Videoconferencing has come a long way since AT&T’s PicturePhone in the 1970s. Now broader in scope and sophistication, the technology that was initially seen as a tool for the hard-of-hearing and deaf community is now an integral communication conduit for a wide range of businesses, most significantly in the corporate sector.
The evolution of videoconferencing has been helped along by the development of Internet and visual display technologies — including wireless and fiber-optic networks — that allow conversation and team collaboration to be conducted in real time over long distances and from remote locations.
“Videoconferencing today is very different than 10 years ago,” says Tom Toperczer, vice president of Marketing for cloud-based videoconferencing service, Nefsis. “Ten years ago there were only one choice and it was hardware based — videoconferencing hardware for the boardroom. Today we have telepresence at the high end, which is hardware-based at an installed site. We’ve got consumer video calling, which is a free online service for consumers on the low end. In the middle, you have cloud-based videoconferencing services such as Nefsis. The big thing decision makers need to know is that there are a variety of choices now, not just one.”
Toperczer’s observation is echoed by Brian Rhatigan, CTS, the business development manager for U.S. consumer product distributor, Almo Professional AV. Rhatigan notes that “there are an overwhelming number of manufacturers that are offering solutions and essentially they are all aimed at accomplishing the same thing. However, there are subtle differences in features and architecture that may or may not be important to the user.”
These differences often include cost, ease-of-use and performance abilities, all of which can define a videoconferencing system as a great addition to the technology roster of a business or induce end-user frustration upon installation. It then becomes imperative that an organization’s technology project manager outline not only how the videoconferencing system will be used, but how that use may evolve over time.
“To achieve widespread adoption, decision makers must become aware of the business value of video conferencing,” says Randal Maestre, global director of Industry Solutions at telepresence manufacturer, Polycom. “Travel savings is a given, so understanding how the technology can be integrated into the way that the business is run becomes paramount to long-term usage.”
As Rhatigan notes, most corporations use video conferencing to extend visual and collaborative communications. “Connecting colleagues from geographically dispersed cross-functional teams, interviewing candidates remotely and providing corporate training company-wide are some of the more common uses of video conferencing,” he says. “The introduction of software-based video conferencing solutions (such as Polycom’s RealPresence Mobile application) that run on laptops, tablets and other portable devices opens a whole new world of mobile video conferencing applications. Now, employees can stay connected throughout the enterprise on a variety of room-based, desktop and portable solutions.”
Maestre outlines some of the cost savings businesses can accrue when he asks, “What are the key organizational goals, objectives and success metrics? These vary by industry and by functional line of business within a company, he says.
“So while companies save, on average, 30 percent on travel costs with video conferencing, more important measures of business impact may be reduction in time-to-market (up to 24 percent savings with video conferencing), shrinking of recruitment times (approximately 19 percent savings) or reduction in training costs (average 25 percent savings),” he adds.
Maestre’s hypothetical business project manager’s questionnaire also includes questions such as, What are the applications of the videoconferencing system? And, how will you integrate the system into existing communications solutions? The latter of which, Maestre says, addresses the future proofing of a company’s “unified communications” investment and ensures compatibility throughout the enterprise.
While costs and longevity of an installed videoconferencing system are key factors in a successful integration project, also of great importance is the stability and quality of the system. L. William Natress III, associate principal at commercial integration firm Shen, Milsom & Wilke points out that in addition to design challenges (how the system will fit into and operate in the given space), how the system delivers on the promise of high-quality videoconferencing is also of concern.
“The stability and quality of the network is typically the greatest challenge faced,” Natress says. “Typical service level agreements from service providers account for acceptable levels of packet loss, latency, jitter and other key metrics. These metrics though are tested against asynchronous data streams. The data stream associated with video conferencing is synchronous and requires more stringent tests to confirm that the values are truly acceptable.”
Nattress raises a good point, one that manufacturers are aware of and one that decision makers need to be cognizant of as well. As Rhatigan notes, “Network bandwidth is important to an organization’s daily operations and videoconferencing systems that are using lower bandwidth and are providing a viable solution at lower price points than traditionally have been available.”