Mobile Telepresence on the Construction Job

The construction industry has been particularly hard hit by the recession in the last few years. First residential construction slowed then commercial projects started dropping off. Fortunately, like many other segments of the economy, the construction industry is beginning to recover, albeit slowly.

Construction can fall under many different categories. It can consist of building single-family homes one at a time or it could be building out huge housing developments with hundreds of units. On the commercial side, it could be a single office building or a skyscraper full of new offices. Whatever the project at hand is, the process requires many of the same steps. Initial drafting and design, client review, project management, construction, billing, punch lists and more.

Many construction organizations are turning to video conferencing and unified communications solutions to help streamline the process. For many of these organizations, this technology has become another tool in the overall construction of any new project. There are several key areas that are particularly helpful for a construction organization when using video conferencing:

Initial Project Design and Review
During the early phases of any construction project architectural blueprints are created to outline the overall project. These plans are extremely detailed and created by a highly skilled architect. Reviewing these documents used to require in-person meetings or expensive shipping of large document tubes around offices. Now, thanks to high-definition video and document cameras, these plans can no only be reviewed in-depth over video but annotated and revised.

Connect with Remote Construction Sites
It’s not abnormal for a company to have multiple projects in progress across the country and the world. Keeping in touch with multiple sites can become time consuming and cost prohibitive. Video, especially with smartphones and tablets, allows the main office to easily check in with remote teams. Additionally, thanks to the portability of these devices, it is possible to “walk” around a construction site with the PM to review progress and address any potential issues. Video can also be utilized to connect the architect back into the project for any revisions or clarification of a project design.

Customer Review
For home builders working directly with customers it is important to deliver a first class service experience. Customers who are building or renovating a home have a lot of decisions to make. Once they have decided on the layout of their home, they need decide on even the smallest of details like the door knobs! Video kiosks can be setup in model homes to provide customers with additional information and allow them to connect back to the home office as well as any vendors involved. Imagine how powerful it would be if your customer has questions about a particular countertop and you could connect them right to a product expert at the manufacturer!

Within any industry, video conferencing can provide many additional advantages. Travel cost reduction and increases in productivity can be realized across all areas of a construction organization. With a fragile recovery in place, providing the best customer experience and keeping costs down will result in projects that are on time and more profitable.

Additional Resources:
Portable Video Conferencing

5 Signs You May Need Video Conferencing

Every organization has its reasons for looking at video conferencing and the impact that the technology can have on the organization. If you have gone down that path or are planning to, you’ve likely identified some sort of gap or shortcoming in the way your business communicates either internally, externally, or both. Below are a couple of standout pain points that could be pointing you to a video investment.

Ballooning Travel Budget
The travel expense benefit is about as old as video technology itself, but it continues to be a very compelling benefit. If you review your travel numbers and consistently see travel expenses increasing it may be time to take a look at the specific nature of these trips and identify how some of them may be replaced with video. Many organizations (including IVCi clients) have reported savings of over six figures by cutting just one regular executive meeting a month. That’s huge! Those are the types of savings that can greatly enhance a firm’s bottom line and make stakeholders quite happy.

Teams are in a Silo
Collaboration across cross-functional teams can be critical to the success of an organization. If you find that different teams within the company are not working together or even communicating their projects, video may be the answer. If product development simply isn’t connecting with marketing and sales, how do they know the viability and potential market for the new product they are designing? Many may blame a lack of team cooperation on geographic diversity. While this may be the case, video conferencing solutions can easily connect these teams face-to-face to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

High Turnover of Talented Workers
Recruiting top talent is both time consuming and expensive. But, it’s even more expensive when those employees leave the company. Some of the top reasons employees leave include too much travel that negatively impacts their family life, a desire to work from home occasionally but not being permitted to, or remote employees who don’t feel connected to the organization. Video can address all of these issues while helping these employees complete their tasks in the most efficient manner.

Going Green Is Not Going Well
For the last several years companies have announced plans for green initiatives and some of the larger organizations have added reporting and metrics of success to their annual reports. But what happens when your announced green initiative is falling short? Video conferencing provides substantial green benefits including reducing your carbon footprint through less travel. Many manufacturers can provide a calculator that helps to determine that true reduction. Quantifiable numbers will go a long way in show the success of any green initiative.

The Competition is Always a Step Ahead
There is nothing more frustrating than having your competition beat you to the market with a new product, serve customers better, or outshine you in anyway. If you find that the competition always seems to be one step ahead, video could be part of the reason. Teams that utilize video are able to share information faster and make decisions quicker, resulting in reduced times to market for new products. In addition, organizations that have been able to leverage video in their direct customer communication will see better relationships and longer-term customer retention.

If you are seeing any of these red flags above and your company hasn’t looked at implementing video conferencing, the time may be now!

Additional Resources:
Video Conferencing Solutions

Top 4 Challenges for B2B Video Calling

If there is one feature in the world of video conferencing technology that has undergone the most improvement over the years, it is the quality of video itself. We have gone from lower resolution images to life-like high definition and immersive telepresence experiences. It is fair to say that when properly configured with the right amount of bandwidth, the quality of video conferencing today is pretty amazing.

What continues to be more challenging is the reach of video conferencing and more specifically, the ability to easily connect to anyone you want. The term B2B refers to video calling between different organizations, but this can include individuals as well.

If you think about your cell phone, you dial the number of anyone you want to reach and simply connect. Unfortunately, video conferencing has not made it to that level of ease and connectivity. But why? Here are some of the hurdles holding video back from achieving total reach, and some solutions.

Network
To achieve the highest level of video conferencing quality, many organizations choose to implement a private network dedicated to video conferencing. The advantage of this is that video is separate from the rest of the organization’s network traffic, ensuring the highest level of picture and sound quality. In addition, many organizations will place their immersive telepresence systems on a network exchange from a telecom or other cloud services provider which provides connectivity to others on the same exchange. Again, the highest level of video and audio quality is available, but the challenge with this setup is that users can typically only talk to other video and telepresence systems on the same network. So if you are on a private network of your own and a partner organization is on a different telecom network exchange, you’re out of luck!

Security
This could be placed under the network category, but security is also a major factor preventing true B2B calling. For organizations that implement video conferencing, firewalls are incredibly important for protecting internal applications and data. Firewalls, however, can cause major issues with video conferencing. Fortunately, the technology offered from many of the video conferencing manufacturers provides the ability to get around this roadblock. Products that enable firewall traversal have made B2B video a little easier to achieve, assuming your network has connections to the public internet.

Mobility
With the introduction of camera equipped mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, video conferencing has an entirely new audience. The problem that presents itself is the ability to get these mobile users connected in a standard B2B conference. With so many users taking advantage of these devices, it is incredibly important to make these connections possible. Fortunately, a number of cloud services have been brought to market to address this issue.

Process & Expertise
Perhaps even more challenging than the technology and network issues of B2B video conferencing are the issues of process and expertise. Even if networks are able to connect to one another and firewalls are properly configured, there are still challenges on how to physically dial another system, how to ensure audio and video flow seamlessly, and how to bring mobile devices into the loop. On top of all of these challenges, how do you determine who is on what exchange, who you need to talk to for support on connecting those exchanges, and how do you make sure your iPad is connected as well? Organizations must build processes and have the expertise to execute on these challenges. This can be built internally or outsourced to a managed service provider.

There are many challenges to B2B calling, but the technology is constantly evolving and there is hardly a day without a new announcement bringing new innovation to connecting disparate technology and networks. With the pace of this change it’s only a matter of time before true B2B video calling is ubiquitous.

 

Cloud Security – National Defense and Your Business

As more and more business move their primary IT and other functions to the cloud there is one issue that is always present; security. It is similar to the early days of online shopping and banking when many consumers were concerned that anyone could gain access to their credit card number or bank account information. But, over the years we have learned that while online banking and shopping is not 100% bullet-proof (frankly nothing really is); it really is quite secure.

With the move to the cloud, security is an ever-present topic for conversation, and it should be. There is a certain leap of faith that occurs when an organization moves a system or function off their premise or control to someone else’s data center and custody. Recently, however, there was a report issued that sent a pretty strong message surrounding the cloud and security.

