content is created and manufacturers embrace 4k cameras and other peripherals, 4k has the potential to truly represent the future of the visual image.

Why Should You Hire An AV Expert?

When designing a new collaborative workspace (whether it be a complicated conference room or a small huddle room), there are a lot of considerations to take into account. These can range from the acoustics of the room, the current lighting as well as considerations around what control system to leverage, what display brand, and how to program all of the devices to work seamlessly together.

Many organizations choose to “go it alone” when it comes to their AV setups. This might involve internal team members designing rooms and doing the install work. It may also include getting programmers up to speed on control system programming. Whatever the area, it can be quite a challenge to build an internal AV operation from the ground up.

There are significant advantages to bringing in AV experts from external sources, the largest being expertise and training. The AV world is full of amazing technology but there is a significant amount of expertise needed to truly understand how to design and implement it. Additionally, there are considerations for the environment itself. Certifications can provide some of the best guidance when evaluating a potential AV vendor for your organization.

Here is a peek into some of the key training and certifications to look for in an AV expert.

InfoComm CTS
InfoComm is a large trade association that represents the interests of AV professional s and customers throughout the world. Their Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certification is highly respected and a great indicator of people and organizations that meet industry standards for AV. You should expect nothing less than CTS from the sales, consulting and implementation teams involved in your project. Even better are the CTS-D and CTS-I. CTS-D is “an AV systems designer who assesses client’s needs, designs AV systems, prepares AV design documents, and coordinates and collaborates with other professionals to create AV systems that satisfy clients’ requirements.” This is critical for anyone who will be advising on the design of an AV environment. CTS-I is an install specialization that is equally important. To learn more about the CTS certification, visit http://www.infocomm.org/cps/rde/xchg/infocomm/hs.xsl/certification.htm.

LEED Professional Credentials
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) credentials can certify both people and projects as adhering to the highest levels of green building expertise. Green building involves energy conversation, reducing water consumption, making the best materials choices and more. This can help save money as well as lower the environmental impact of a building/project. Additionally, there are tax credits and incentives that can accompany these certifications. To learn more about LEED, visit http://www.usgbc.org/home.

PMP
The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is a globally recognized as the leading certification for project managers. Project Managers with this certification use a proven methodology for managing projects that helps to ensure are completed on time and within budget. To learn more about PMP, visit http://www.pmi.org/en/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx.

CONTROL SYSTEMS CERTIFICATION
Control System design and programming is a significant part of many AV projects. It is important to ensure that the team you are working with is certified in the platform they are providing. If that system is from Crestron, look for DMC-D, T and/or E certifications. These represent the highest level of knowledge around Control System Design, Engineering, and Installation. To learn more about DMC, visit http://www.crestron.com/products/digitalmedia_analog_digital_audio_video_av_distribution_4k/certification.asp.

These certifications represent many of the most important that you should seek when evaluating AV professionals. In most cases you will not find every certification but use this list as a guide to ensure that the vendor you use is focused on training and providing the highest quality product possible.

Best Practices for Conducting Training Using Video Conferencing

Here at Collaboration Insight we are constantly extolling the benefits of video conferencing and showcasing some really interesting and exciting use cases; anything from advanced telemedicine sessions to connecting manufacturing sites all over the world. Training, however, is one of those uses of video conferencing that has been around since the first VC units began to be available. When it comes to utilizing video for training there are a number of key areas an instructor should focus on in order to achieve a successful session. In addition, the right technology and features can help take a subpar training experience and raise it to new heights.

Content

With video, the focus is generally on the participants in the meeting themselves, how good their video looks and how well they can interact with others. Now this is certainly important in a training session, as video makes it easy for the trainer to evaluate the learner’s comprehension. Content, however, is perhaps more important in training. If so, it is important to choose a technology solution that puts a strong emphasis on content sharing and interaction. You might find a web conferencing platform with video is a better choice than a standard video conferencing setup. A solution like Cisco’s WebEx or Citrix’s GoToMeeting provide incredibly high fidelity content sharing while still enabling the face to face interaction of video.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that when content is being presented the video stream of the instructor is not interrupted. Often times this is referred to as dual stream content sharing. If this is not available, a learner can only see the content and the instructor cannot see their students when content is shared. This drastically reduces the advantage of seeing those teaching and those learning.

Question & Answer

A key aspect of any training session is the ability for students to ask questions and interact with the instructor. With this in mind, it is important to look at video technology that includes the ability to ask questions via text. The questions can be easily referenced and attributed to the learner who posed it. This transcript can also be incredibly useful for shaping future sessions and making improvements to the content presented.

Recording and Streaming

Training can be time consuming and costly to develop and deliver. There will never be a time that is perfect for every learner to attend so it becomes important to be able to record a training session (both audio and video). In addition to the recording, the ability to easily share that recording and make it fast and easy to replay should be addressed. Many solutions provide the recording capability but do not catalogue and archive. That catalog can become a valuable tool for on-boarding new hires and providing refresher training for current employees as well. Training is certainly more than technology but the time and money spent on delivering the perfect message can easily be wasted if the technology impedes its delivery. These best practices can be a first step to ensure the most effective training possible.