Creating the Perfect Collection with Telepresence

Fashion is considered an art form to many people and New York City’s semi-annual Fashion Week is the event of the season. More than 500 fashion shows attract over 230,000 attendees as people gather from around the world to view the latest creations from New York’s top designers. In fact, according to a statement from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fashion Week generates an economic impact of $865 million annually.

The pressure to produce and present high-quality, unique garments is felt by everyone from the designers to seamstresses, fabric providers, models and modeling agencies, and more. Fashion changes faster than almost any other industry; therefore, the ability to produce the right designs with the right quality at the right time is critical for success.

It’s no wonder that design houses, like Tommy Hilfiger, are turning to video conferencing solutions to support their operations. Communicating with seamstresses and sending fabrics and designs back and forth can become cumbersome; not to mention expensive, when using an international courier. Telepresence solutions eliminate many of these challenges by allowing designers to stay in contact with suppliers all over the world.

With high definition systems, designers can see the quality of fabrics and clothing samples down to the actual stitch. They can browse fabric rolls and choose prints as if they were walking through the warehouse resulting in a quicker selection process. Since the feel of fabric is of utmost importance, samples of selected fabrics can then be sent to the designer for final selection and approval.

After fabrics have been selected, samples of the clothing designs must be created by seamstresses. Telepresence allows designers to give directions while seamstresses pin alterations in real-time to ensure the garments align perfectly with their vision. The misinterpretation of comments and alterations from communication or cultural barriers can be avoided. Plus, it significantly reduces the cost and time of sending samples back and forth reducing the time required to finalize designs and get them into production.

While clothing collections are the spotlight of Fashion Week, there is just as much to do when planning a show. Selecting the right models is critical to ensure the collection is displayed properly. In addition to proper fit, skin tone must accent garment colors for optimal impact. Design houses can use video to pre-screen models in the same way corporations use it to screen job applicants. As a result, designers can easily approve model selection while finishing the last minute details of their collection.

In the fast-paced and ever changing fashion world; designers must find new ways to stay in touch with consumer needs and create collections in an efficient and effective manner.


4 Things to Consider for Wireless Video Conferencing

Video is making its way through organizations large and small as it becomes easier and more effective to use. The proliferation of tablets, smartphones and mobile video applications are allowing end users to connect from anywhere they have a Wi-Fi connection. The increased demand, however, is putting significant pressure on Wi-Fi networks. How can organizations make sure their network is video ready?

Estimate Demand
The majority of video users within an office location will connect to video via their PC or a room system if available. However, some users may opt to video conference on their tablet; either because a desktop video application continues to crash their PC or they need access to their computer screen while on video. It is important to have a grasp on the percentage of users who use video on their tablets in addition to their call concurrency.

Proper Infrastructure in Place
Video conferencing can place a strain on Wi-Fi networks; therefore, organizations should ensure they have the necessary infrastructure elements and access points. Most Wi-Fi networks were not designed with mobile video in mind; resulting in latency and packet loss if the demand for mobile video exceeds network capacity. Organizations should put policies in place to limit the use of Wi-Fi or limit per-call bandwidth. For example, dual desktop computer screens allow managers to view information on their computer while still using video on their PC.

Control Video Traffic
As video traffic continues to grow on your Wi-Fi network, it is important to employ devices that allow for segregation of this traffic (via Quality of Service – QoS) controls. This is incredibly important as video is bandwidth intensive and could potentially cause serious slowdowns within your infrastructure, potentially interrupting mission critical applications running wirelessly.

Don’t Open the Floodgates
With so many devices being introduced, employees will want to make use of every kind of video chat imaginable. Using firewalls to help block some of the unwanted services will be key. As an example, do you want employees using Facetime to communicate with their friends all day long? Blocking that activity can help mitigate strain on the network.

Clearly there is much to consider with your wireless network and video conferencing. The items above are a good start. Constantly monitoring and performance tweaking will be essentially to ensure that the entire operation is not brought to its knees by video traffic.

