A few weeks ago I had to privilege to play with one of Oblong’s Mezzanine systems and it was hands down one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Mezzanine truly pushes the boundaries of collaboration to the next level by creating a shared workspace across multiple displays. Essentially, anyone connected to the network can push and control content from multiple inputs on just about any device imaginable.

I was using my iPad, another person was on his PC and another was using Oblong’s spatial wand (think Wii remote but so much cooler). We were all able to push contend from our device, move things around on different screens and “pin” documents to digital corkboards.

Why does this matter?

Well think about a meeting where collaboration is critical; such as research and development, business or financial market analytics or product marketing and design. In each of these meetings, a simple PowerPoint presentation or word document will not suffice. For product launch meetings, participants need to see design specs, cost projections, target markets, key messaging and more.

With Mezzanine, all of these documents can be displayed simultaneously and managed in real time! Market research information can be displayed on one screen with remote participants on another while the team collectively brainstorms on product messaging or market segmenting on the whiteboard. The applications are simply endless which is what makes this solution so amazing.

Watch the video below for a quick demonstration as words simply cannot do Mezzanine justice!

IVCi and Oblong will also be hosting an event on Thursday, March 7 at 5PM at Oblong NYC. Participants will be able to meet the team, grab a drink, and experience the future of collaboration for themselves. Space is limited, click here to register.

As another year comes to an end it’s time to reflect on the previous year and create new goals for the coming year. Video conferencing has become ever present, cloud services are continuing to grow and collaboration technology is becoming even cooler.  Here is a look at some of the top blog posts from 2012. We hope you enjoyed reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them!

Have a wonderful and safe New Year and we’ll see you in 2013!

Top Blog Posts of 2012:

IT Conundrum: Do It Yourself or Embrace the Cloud?
The prevalence of cloud services has sparked a debate among IT professionals about whether to handle all IT components in-house or to outsource components to cloud service providers.

Video Conferencing Adoption – The Time Has Come!
An integrated approach to video conferencing adoption must be implemented because the impact of new technology reaches beyond the equipment and affects the people and the process within an organization.

The Exponential Power of Video Conferencing
Understanding the Collaboration Curve, and how casual interactions among colleagues and business partners spark creativity, can help organizations drive innovation within their organization.

Video Conferencing and Fighting for Freedom
A patriotic (and personal) look at how communication has changed and video conferencing has helped military members stationed overseas stay in touch with friends and family.

Stop Being Such a Video-phobe!
Getting over the hurdle of being afraid or making excuses not to be on video can be challenging; but in the end the advantages of using it far outweigh any negative feelings you may have.

Using Collaboration to Increase Customer Lifetime Value
The more companies converse with customers and the stronger the relationship is; the more apt customers are to provide honest feedback which can help drive innovation.

Telemedicine Reimbursement – The Time is Now!
Health care organizations throughout the world continue to implement telemedicine; however a major challenge has been the lack of parity from insurance organizations.

The Promise of Unified Communications and the Cloud
A look at some of the roadblocks that prevent true ubiquity of UC solutions throughout enterprise organizations and how cloud service can help overcome some of these challenges.

The New Science of Building Great Teams
An interesting take on building effective teams and achieving a high level of cohesion among team members. How we communicate is actually more important than what we communication.

The Essential Role of Human Resources
HR departments can utilize video conferencing solutions in a variety of different ways to increase communication and expedite many of the functions within the department.

When you think about collaboration what comes to mind? Perhaps you see a bunch of colleagues sitting around a table talking about different ideas or topics. Maybe you see a presentation or document displayed while meeting participants make comments and take notes. On the other hand, you might see a person standing by the whiteboard writing down ideas for new products, positioning strategy, or other key business decisions that need to be made. Participants are generally confined to their chairs; especially if they’re meeting over video and need to stay within view of the camera.

However, collaboration and the creativity that results in innovation is much messier – for lack of a better word. Not only do participants need to get up and walk around, they frequently jump from one topic or document to another topic or document. Ideas need to be voiced, and more importantly, written down as quickly as possible before their train of thought has vanished.

A new set of collaboration tools and technologies are being developed to help enhance the interactive aspect of collaboration. Participants will be able to work together effortlessly, whether they’re located in the same room or across the globe. The future of collaboration will be more dynamic and intuitive; the tools will help organize the mess without removing the freedom needed to inspire creativity.

Here is a look at some of the new technologies that will help shape the future of collaboration by making it more interactive and engaging.

