Using Collaboration Tools for Remote IT Support

Collaboration technologies have a myriad of uses including the ability to work together on shared deliverable, meet with customers or prospects, communicate to the masses and much more. These same technologies can also be used to provide services to both internal and external customers.  An area where the tools really shine is with remote IT support services.

For anyone who works in corporate America or any organization really, the dreaded call to IT can mean a halt to your productivity and perhaps a loss of important data (always back-up!). For many, these interactions prove to be impersonal and can take up massive amounts of time. In my own experience (certainly not at IVCi though!), the IT group takes over my computer and does not tell me what is happening. Additionally, the person on the other end is anonymous and is not looking to form a connection.

Enter video and web conferencing technologies!

For IT support, screen sharing and remote control functionality is critical. In many cases, the IT support agent working on the system will not be physically located in your office. With remote control software, they can gain access to your system and operate as if they are sitting in front of your screen. This technology has been around for a while and can be had for little to no cost.

The real differentiation is to include a video session along with the remote control interaction. If an end user can see and interact with the person that is operating their computer remotely, it can help to move the process along faster while make the whole interaction far more pleasant!

There are a number of solutions out there that include a video component along with the remote control application. IT departments should really take a look at their processes in how they interact with remote users.

Many of the web conferencing providers have created IT specific tools that leverage the best of their content sharing along with video and IT specific remote control and screen sharing. Cisco WebEx Support Center is a popular solution. It enables high resolution video conferencing along with the ability to watch a user’s screen and take control. Additional features include text chat, a call distributor (to handle support requests to multiple agents from multiple users) as well as file transfer.

There are many other solutions out there and with the advent of web based video technologies such as WebRTC, gaining interactive, collaborative based IT support can be enabled with a single click of a mouse button. The result is a far richer support experience for the user and a highly likelihood of resolution for the agent.

It is critical for an IT organization to analyze and evaluate not just their ability to solve technical issues but also the quality of the interaction and the impression left with the user.

Meet Skype for Business

Last week Microsoft announced that the next version of Lync (presumably Lync 2015) would be re-branded as Skype for Business. Microsoft has been under the gun to make its intentions known with regards to Skype since acquiring the platform for over $8 billion in 2011. So this announcement was expected, although the complete abandonment of the Lync brand is somewhat surprising. In addition to the name change, Lync’s interface is being reworked to more closely match the consumer Skype interface.

While this is a marketing announcement at its core, there are a number of interesting implications. Further, Microsoft has recently spoken of Universal Communications (replacing the idea of Unified Communications, at least in Redmond) and this unification of the product lines certainly adds to that vision.

As I sit here and contemplate the future of Microsoft’s offers, there are a number of interesting and exciting scenarios that come to mind.

Business to Consumer Communications

Skype and Lync have been federated to allow Lync users to make voice calls to Skype users and vice versa. In 2015, video calling will be added. With the ubiquity of Skype on so many consumer desktops and the continued expansion of Lync (Skype for Business) within organizations of all sizes, it’s not hard to imagine a day that a consumer goes to the CONTACT US page for any major brand and there is a Skype option. Consumers would then be able to initiate audio and video calls right into a customer service center or help desk. This could really change the way service is delivered and organizations communicate with their customers.

Seamless Experience

There has long been a disparity between the technology that consumers utilize in their personal lives and that they use when at work. In recent years, the pendulum has swung to consumers having access to more advanced technology at home and feeling that their work tools are behind. This has led to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and other initiatives. With Skype for Business, users will make use of an application at work for communications that will be very similar to what they use at home. This has the potential to impact new employee on-boarding as technology will be familiar and easy to use.

Deeper Interoperability

There are numerous solutions on the market that provide deep interoperability with Lync audio and video. These solutions enable standard video conferencing systems (Cisco/Polycom/Lifesize) to seamlessly connect with Lync users. With the integration of Skype and Lync, it will now be possible to connect Skype users into conference rooms and other locations. This has the potential to grow Business to Consumer communications even faster and allowing something like a CEO in a boardroom speaking directly to an end customer on Skype.