Dodging Budget Cuts with Video Arraignment

A couple of weeks ago, a juror summons made its way into our mail. Thankfully it was addressed to my husband because the thought of taking the New York City subway by myself gives me heart palpitations since I’m a bit of a germophobe and slightly claustrophobic when it comes to crowds.  This morning, I dropped my husband off at the train station and he joined the rush hour commute into Brooklyn – standing in a crowd the entire way. As he spends his day in court, I can’t help but think about the judicial system.

Budget cuts have had a significant impact on courts as state and local governments are having trouble keeping up with the day-to-day operations. In fact, budget cuts forced the closure of the Tulare County courthouse last month, as well as, three unpaid furlough days in Kentucky this year. Even worse, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warns that budget cuts are threatening the judicial system after a Sacramento father watched his “wife disappear out-of-state with their son after his child custody case was delayed because of court cutbacks.”

How can federal, state and local courts cut costs without crippling the judicial system?

Investing in video conferencing  is a good place to start. Video arraignments reduce the staff and resources needed to transport detainees to the courthouse which is especially beneficial for extremely dangerous or high-profile inmates that require escalated security detail to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Video arraignments also allow courthouses to speed up the arraignment process for non-violent detainees; minimizing their time and expense in jail.

Additionally, the City of San Antonio Municipal Court recently implemented video court services for traffic violation hearings. Not only does this allow the judge to hear the maximum possible cases per day; it allows citizens to easily fit a hearing in on their lunch break. A friend of mine recently received a ticket because the registration sticker on her license plates had either fallen off or been stolen. She had to take a half-day off work to go to the courthouse with all of her documentation to contest the ticket which was extremely frustrating.

With continued budget constraints federal, state and local government agencies are dealing with the need to handle their docket of court activities with fewer resources. Video conferencing solutions help cut costs and process cases in a more efficient manner. A Pennsylvania court reported saving taxpayers more than $21 million annually with its video deployment. Plus, cloud video services make implementation and operation easier than ever. Multipoint bridging services allow citizens to easily connect to the court’s video equipment via Skype or Google Video Chat without compromising the security of the network.

While jury duty is part of our civic duty, perhaps one day soon you can try to weasle your way out of a speeding ticket from the comfort of your own home.

Building an Effective Virtual Team

With the increase of BYOD, unified communications and video conferencing technologies, many more employees are choosing to work from home to accommodate their schedule or expand their job possibilities. Similarly, organizations are allowing more employees the flexibility to work from home to attract and retain top employees across the country. Unified communications tools have allowed organizations to expand their talent pool to the best and brightest around the world; rather than their city.

However, the prevalence of remote work teams has led to new challenges for managers who are now tasked with leading these virtual teams. While some remote teams provide stellar results; many fail to reach their full potential and some fail to even complete their assigned tasks. This leaves many managers asking the question, what makes the difference between success and failure? How can managers enhance the probability of a successful virtual work team?

In a MIT Sloan Management Review article, How to Manage Virtual Teams, Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst assert that there a few key aspects for managers to focus on when building a virtual team. By carefully selecting team members and developing a global culture, managers can enhance the likelihood of success.

For example, when selecting remote team members, it is important to not only consider abilities and expertise but social skills as well. In order for virtual teams to be successful “members must first and foremost be able to establish a basis for the effective exchange of their varying capabilities” the authors state. Selecting employees who demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to work together with others is critical for success. Self-important or headstrong individuals can have the opposite effect on a virtual team.

In addition to social skills, team members must have self-leadership skills. Essentially, team members need to be more “self-sufficient in how they manage their own work because the team leader is less in a position to help.” Therefore, managers need to look for independent and motivated individuals who constantly push boundaries and look for new tasks to complete. Individuals who sit around and wait for someone to tell them what to do will have a difficult time succeeding in a virtual team environment.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of informal interactions and face-to-face communication. Informal interactions, such as happy hour, help develop relationships.  In addition to developing a sense of trust, team members get to know each other on a personal level. Since a traditional happy hour is likely out of the question; managers can put together a virtual social event, such as a virtual happy hour over video. Team members can bring their own glass of wine or beer and informally chat with one another. While it won’t be the exact same as a traditional happy hour, it can still help build camaraderie and team spirit.