  • SMART Freestorm solutions are a combination of interactive whiteboards and displays that allow participants to display documents, videos or websites then write over them with digital ink. Multiple participants can work on the same content simultaneously and annotate each other’s documents regardless of location. All ideas and notes can then be saved and emailed to anyone that needs them eliminating the need for someone taking notes separately on the computer, or worse, having to take a picture of the whiteboard each time you need to erase it for more space.
  • Cisco’s Active Collaboration Room adds another layer of interactivity by freeing remote participants from the confines of a chair. The room fosters an engaging environment by allowing participants to stand up and move around the room all while being captured by video. Additionally, enhancements to Cisco WebEx allow participants to create and annotate documents in real time through interactive whiteboards while still maintaining the highest level of audio and video quality.
  • Cyviz Bizwall takes collaboration to the next level by providing a high resolution, wide display that allows meeting participants to add and switch between different sources of content. Multiple sources can be displayed simultaneously; plus the system can be enabled for stereo 3D and rotated systems. Participants can not only see granular details in product quality but also view “the big picture” for product renderings or building plans.

All three of these solutions offer unique value and help transform collaboration for both local and remote participants. Collaboration becomes more dynamic as the technology eliminates inefficiencies like multiple working documents or having a designated note taker. These solutions also allow remote teams to work together in a more realistic way by combining the visual aspect of video conferencing with the interactivity needed for content creation.

Trust is an integral component of any relationship whether it’s with a spouse, close friend, colleague or business partner. It’s also an integral part of effective collaboration. Picture yourself in two scenarios; one meeting where you do not know anyone, the other where you know everybody at the table. In the first scenario, you’re a little more reserved since you’re worried about making a good first impression. You want to come off as intelligent rather than foolish and might keep some ideas to yourself since you don’t want to sound stupid.

In the second scenario, you are much more relaxed because you’ve already developed a rapport with the meeting participants. As a result, you freely express your ideas, even the ones that seem a little crazy because sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the most profitable. Unfortunately, building and maintaining trust in a virtual environment can be difficult; especially since the need for establishing trust is either overlooked or deemed a waste of time.

In an HBR webinar, How Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams, Keith Ferrazzi discusses the importance of trust and how the development of strong bonds can enable a virtual team to actually outperform a traditional team. There are three different kinds of distance that can affect teams. The first is physical distance, or geographic proximity. The second is operational distance, such as different priorities, incentive structures or other projects that prevent the team from connecting.

The third, and most important, is affinity distance which is the level of familiarity or commitment among team members. Essentially, it is level of trust or the bonds developed between team members that allow them to truly connect. Ferrazzi states, “Affinity is the trump card – the thing that really matters. High affinity distance can sink a physically proximate team. On the flip side, with high affinity, physical distance doesn’t much matter.”

So how can organization enable high levels of affinity among teams?

Video conferencing plays a major role as it allows team members to see facial expressions and other nuances that can help build trust. Additionally, it is important for individuals to view their team members as actual people and get to know each other on a personal level. Ferrazzi suggests scheduling time for personal chit-chat at the beginning of a meeting or support a favorite charity like the ASPCA as a team, something that can foster a community spirit.

Relating this back to my own experiences, I work on team initiatives all of the time and have forged many relationships within IVCi. Recently a large group of our organization was in town for a meeting and I was talking to several people when we both realized we had never actually been in the same room before. We have met countless times over video and thanks to the relationship we have forged, the need to be physically present just faded away. It was rather ironic to say “nice to meet you” for the first time when we have been partners for over three years!

This week Apple announced that it had sold three million iPads since the launch of the iPad Mini and the new fourth generation iPad. What is particularly interesting, especially from a video conferencing perspective, is that both of these devices feature 720p cameras on the front.

With recent trends around mobile devices and extending the reach of video, many have suggested that quality can take a backseat to mobility and accessibility. Over the last year or so, the major limitations of video conferencing with mobile devices have been the camera and the network connectivity.

For example, while 3G networking has been widespread the real-life speeds are relatively slow.  Plus, the response rate of these network connections interrupts the steady flow of data hampering the transfer of high quality of video.  As a result, video calls are frequently interrupted, freeze up or simply drop out creating a frustrating experience for all participants.

While Wi-Fi increases the quality, many of these mobile devices have low resolution cameras on the front.  This also diminishes the quality of a video call by providing a grainy image instead of the clear image many have come to expect with HD video conferencing.

The release of several Android smart phones and the iPhone 5 has made 4G more prevalent. “True” 4G provides bandwidth over 10x the speed of 3G, in addition to a faster response (or latency). In many areas, 4G can actually be faster than a cable or DSL connection in markets providing a superior experience.

Wireless carries in the United States have recognized the value and increased throughput of 4G and continue to invest billions in expanding their 4G coverage. Just this week T-Mobile and Sprint announced major investments in their network infrastructure; but AT&T announced the largest with a $14 billion expansion.

So what does all of this mean to the video conferencing user? Really it’s the best of both worlds. High quality video conferencing is more accessible than ever before as mobile users now have multiple options to join video meetings. Once relegated to dialing in over audio, the road warrior can now be fully involved. Even more astonishing, is that the mobile user will no longer have to sacrifice quality to reap all of the benefits of visual collaboration.  As a result, the ubiquity of video is well on its way.