Interoperability almost always comes up anytime video conferencing is discussed. But what exactly is interoperability and why is it so important?

The definition of interoperability is the ability to make systems and organizations work together (inter-operate). In the video world, it is the ability for two video conferencing systems to connect with each other. For example, a Polycom system is interoperable with any other Polycom system. Or, a standards-based video system is interoperable with any other standards-based video system. However, standards-based video systems do not natively interoperate with consumer desktop clients like Skype or Google Video Chat.

So why is interoperability so important?

Let’s look at two different video conferencing scenarios.  Apple FaceTime and H.323 Standards-Based Systems (Polycom/Cisco Endpoints).

FaceTime is an extremely easy to use video client that is available on all Apple devices. Simply open the application, click on a name in your contacts list, and you’re automatically connected over video when that person picks up. However, FaceTime is only available on Apple devices. If I want to call my mother with it, she has to have an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. If she does not own one of these devices, I simply cannot call her on FaceTime.  While the application may be a terrific way to video conference, it’s only as great as the people who have these devices.

H.323 on the other hand, is a standard video protocol that manufacturers use to allow their systems to speak the same language. Essentially, any system that is based on H.323 standards can communicate with any other system that is based on H.323. As a result, people can video conference anyone on this platform instead of only being able to connect with people who have a device from the same manufacturer.

This is why interoperability is so important – because of the network effect. The value of video conferencing is dependent upon the number of others using it. Or, in other words, the number of different users and systems people can connect to.  If Cisco systems could only connect to Cisco systems the value of video would be extremely limited. What happens if a company with Cisco equipment wants to video conference with one of its suppliers but the supplier has a Polycom video system?  However, if a Cisco endpoint can connect to Polycom, LifeSize, desktop computers, smartphones and tablets – the value rises exponentially.

Another example is desktop unified communications clients such as Microsoft Lync. These clients handle voice, screen sharing, and video all in one application. In many cases, organizations will deploy Lync to thousands of desktop, enabling video conferencing for nearly all its users. With interoperability those users can participate in meetings that are held in conference rooms and with users on different systems. In the case of Lync, native interoperability is becoming more ubiquitous as Lync continues to grow in popularity.

It is important for organizations to ensure whatever solution they implement is truly interoperable and not built as a “walled garden” that can prevent true collaboration from occurring.