Enhance Office Face Time with UC

Unified communications and visual collaboration solutions have made it easier than ever to work from home.  Remote employees can connect with their boss, collaborate and brainstorm with peers, and drive innovation from the comfort of their couch. However, a recent Forbes article raised and important question.

Can working at home hurt your career?

It’s a possibility, according to a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review which notes that remote employees may receive lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than colleagues who go to the office each day; even if they work just as hard, if not harder.  

This is a result of what Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable call “passive face time” or, simply being observed at work. It doesn’t matter what task an employee is completing, he could be writing an email to his wife or friend, and still get credit for being present in the office. What’s more important for career success though is the “extracurricular face time” which involves being seen at work outside of normal business hours or going above and beyond expectations. 

Even though remote workers typically log hours of “extracurricular time” it can go unnoticed by supervisors or peers.  Additionally, remote workers miss the crucial “water cooler chat” bonding time with the management team and other colleagues. Employees in the office are able to say hello and discuss weekend plans with upper management when passing them in the hall while remote employees rarely come in contact them.

So, how can remote employees overcome these barriers?

Elsbach and Cable suggest being immediately available at home, getting peers to talk you up and regular status reports.  However, UC and video solutions can significantly enable and enhance remote employees’ abilities for “virtual” face time. Instead of making regular phone calls and email reports, use instant messaging for quick updates and video calls for more lengthy status updates. 

Instant messaging allows for real-time, casual interactions that show an employee is hard at work.  However, remote workers must be cognizant of presence information that is available on these applications. Frequent or long periods of an idle status could give the impression that you are not around.  If you need to step away from your computer for lunch, a meeting, or any other reason make sure to change your status to “out to lunch,” “in a meeting” or “busy.”

Use video whenever possible to establish face time with managers and colleagues. Video helps build a relationship as face-to-face communication helps establish trust and can increase the likelihood of others putting in a good word to the management team.  

To help achieve extracurricular time, try emailing your boss early in the morning or late in the day noting that you have a few things to discuss when she arrives in the office.  Just make sure you are available when she is ready to touch base.  

Remote employees certainly have their work cut out for them; but, with a conscious effort they can overcome potential barriers that could affect their career.  While they may have to work a little harder to get recognition; the rest of us have to work a little harder getting ready and commuting into the office so it evens out!

Telepresence in Professional Sports

Professional sports develop a sense of community and create unspoken bonds – or conflicts – between fans and their rivals. Teams vie for the chance to be called the best in the league each year and collect a precious ring. Whether it’s football, hockey, baseball or basketball, telepresence is integrating itself into professional sports as different leagues, team offices and athletes are increasingly using it. Here are a few ways the technology can benefit professional sports teams and leagues.

Manage the Team
Many professional sports teams are owned by a group of investors rather than a single entity. The group of owners must frequently meet to discuss various aspects of the team such as players, coaching staff, ticket promotions and more. Even individual owners need to keep in close contact with general managers and other staff about team performance and operations. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get everyone together since most team owners have other jobs and responsibilities. As a result, teams are turning to telepresence to “wow fans while helping teams streamline operations” according to a Cisco newsroom article.

General Managers can use the technology to interview players and coaching staff, like any other corporation, to see if they would be potential fit for the team. Additionally, general managers can connect with each other to negotiate the potential trade of athletes, draft picks and more. This allows deals to be reached much faster which can be critical when the trade deadline approaches at the end of the season.

Interact with Fans
Telepresence also allows professional sports teams and athletes to better interact with fans. Back in 2010, fans from 19 different countries and five continents interviewed David Beckham during a webcast hosted by Yahoo. Fans were able to ask questions and watch Beckham’s response over a video for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Additionally, at the 2009 NHL All-Star game in Montreal, Cisco telepresence systems were set up in the arena allowing fans to chat with players and alumni in the greenroom. Facilitating interaction between fans and their favorite players not only enhances the fan experience but creates more loyal fans which can drive revenue for teams.

Disciplinary Hearings
In high-impact sports, like football and hockey, athletes can lose their cool and make a dirty play in the heat of the moment. An elbow to the head, a hit from behind or the use of unnecessary force against the opposing team is not only against the rules but can be extremely dangerous, if not life-threatening. In these instances disciplinary hearing are often needed as league officials take the safety of players very seriously.