On May 15th, the White House’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) issued a report on cloud computing to the president. The main topic of discussion was should the government consider moving vital systems to the cloud and what are the implications for areas such as national security (NS) and emergency preparedness (EP)?

The report weighs in at over 100 pages but the overall message direct from the report’s executive summary says “Conceivably any NS/EP process, including the most sensitive matters, could be moved to “some kind of” cloud, given proper attention to architectural and security decisions. The key qualifier in this judgment relates to the choice of deployment and service model, each seen in the context of the specific mission to be migrated.”

Additionally, the report adds, “At the highest level of summarization, the NSTAC’s response is that if and when cloud computing can demonstrate a regime of policy, legal authority, security, and oversight that is comparably rigorous, complete, and trustworthy relative to those currently in place for NS/EP activities via legacy means, then the response is “yes.” In so doing, efforts must focus on implementing recommendations designed to permit cloud computing to operate at that level in regard to NS/EP.”

As one reads through the report it becomes quite clear that the government is taking the cloud seriously and sees its application for redundancy, disaster recovery, and flexibility as its key strengths. One could simply stop there and say, if it’s good enough for the government, it’s good enough for me! Clearly that is not a strategy that any organization will find acceptable for vetting their system security in the cloud.

Let’s take a look at video conferencing and visual collaboration. What are the areas of concern and security implications for these systems?

  1. Network – a major concern for any network administrator is a hacker or other outside influence gaining access to a private network. With infrastructure and other technology in the cloud, secure VPNs and other connections may be established, virtually linking your locations with the cloud data center. To ensure that there are no intrusions, proper firewalls must be in place and security policies must exist that prevent the exposure of IP addresses and other network information.
  2. The Room – there have been more stories about conference rooms being hacked. This was accomplished by gaining access to room IP addresses in addition to the auto answer feature being enabled on individual conferencing systems. When hosted in the cloud, the network measures mentioned above can help to reduce or likely eliminate any security threats to the room.
  3. Infrastructure – Organizations want to ensure that outsiders can’t simply gain access and start using ports for their own nefarious reasons, especially with a bridge. A strict policy of IP address security, conference pins, and authentication can ensure that bridges are locked down and only used for the purpose that they were intended for.

Visual collaboration is only one of thousands of functions that can be moved to the cloud. With the government looking so closely at the cloud, it makes sense to examine your organization’s systems in the same way the White House did. When taking all of these considerations into account you can feel confident that your cloud hosted system is secure and will perform to the highest standards possible.

Additional Resources:

Big Brother Can’t Watch You in the Cloud
NSTAC Report to the President on Cloud Computing

Where Do I Start with a Mobile Video Strategy?

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other consumer devices, employers are now dealing with a high demand from employees to not only allow BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but also to provide the tools and support needed to integrate these devices into new and existing business technologies.

One major area of interest is mobile video conferencing. Due to the many options available, it is important to define a clear strategy to ultimately drive usage and adoptions. While there are many areas of the business to consider, here are five key ones to begin with when defining your strategy.

What’s the end game?
It is important to understand what the goals of implementing mobile video are. Is it about connecting remote teams no matter where they are located? Is there a travel expense reduction component to it? Or, is it providing visual feedback to manufacturing floors and production plans? No matter what the goals are, it is important, as Stephen Covey would say, to “begin with the end in mind.”

Usage & Adoption
The worst thing that could happen to a mobile video strategy is that time and monetary investments are made, but no one uses the technology. It is imperative to consider the end user experience from initial setup to day-to-day usage. Any mobile strategy should include a comprehensive usage and adoption program that focuses on internal communications, training, on-going awareness, and user feedback.

Technology Management
Do not underestimate the task of managing the technology (mobile devices) and any infrastructure involved. Depending upon your environment, servers may require software updates, user devices may require software and security tweaks, and remote networks may need to be configured properly. As part of the strategy, ensure there is a clearly defined technology plan that takes all of these areas into account. Without this, the technology could fail and create end user disappointment and negative sentiment towards mobile video.

Extending Existing Services
If your organization already uses video conferencing in boardrooms and/or desktops, it’s important to ensure the mobile technology can integrate seamlessly. This should not be an issue if you plan on using tablet and smartphone applications from the major video conferencing manufacturers. However, if part of the plan calls for the integration of consumer video applications such as Skype or Google Video Chat, additional services and processes will be needed to bridge the gap between professional and free applications.

User Base
Another key decision will be who do you want to give mobile video access to? Organizations with a BYOD approach may think that since users are providing the technology, they might as well extend mobile video to everyone.  However, while ubiquitous video can only help to increase collaboration and efficiency in an organization, managing it can be a huge undertaking. If your plan is to provide the service to all, begin with a small key user group who can test and help work out the bugs. Those users can then be empowered to train other users within the organization. This “train the trainer” approach saves time by pushing training out faster, as well as, saves the cost of involving the technology group in training every person within the organization.

Mobile video conferencing has improved the way people can work. When heading down a path of implementation, make sure you create a comprehensive plan that examines all areas of your business and what will be needed for success. If the proper planning is done the roll-out will be easier and your user base will be happily engaged!

The Show Must Go On: Business Continuity & UC

“Last year was the worst year we’ve had in the history of disasters.” – Al Berman, Disaster Recovery Institute.

That sounds pretty ominous, but what exactly does it mean?

Organizations have been facing costly downtime and the frustrating task of getting systems back online and operations up and running in the aftermath of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. A disaster can be as simple as a single building power failure or severe and horrific as the Japanese tsunami. Even if the event is isolated, the after effects can permeate throughout an organization, especially if employees are dispersed and required to collaborate remotely.

What’s alarming though is that countless organizations do not have a business continuity plan in place. These plans outline the processes and procedures needed to react quickly in situations and limit the amount of disaster recovery efforts needed in the aftermath.

So what is the best way to go about preparing for a disaster?

Redundancy is Key
A business continuity plan must be defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders and have well-defined IT strategy that includes redundant systems housed in multiple locations. If the organization relies on cloud hosting providers, ensure those data centers are geographically dispersed. For example, if your host is 10 miles up the road and the entire region is hit by a massive hurricane, the redundancy of the cloud will be null and void.

Enable Collaboration
Communication is perhaps the highest priority during disaster situations; therefore, any plan should include how to maintain contact with all employees. Unified communications technology plays a critical role as it keeps employees connected throughout day-to-day operations. In addition, these systems are essential to keeping the lines of communication open during a crisis. It’s far better to have employees doing their jobs during these times than spending the time trying to figure out how to do their jobs.

Harness the Power of Video
Most organizations know the power of video conferencing along with its application during normal business operations. However, video becomes even more powerful in times of duress. It can enable face-to-face collaboration in situations where people cannot meet due to crisis circumstances, such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland that stalled air travel. Keeping people connected and communicating face-to-face will facilitate better operations in addition to relieving some of the stress of the situation.

Don’t Forget the Customer
As always, the customer is paramount. An organization can do a great job keeping the business running but if they forget about the customer their efforts may be useless. Most customers will be sensitive to the situation but they are still going to expect to be served. When defining a continuity plan ensure customer communications and service are a top priority. If customers are communicating to the organization primarily via voice, the phone system must have multiple redundancies. Also, it is critical to be able to redirect voice traffic when employees can’t make it to the office.

With a well-defined business continuity plan in place, organizations can continue to function at the highest level possible while still serving their customers. A plan that takes internal and external communication and collaboration into account will not only benefit the organization but also its employees, customers and ultimately its well-being.

The Rise of Video Conferencing in Your Browser

The video conferencing industry is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. The technological innovations are staggering and many have led to greater reach and lower cost, higher quality video solutions.

One of the latest trends emerging is video conferencing directly within the web browser.  HTML 5 and a new standard known as WebRTC are making many of these solutions possible. WebRTC allows browsers to facilitate real-time communication; including voice, video, and point-to-point file sharing. This new technology will soon be standard in all popular browsers.

