Unified Communications (UC) solutions, such as Microsoft Lync or Cisco Jabber, are quickly being implemented within organizations to help connect colleagues and foster collaboration. These solutions typically integrate several real-time communication tools such as instant messaging, presence information, telephony, video conferencing, data sharing, and more.
Here are some of the top reasons organizations invest in a UC solution:
There are many times when people are on a conference call or otherwise engaged and they cannot pick up the telephone or answer a video call. This can be problematic for someone who has a quick question and needs an answer to continue what they are working on. UC solutions not only allow colleagues to see when others are busy or on a call; they allow users to quickly send instant messages for questions. Users can then respond when they have a minute without disrupting what they are currently working on. As a result, decisions can be made faster.
Freedom to Work Wherever, Whenever:
BYOD is a major trend in the workplace today and many people are working at places other than the office as a result. UC solutions provide the flexibility for employees to work wherever they have an internet connection. Colleagues can listen to their voicemail or join a video call regardless of if they’re in the office, at a hotel, or in Starbucks. Additionally, mobile apps allow users to access the UC solution on a smartphone or tablet. So, instead of having to give out multiple office and mobile numbers users can hand out a single number and answer it wherever they are.
One of the biggest benefits of UC solutions is the enhanced collaboration they offer, especially for remote teams. By utilizing the video component of a UC solution, organizations can easily connect employees in disparate locations. Users can meet face-to-face, display and collaborate on documents, and resolve issues faster without having to sit next to each other. Not only is this great for connecting remote teams, it provides another option impromptu meetings when all the conference rooms or huddle spaces are booked.
The best and worst part of an office is the people; they can either provide a quick break when you’re looking to clear your mind or a huge distraction when you’re trying to finish a project or deliverable. UC solutions allow colleagues to interact and communicate in the most effective and efficient way possible making it easier than ever to get the job done.
Last week, Cisco announced three new personal collaboration tools at CiscoLive! 2014. These products are a follow up to the announcements Cisco made at Enterprise Connect earlier this year. Cisco said they wanted to make collaboration simple along with “connect and empower people to engage and accelerate business innovation.”
These three new products do just that.
The Android-based DX70 and DX80 desktop collaboration devices are redefining how colleagues work and interact by providing access to all the top collaboration tools and applications. The large screens are operated by touch and can provide high-definition audio and video. Plus, the Andriod operating system allows 3rd parties to develop applications to address specific needs.
Cisco also announced Collaboration Meeting Rooms (CMRs), an extension of WebEX, which provide everyone with their own video collaboration space in the cloud. These rooms allow users to host meetings where users can join from the device of their choice including standards based endpoints, desktop and mobile clients, and even Microsoft Lync.
For more information, watch the demo of the DX Series below. You can tweet us @IVCiLLC or click here to send us an email.
As the use of visual collaboration technologies continues to grow, many organizations are turning to analytics to help manage, plan and optimize their video environment. Analytics help provide insight into different trends that might otherwise remain hidden allowing businesses to make smarter decisions and optimize their performance.
For example, at a quarterly review one company noticed that usage of a previously high-demand system completely dropped off. After investigation, it turned out that an entire business unit was relocated leaving the video system dormant. They were able to ship that system to a different location and usage returned to normal.
This is just one way analytics can help organizations optimize video usage. Check out the infographic below to see different ways organizations can integrate analytics into a video environment.
Skype, owned by Microsoft, recently announced that it will be making its Group Video Calling (GVC) service free of charge for Windows desktop, OS X and the Xbox One. Additional platforms, such as Windows Phone, Android, and iOS, will be added in the future according to Phillip Snalune, Skype’s General Manager of Consumer Product Marketing.
GVC can support up to ten people on PC & Mac computers making Skype more competitive with Google Hangouts along with making it a more viable alternative for business looking to get into video. This, in conjunction with improved bandwidth and cameras will help blur the lines between Skype calls and business video calls. But, do you want to build your organization’s entire strategy behind Skype?
Not likely. Skype can help augment an organization’s video environment but at the end of the day, there are still a number of concerns when using it consistently for business. All Skype calls are held over the public internet meaning call quality is at the mercy of current network conditions. So, if the network is congested with other traffic (file downloads, server backups, and internet streaming) video users will experience packet loss, jitter or latency which can negatively impact user experience and, in some cases, make the video call impossible. Think of an audio call that keeps breaking up and you can’t understand a word the other person is saying.