Video can be used by league officials to conduct the hearing and interview the offending player. Then, after reviewing and determining if supplementary discipline is necessary, fines or suspensions can be issued to players, coaches and even team owners over telepresence. This is a great alternative to flying players to league headquarters for hearings; especially for smaller offenses.

How UC Solutions Saved My Week

The past week I had the pleasure of living down the street from the golf course where the Barclays tournament is being hosted. It was a traffic nightmare as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and about 250 other players embarked on my town. Streets were blocked off and I was barricaded in to a so-called “gated community” complete with police checkpoints that required a valid form of ID to enter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate their concern for our safety and preventing our neighborhood from turning into a parking lot; but this made my commute to work a little difficult to say the least.  Not only did I have to drive 15 minutes out of the way because my normal route was closed; I had to deal with the increased traffic, mass confusion of people and pedestrians everywhere.

After dealing with same madness as I made my way home, the thought of getting up and doing it all over again was nauseating. Then I realized how stupid I was to venture out to the office in the first place as I would work the rest of the week from home because I had the technology.

One of the most frustrating parts of working remotely is not being able to tell if people are available for a quick chat. When you’re in the office, you can peek your head around the corner to see if they’re free; but at home, you’re out of luck.  Or maybe not. Thanks to presence information in our nifty instant messaging application, I can tell if my boss is busy, stepped away for a few minutes or is at his desk anxiously awaiting my call. I was able to quickly touch base on certain projects and have brainstorming sessions on blog topics just as easily as if I was in the office.  It was great!

Later in the week I had a meeting with a couple people from our team. We usually meet in one of the conference rooms but I asked if we could switch to video so I wouldn’t have to trek into the office.  After they agreed, I set up a video meeting straight from Microsoft Outlook which, I would like to add, was easier than trying to reserve a conference room.  The meeting went perfectly, everyone was able to connect and we finished in record time; probably because it’s not as easy to get off topic.

As I went for a jog this morning, much easier since my commute consists of walking down the hall to my office, I realized just how awesome, amazing and lifesaving unified communications solutions are. It’s Friday already and the weekend is almost here.  Over the past three days, I haven’t even felt like I was working from home because I was able to do everything I was able to do at the office.  If I missed human interaction, all I had to do was video one of my coworkers or walk down the street and say hello to the state troopers, park police and code enforcement.  Needless to say, I’ll be happy when this is all over; but, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

Behind the Scenes of Collaboration

If collaboration was so easy, everyone would be doing it and great ideas would grow like flowers on a sunny spring day. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple and great ideas are not guaranteed; no matter how collaboration tools an organization has in place. In an HBR article, Nilofer Merchant lists “Eight Dangers of Collaboration” which are really roadblocks that need to be overcome.

This leads to two truths that must be accepted in order to successfully collaborate. 

  1. Ambiguity is inherent
  2. Conflict is inevitable. 

In most instances where collaboration is needed there is no right answer; multiple plausible options and a few great options will exist. The challenge is combining different characteristics of these options to create a solution.  As a result, there is an inherent ambiguity that is associated with collaboration that must be accepted. 

Collaboration involves “complex problems that are beyond the function of one domain or expertise;” meaning team members must be comfortable not having all the answers. This can be difficult for driven individual who like black and white answer, enjoy being the “expert” and vehemently argue their point of view in order to garner support. However, accepting the fact that ideas from a variety of participants will contribute to a comprehensive solution allows team members to open their minds. As a result, they are able to see different sides to the project they would not have distinguished on their own.   

On the other hand, team members should not be afraid to be the expert from time to time. A high-performance team will consist of members with multiple background and areas of expertise; therefore, each individual must be an expert or a leader at one point during the collaboration. Otherwise, why are they even on the team? Successful collaboration hinges on different leaders and experts stepping up to offer ideas; but, relinquishing control to another expert when the time comes.

The inherent ambiguity and multitude of options are going to lead to conflicting opinions. Debate among opposing idea and possible solutions is what makes collaboration successful; if everyone just agreed, important aspects could be missed.  It is important to note, however, that debate and argue are two very separate things. Arguing is closed-minded and based on an “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality while debating is open-minded and based on a “devil’s advocate” mentality. One is productive, the other is destructive.