This standard is still in a “draft” format from the Web Standards Body but many of the applications that have experimented with it have been quite impressive. Small software companies to major manufacturers of hardware based video conferencing systems have been working with web clients for some time. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. Users can be connected to a video meeting with little to no download and setup time. Currently WebRTC is not finalized so small plugins must be downloaded the first time a user enters a video meeting. In the near future this should be eliminated and the browser will be able to launch directly into the video call.
  2. Beyond a web camera, there are no hardware requirements to participate in a video meeting.
  3. Browsers exist on devices beyond PCs; mobile devices, televisions, tablets, and more. Soon these devices will be video conferencing ready out of the box without any configuration.

There have been a number of announcements that have centered on video conferencing in the web browser including:

Blue Jeans:  This service has bridged the gap between consumer and professional video conferencing offering “meet-me” rooms in the cloud that allow users of pretty much any traditional VC system  to connect with users on Skype, Google Video Chat and Microsoft Lync. Last month, Blue Jeans added a browser-based option to their service. When a user receives an invite to a Blue Jeans meeting, they can click a link and attend via their web browser.

Polycom:  Last year Polycom acquired ViVu, a small organization that had been offering “embeddable” video conferencing into web applications. This week Polycom announced the first initiative based on that acquisition. HP is now shipping a Polycom HD video application with their new web cams. The app makes it easy for users to connect, via video, to any of their contact lists from Facebook, Skype, Google, etc. When a user invites a contact, the receipt simply clicks a link and is immediately launched in a web based video call.

Cisco: A few weeks ago Cisco announced some significant updates to their Quad social portal. The newly branded Cisco Webex Social features integrated video calling that all happens in the browser.

There are sure to be many more announcements and releases around web-based video conferencing. Its impact on the industry remains to be seen, but it is sure to be significant and will only make video even more accessible for everyone.

Video Conferencing: Myth vs. Reality

Everywhere you look there are analysts, pundits, and pretty much anyone you can think of that are saying video conferencing has hit its stride and adoption is growing exponentially. While this is true in many cases, there are still some common misconceptions that seem to be getting in the way of true ubiquity. Let’s take a look at five of them:

Myth #1: Video conferencing is too costly for small to medium businesses.

Reality: While this was once the case, the cost of video conferencing has dropped significantly. Most of the major manufacturers of enterprise video have brought lower cost solutions to market, along with some creative bundling. The line between business and consumer technology has blurred and it is now possible to use video conferencing for almost no upfront investment. While the quality of these free solutions may not match those of a fully realized business system, it’s a way to get started.

Myth #2: It is difficult to connect consumer video (Skype/Google Video Chat) to business solutions (Cisco/Polycom/Lifesize).

Reality: A number of services and technologies have come to market that completely break down the barriers of video conferencing interoperability. When you are on an audio call, you don’t think about how people are connected. Is George on a cell phone with AT&T? Is Bob on his landline with service from Verizon? The technology simply works with any phone or service; as is the case with these new video services. Users can connect with the chosen platform and the service solves potential interoperability in the cloud. The result is each participant seeing everyone else, regardless of how they got there.

Myth #3: Video conferencing is too complicated for a non-technical person to use.

Reality: Video conferencing technology has gotten easier and easier to use. Connect to a colleague can be very straight forward thanks to streamlined interfaces and automation. It can get a bit more complicated when trying to connect large groups or people across different networks, but there are video management services available that can handle everything allowing end users to focus solely on the meeting at hand.

Myth #4: You need a dedicated video network.

Reality: If you are using an immersive telepresence system, you will most likely need dedicated network for the highest quality; however, many HD video calls are carried out over the public internet. With bandwidth becoming cheaper, faster, and more reliable, public internet calls are now more successful than ever.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict outages and other traffic that could interrupt your video call, so if quality is mission critical, dedicated networks still offer a great solution.

Myth #5: Video conferencing is not secure.

Reality: Recent news stories have painted video conferencing technology in a negative light from a security standpoint but the reality is video can be incredibly secure. As long as systems are properly configured and restricted, they will not automatically let anyone in to a boardroom. In addition, many available cloud services provide an extra level of protection through additional encryption and randomized meeting ids.

There are many more myths than can be debunked about video conferencing but the ones above are some of the most common. As with anything, it is important to do the research and understand all of the ins and outs of the technology. Talk to you trusted technology advisors to get the real facts!

Art Imitating Life – Video Conferencing in TV and Film

As video conferencing continues to become ubiquitous in the business and consumer world, the entertainment industry has taken notice and continues to integrate the technology into the plots and characters of television shows and movies.  Here’s a look at some of the more popular instances of video conferencing appearing in our favorites!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
With the planet in peril once again, the Transformers must maintain communication with the command center of the NEST (Non-Biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty) team.  The Transformers are in the field with their human counterparts, meeting with national security advisors and heads of defense departments. The briefing is about the latest threat and how to address it. How do they meet? Via telepresence. There is no better way to see the power of video communication than to have Optimus Prime laying down the law 4 inches away from the camera!

NCIS
NCIS (Navy Criminal Investigation Service) is one of the most popular television series on the air today. The premise of the show is a team of Navy officers who investigates crimes within and related to the Navy. The show has its fill of quirky forensic specialists and one liners (what crime drama is complete without them)?  Video conferencing comes into play with the quirky forensic specialists.  In many cases they are able to connect to the field teams to review the evidence they have analyzed back in the lab and this helps guide the next moves of the men and woman investigating and interviewing.

24
24 has been off the air for a few years now but represents the first major appearance of telepresence in entertainment and Cisco went as far to promote its inclusion in several ads and promotions.  In the show, telepresence is used in several different instances. Throughout the entire series, the plot focused on the current sitting president.  In many occasions this president is isolated and must communicate with their cabinet and national security teams remotely. Telepresence provides the life-like communication needed to make decisions that could potentially save the country from utter doom!

Up In the Air
George Clooney hired to fire you? Ouch. In this movie Clooney flies around the country as a hired gun for organizations doing massive layoffs. George loves to travel and not deal with what’s going on with his life on the ground. Video conferencing plays a pivotal role in the plot as a young new hire attempts to replace the in-person firings of the entire company with an outsourced, video conferencing based approach. This threatens Clooney’s way of life but also makes him deal with the reality of his life. This is an application of video conferencing we hope never comes to be!

Clearly video in entertainment is ever growing, just as it is in real life!

Selling Your Boss on Video Conferencing

With so many organizations either using or implementing video conferencing, the technology is becoming ever-present. Whether an organization is implementing the highest quality immersive telepresence, or rolling out video across iPads and smartphones, someone at some point had to sell their boss on the value of video.

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation? Here are some tips to make it just a little bit easier to sell the power of video to your superiors.

Teamwork – Selling your boss on the value of video conferencing to connect disparate teams is crucial. Maybe you work with a sales person in Los Angeles, an engineer in Dallas, and a support specialist in Chicago. Connecting the team face-to-face will help make all of you more productive and foster better relationships. This type of increase in productivity will only help to increase the bottom line.

Travel Costs – This is an oldie, but goodie. There is no doubt that organizations save significant dollars on travel once video has been implemented. To make this process easier, see if you can get your hands on the company’s travel expenses from the last few months. If you can’t get that much data, look to your own expenses for travel. Take that number and calculate 25% to show the potential savings video can provide on travel. When presenting this to your boss, point out that 25% could be a conservative number.

Outsmart the Competition – With the rapid communication abilities of video, your company will be able to stay one (or maybe more!) steps ahead of the competition. Whether its responding to a customer issue in the shortest time possible or getting a product to market faster, this type of rapid response is only going to make your company and your boss look good!

Recruiting Top Talent – Remind your boss of the last time he recruited a new sales executive. It started with 10 phone interviews then four were brought in for face to face interviews. When the candidates showed up, none of them had the appearance or polish of a sales rep. It almost seemed like there was a different person on the phone! With video, the first interview can occur visually, making it easier to find the right candidate sooner.

There are many more ways to sell your boss. If you are in a particular niche industry (healthcare, legal) there are very specific use cases to present as well. But if you begin with the four points above, you will be well on your way to selling your boss.