Putting a business video plan in place allows organizations to set QoS standards and prioritize network traffic. For example, if a video call is occurring at the same time as a server is backing up to a cloud storage service, the server backup will automatically be dropped to a lower speed or paused until the video call is over. This helps ensure a consistent experience for video calls and limits network congestion.
Additionally, with Skype it is nearly impossible to create a consistent dial plan. There are millions of Skype users meaning millions of user IDs are already taken. As a result, it is difficult to create a consistent “user directory” within the organization not to mention users have to go through and add others to their buddy list which can become a cumbersome process.
Business video environments, enhanced with call control, allow organizations to develop a call architecture, consistent dial-plan, and a global phonebook. For example, video addresses can be linked to email addresses and follow a firstname.lastname@example.org format. This allows users within an organization to easily find and dial colleagues instead of having to email or IM to find out their user name then add them to their buddy list.
Skype is a great tool and free Group Video Calling is a major enhancement – for consumers, making consumer-based calls like organizing a group vacation or planning a party. When it comes to business negotiations or remote collaboration it’s better to invest in a business video solution.
There’s a lot of technology that goes on behind the scenes of video conferencing in order to make it a seamless experience for the user. One of these processes that video conferencing endpoints perform is video encoding, or the compression of digital audio and video signals, for transmission across networks in an efficient and effective manner. Then, another video endpoint decodes, or decompresses that signal, where video is displayed on a screen and audio is produced from a speaker. Today, there are two major video encoding and decoding implementations that are in use by industry leading manufacturers – Scalable Video Coding (SVC) and Advanced Video Coding (AVC).
Advanced Video Coding (AVC) was introduced in 2003 and is currently one of the most commonly used formats for audio/video compression. A core concept in AVC compression is the use of a specified resolution and frame rate in every call. The specific call quality (SD, 720pHD, or 1080pHD to name a few) which is used in a particular call is based on a negotiation between endpoints or bridges in a call about the capabilities which they can support. One downside is that the endpoints in many cases can support qualities that the network between them may not be able to support. In this situation the endpoints agree to connect at the best quality they are capable of, but when the network cannot accommodate all of that digital data, packets are dropped and video can become choppy or completely freeze.
Scalable Video Coding (SVC) is a newer form of video compression which dynamically adjusts the frame rateor resolution in real-time based on varying network conditions. For example, if one participant’s network becomes congested by other applications on their network (file downloads, system backups, and internet streaming are common bandwidth “hogs”) the call rate (and resolution or frame rate) will automatically decrease in order to preserve call integrity at the cost of slightly lower call quality. One downside to SVC is that there may be increased processing required at the endpoint to support the constant monitoring of packet loss and there may be increased bandwidth compared to AVC to support similar resolutions.
Determining which option is right for your organization depends on your business needs and requirements, how you plan on using video, and what your network constraints are. For example, SVC may be a better option for an organization looking to deploy a soft video client to their entire organization on a shared network that is shared by many other applications. However, AVC may be a better option for a more controlled network environment where QoS can be implemented to ensure a time-sensitive data such as real-time conferencing data does not compete with other data which may not be time-sensitive (such as co-workers watching YouTube).
Virtual teams and remote workers are growing in popularity as advancements in technology make it easier than ever to connect. Here at IVCi we fully support telework and virtual teams and I myself am a part of one. I work on Long Island while our Digital Marketing Manager (and my main counterpart) works in Denver. Even with the two hour time difference we’ve managed to develop a great process, a great relationship and most importantly, produce great results.
Here are the top 5 things that we find absolutely necessary to enable remote collaboration:
- Desktop Video Conferencing: Video conferencing is a critical aspect of virtual teams as it allows workers to connect on both a professional and personal level. Eye contact, tone and body language are all crucial to building trust, resolving conflicts and developing the relationships that are necessary for virtual teams to work effectively. Desktop video clients are easy to use and allow remote workers to connect with the click of the button. Not to mention, screen sharing capabilities allow us to view and collaborate on the same deliverable in real time resolving issues significantly faster than relying on email or trying to explain over the phone.