Constantly challenging assumptions is what drives innovation and debating different points of view is necessary for multi-faceted problems. However, there is a balance between challenging assumptions and going down the wrong path. Opposing views for the sake of opposing views can quickly become unproductive. Teams must be able to recognize when a consensus has been reached and leaders must be able to redirect the topic if collaboration has run awry.

Accepting ambiguity and conflict allows for the limitless collaboration that sparks innovation and creates competitive advantages. Resisting ambiguity and conflict leads to stagnant collaboration that can leave an organization vulnerable.

Extend the Reach of Education with Telepresence

As we embark on another school year, many colleges and universities are working feverishly on an engaging curriculum that will prepare students for the fast paced and ever changing “real world” they will enter upon graduation.

With video conferencing becoming a staple in today’s business environment, it’s really no surprise that the country’s leading business schools are investing in the technology. Video-enabled classrooms not only introduce students to the technology but allow them to interact with people they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Remote campuses can connect two video enabled classrooms; allowing enhanced collaboration and group discussions. For example, a classroom in New York could connect with a classroom in India or Japan to discuss globalization or world economics creating a unique learning experience for all participants involved.

These classrooms also allow distinguished professors to reach a larger group of students. A leader in economics or biology can teach the same class at two locations without having to commute across the state or country. As a result, students have access to a wider range of classes that can contribute to a well-rounded education.

Additionally, many business leaders and subject matter experts are scattered around the globe making it difficult for colleges or universities to arrange guest lecturers or panel discussions. It can take up to two or three business days for guest speakers to travel to campus plus delays or last minute commitments can disrupt plans and potentially cancel the event.

A virtual lecture hall creates a forum for students to interact with presenters in a way similar to a traditional lecture hall. Question and answer sessions are seamless through push-to-talk microphones that zoom up on the speaker when activated. Remote participants are able to clearly see and hear the speaker, sometimes better than a traditional room due to the cameras.

The only difference is a guest lecturer can connect from a telepresence system anywhere in the world; whether it’s at their office, university or a public room near the last minute business meeting they had to travel to. Not only does this eliminate time consuming and expensive travel, it drastically reduces the potential of a last-minute cancellation.

See  a virtual lecture hall in action below!

Additional Resources:
Virtual Collaboration Room Brochure
Custom Telepresence Solutions

The Adventures of Working from Home

I had to work from home yesterday because the baby-sitter called in sick and my wife had an important meeting. I figured it was no big deal because the kids could just play with their toys and then during my back-to-back meetings I could put a movie in to keep them settled.

First meeting of the day was a weekly status with my sales manager. We were discussing how to proceed with an important account when my cat Ziggy jumped up and knocked into my camera. I put Ziggy back on the floor, fixed the camera and continued my meeting; but, Ziggy jumped right back up and started hissing and clawing at my computer screen.

He really isn’t a fan of new people, I’m not sure why but he gets defensive. My friends told me I should apply to get on some cat whisperer show but that seems a bit excessive. At any rate, I grabbed Ziggy, put him outside the room and then closed the door so he couldn’t get back in and the rest of the meeting went smoothly.

Note to self: make sure Ziggy is secured before my next meeting because I’d really like to keep the door cracked in case the kids need me.

Later that day I had a call with two of our engineers about a client’s project and. I made sure Ziggy was secured and things seemed to be going well except every now and then I kept seeing them smile a little. I didn’t think much of it; maybe someone in the office just said something funny. About fifteen minutes later, Anne starts laughing. Now I know something is going on so I finally asked what was so funny.

Apparently my children had infiltrated the room and were making funny faces behind me. Fish faces, crazy eyes, the whole works. Wonderful.

As I turned around I could hear them scampering off. I apologized for the distraction and both Jason and Anne laughed it off saying how adorable my kids were. It worked out okay but thank goodness this was just an internal call. I can’t even imagine the level of embarrassment if I had been on a call with an important client or, even worse, a potential new client.

That’s when I learned the importance of self-view. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what’s going on behind you. Perhaps it’s your children having fun, an errant pet or an angry co-worker thrashing around. You just never know.