There is certainly a lot more to learn from Microsoft about the Skype for Business announcement but this move along with their integration of all services between Lync and Skype open up countless possibilities for communications. The vision of universal communications is even closer!

Introducing MyCVE

Introducing MyCVE

One of the biggest advantages of cloud based services and specifically cloud video conferencing is the ability to continually roll out new features and functionality without forcing users to upgrade hardware or make additional investments.

Last year, IVCi introduced our Cloud Video Experience service which offers a complete video conferencing solution delivered from the cloud. The service allows video conferencing hardware or software clients to be instantly deployed and connected to a world-wide network. The end result can be an entire organization with hundreds or even thousands of employees equipped with the ability to video call each other or anyone using standards-based video conferencing.

In addition, users are equipped with virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) that allow for up to 30 participants to meet in a single meeting. These VMRs also offer the ability for web browsers and other software like Microsoft Lync to join seamlessly.

Today we are excited to bring the next phase of CVE, the MyCVE portal. MyCVE enables users to easily manage their video conferencing setup, moderate their virtual meeting room and even quickly download any needed software.

In addition to MyCVE, we have also made a scheduling plugin available, making it incredibly easy to schedule a video call directly within Microsoft Outlook. The plugin will automatically create an invite that contains a link to everything the user needs to join the meeting via video.

All About Users

In addition to the innovations above, CVE now offers user based pricing. This means for one low monthly subscription users can be equipped with a video client (on their laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc) as well as an unlimited use virtual meeting room.

The promise of video conferencing is really about giving everyone access. This new licensing and pricing model makes it easier than ever to bring video to your entire organization.

Request a CVE Trial Today!

Audio Considerations for Your AV Room

For AV build outs, the A is certainly just as, if not more, important than the V. Audio can make or break a collaboration environment; creating an experience that provides rich audio to local and remote participants or serving to make meetings impossible to conduct when no one can hear each other or audio from other sources is muffled or difficult to understand.

There are a lot of considerations to take into account on the audio side when designing and implementing your room. An AV solution provider should be able to provide you with the expertise needed to ensure the smoothest audio experience possible. With that in mind, here are a few questions to answer when beginning the process of designing and implementing a new AV environment within your organization.

What’s Outside the Room?

This is an area that many do not consider when building an AV room. If the room is located in a busy part of a building there may be a significant amount of noises from people in other conference rooms, hallways, kitchens, etc. Early on in the process, go sit in the room that is being targeted for AV work and simply listen. Do this at busy times throughout the day (morning when everyone arrives, lunchtime, etc) and see what you hear. If there is a lot of noise, careful consideration must be taken and even technology integrated that can dampen that outside noise. Additionally, acoustical panels and other dampening materials can be used to help reduce the outside noise.

What Are You Talking About?

After you consider the noise outside the room, consider the sound inside the room. Will there be private discussions that need to remain confidential? Will sensitive business or healthcare information be shared? If so, sound masking solutions can provide a way to create a separation in the audio and make it impossible for outsiders to discern what is being discussed or viewed.

What’s that Echo?…Echo…Echo…

Take a look at the openings in the room (doors and windows). Are there a lot of large windows that can cause sound to bounce and create echo? If the room you have selected is full of windows or other openings, it can not only create an issue for sound but also for visuals (video conferencing, etc) with all of the external light coming in. If this is the case, consider shades and other dampening materials. You might also find that after careful consideration a particular room is simply not appropriate for the project at hand and another room should be selected for the integration.

What Kind of Microphones?

Capturing high quality in-room audio and sending it to a remote site for either audio or video conferencing is critical for successful collaborative sessions. There are a lot of choices for the types of microphones that can be utilized in a room. In some cases it makes sense to put microphones right into the table where meeting participants sit. In other situations it makes more sense to hang microphones from the ceiling. There are a lot of considerations for each type of microphone and you should certainly interface with an audio visual solution provider to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Audio is incredibly important to any audio visual project, as clearly evident from all the considerations above. When heading down the path of a new AV project, make sure to give audio the same consideration as visual. The participants in the room and remote attendees will thank you!

Buyer's Guide to Audio Visual Integration

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.

Cloud Video Experience FREE Trial

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!