- Shared Calendar/Task List: Keeping organized can be extremely difficult across multiple time zones. I start working a couple hours earlier and she keeps working a few hours later so it’s hard to know which tasks have been completed or still need to be worked on. Similarly, sometimes one of us gets a great idea but the other one isn’t around to discuss. Keeping a shared calendar and task list allows us to effectively prioritize tasks and add ideas. Then we have a weekly “sync up” to discuss progress, add/remove tasks, review completed items and just catch up in general.
- Shared Document Site: As in most virtual teams, there are documents or items that we have to work on together. Trying to email versions back and forth can be extremely confusing not to mention changes can easily be lost if team members work on outdated version. A shared document site allows teams to have instantaneous access to the most current version of documents reducing the potential for errors as well as the number of emails.
- Instant Messaging: In the office you can turn around and ask a quick question; unfortunately, virtual teams do not have that ability. Sometimes picking up the phone or making a video call is just too much of a disruption for a simple question while email takes too long to get a response. Instant messaging allows for real-time dialogue without requiring workers to completely stop what they are doing, creating a more productive environment.
- Dual Monitors: Dual monitors are my saving grace as they allow me to have multiple windows open simultaneously. Regardless of how we are collaborating, I can have a document open on one screen with the communication method (video, IM or email), notes, or task list open on the other screen.
While there are many other tools and alternatives that can enhance the productivity and effectiveness of remote teams these are the ones we feel are most crucial to our success. Being part of a remote team is definitely different but with the right tools and the right attitude it can be just as successful, if not more successful, than a traditional team.
On April 23, 2014 IVCi hosted a webinar that discussed several key steps an organization must take in order to optimize usage and adoption of visual collaboration technologies among their workforce. The webinar featured great content on best practices for identifying and integrating the technology, designing processes and procedures, and rolling out to the end users.
Social media is a staple in most consumers’ lives; from staying in touch with geographically dispersed friends and family to garnering recommendations for life’s most important decisions. There are over a billion people using social media every day; whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or the multitude of other platforms available. This leads to tremendous opportunities for brands to interact with their customers.
A couple of months ago Google announced Chromebox, an HD Telepresense solution that is compatible with Google Hangouts – Google’s consumer video solutions. Facebook and Skype also have consumer-type video platforms; with Skype being owned by Microsoft who, not only offers Lync (a desktop video client), but is working on video compatibility/interoperability between the two.
So what does this all mean?
It’s only a matter of time before social media and video conferencing collide at an enterprise level. The bigger news is this can create unprecedented marketing and customer service opportunities for organizations. For example, instead of simply replying to a poor user experience over social media brands could instantaneously connect with customers and offer live support over video. Similarly, if a customer has a question about a specific product or feature they could connect to the brand over video through a social media account.
That being said there are still several challenges that are currently preventing this from happening. As Dan Newman notes, web embedded video solutions are run over a public cloud and are essentially property of the platform. This makes it nearly impossible to connect to a secure video call on a private enterprise network.
This technical challenge is quickly being resolved with new advances such as Vidyo’s H20 which enables enterprise integration between Hangouts and H.323/SIP video and IP PBX systems. This type of integration allows organizations to continue to use their enterprise grade solutions while bridging the gap to a consumer solution on the other side.
Customer interaction is an area ripe with potential for collaboration and video technologies. With social media providing a direct conduit between consumers and brands it is only a matter of time before complaining on Twitter becomes a full fledged collaboration session.
On March 11th, IVCi and Avizia hosted a webinar on the expanding world of telehealth that featured a live demonstration on how different technologies can come together in a real clinical setting. The webinar featured great content on best practices for the adoption of telemedicine along with the expansion of telemedicine into new service lines.
Efficiency. Effectiveness. Productivity. These are staples in any business professional’s life along with any corporation or organization and increasing any of these allows people to accomplish more goals in less time. The benefits are enormous for organizations; from lowering costs to increasing sales, customer service and employee satisfaction.
There are always tips and tricks for increasing productivity; in fact a recent article from the Huffington Post discussed 12 habits of productive people which included breaking the chain to email and having a system for getting everything done. But how can organizations as a whole become for efficient? Well, here are our top four habits of highly productive organizations: