Enterprise Connect 2013 has come to a close and what an event it was. This was IVCi’s first year attending and exhibiting at the show and it was a fantastic experience that provided many opportunities for us to connect with our current customers as well as future prospects. In addition, the opportunity to see the latest technology and offerings from our partners was great. The event was jam-packed with great sessions, keynotes, exhibitors, attendees and more. Here is an overview of some of the key takeaways and messages from the event.

WebRTC
WebRTC (as previously covered here on Collaboration Insight) is a new browser based protocol that allows for real-time voice and video communication to occur right inside a web browser. WebRTC has gotten to be so big; the conference dedicated an entire track to the topic and every session was full. The reality of WebRTC is that not all browsers currently support it (only Google Chrome and the developer builds of Firefox) but the potential for it is endless.

At the end of the day, WebRTC will enable any browser to be a video client or endpoint on a communications network. In Cisco’s keynote, the example of a shopper on a website was used. They were looking for accessories and information on a his store  purchases. They simply clicked a link and a video session was initiated with an expert back in a video call center. No wait to download a client and no security issues with the install; it simply happened in the browser. When the standard is ratified and included in all browsers, the potential will be limitless! Cisco demoed a Jabber client built entirely in the browser, contact center agents could access their voice services right within the browser and more. It has to the potential to breakdown interoperability issues and extend enterprise collaboration to an organization’s customers.

Unified Communications
Frost and Sullivan presented a session at the conference in which they defined unified communications as “an integrated set of voice, data and video communications applications, all of which leverage PC- and telephony-based presence information.” UC was in full force at the conference with all major players showing their latest innovations. Both Cisco and Microsoft came with their entire vision. Microsoft presented their total solution from mobile devices (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) to tablets (Surface, iPad) to desktops and even room systems. The solution was elegant and worked as advertised. Microsoft has been pitching this vision for a while and it was great to see it fully realized. At the same time, Cisco showcased their Jabber solution which offers interoperability across all platforms and seamlessly integrates voice, video, data sharing, and more.

The key takeaway about UC is that the technology is very real and organizations are definitely implementing or looking to implement it in their current short term roadmap. Voice, video, and everything in between have converged!

The Cloud and Mobility
There was not a session that didn’t include a discussion around how cloud delivery and mobile devices would influence employees and technology. Even sitting in the sessions themselves one could see dozens of attendees taking notes on their iPads, checking email, and ultimately staying connected. The discussion of cloud, however, must be secondary. The user of the technology, how it can impact user productivity must be first. How it is delivered (on-premise, cloud, etc) is a decision that comes after.

Business Case
Perhaps the most exciting trend seen at Enterprise Connect was a focus on making the business case for the technology being presented. Certainly there was a large amount of discussion around the technology itself, the features, etc. But in many of the sessions, the business case for collaboration technology was continually presented. Some of the key messaging was around how these technologies can help move a business forward and help fulfill strategic goals. Additionally, simply deploying technology does not equal success. Organizations must see widespread adoption and employee satisfaction to really judge if the technology implementation was a success.

The Yahoo! Fall-Out

Ever since Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! issued her memo calling back remote workers into the office and effectively ending telecommuting within the organization, countless stories and commentaries have been written. These responses have spanned from total disagreement to downright endorsement of the new employment practice.

The interesting thing about the announcement is that it appears to have started to influence other organizations to act the same. Just this week, Best Buy announced that they too would be ending their work from home program. This is particularly noteworthy because Best Buy’s initiative (announced in 2006 and called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)) was seen as a trendsetting program and applauded by many HR advocates.

In the case of Best Buy, the change in policy is not as stringent. Managers still have discretion to allow telecommuting but the employees can no longer make that decision. The question now is two-fold: will more companies follow suit and is this the right decision for a company to make?

Mayer noted, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”

To really understand if this is the “right” decision; let’s take a look at the different types of collaboration that occurs within an organization on a daily basis:

Spontaneous Collaboration:
This method of collaboration occurs when team members run into each other in the hallway and strike up a conversation or perhaps in the cafeteria grabbing a cup of coffee. There is nothing formal about it and it can happen in an instant.

Deliberate Collaboration:
With deliberate collaboration, teams may schedule a time for everyone to get into a conference room and hash out an important idea or project. This might be accompanied by white boarding or some other form of facilitated brainstorming.

Formal Collaboration:
Formal collaboration involves a scheduled meeting with a formal presentation structure. This could be a business review or strategy overview. The major difference between deliberate collaboration and formal collaboration is the presence of a formalized agenda with specific content to be presented.

When reviewing the three collaboration types noted above, what do you lose when your workforce is remote? Spontaneous collaboration is the victim here, at least to an extent. When workers are remote, they are not running into each other randomly and striking up conversations.

All is not lost, however, as many organizations who have implemented collaboration technologies, such as video conferencing, have installed “water cooler” systems that allow remote employees to connect in at will and see what’s going on. While this may not be as spontaneous as being there, it gets remote workers pretty close.

When looking at deliberate and formal collaboration, much of what occurs in these meetings can be recreated with remote workers. Formal collaboration sessions can easily connect in remote team members to view the formal presentation or even present themselves. Technology now makes it possible to easily present, no matter where you are. With deliberate collaboration, remote participants can view white boarding sessions and be involved in the brain storming process. Again this is possible thanks to the latest developments in cloud and collaboration technologies.

Whether the Yahoo! decision was the right call remains to be seen, but other organizations should examine the different types of collaboration that occur within their facilities and see what is most pervasive. Ultimately, it may be about both a technology solution and a people solution.

As cloud computing and cloud based services continue their meteoric rise to the top of IT strategies everywhere, an interesting convergence of these new technologies with video conferencing is occurring. Over the last few years countless services and organizations have focused on providing computing power in the cloud. Several of these services have achieved notoriety including Amazon’s Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure.

The previous model for hosting computing power was to enable users to “rent” a server in a provider’s data center or to buy shared space on an existing machine. Web hosting and other hosting services used this model for several years. However, with the advent of virtualization (the ability to simulate multiple servers on one server with software) the model is rapidly changing. Hosting providers are now offering users the ability to launch server instances at will and pay only for the time in which that instance is used.

This new model is significant for several reasons. First, it essentially allows an organization to only pay for what they use; as opposed to absorbing the full expense of servers that might not be fully utilized. Second, the ability to quickly scale and add on additional server resources has gone from a multiple day or week process to a simple software setup that can happen in minutes.

This “elastic” server model allows for infinite scalability at a fraction of the cost and resources required. Additionally, many of these cloud computing providers offer a simple web-based interface to easily monitor and manage all of a customer’s server instances.

So what does all of this mean for video conferencing? With the continued shift of video conferencing infrastructure and services from hardware based appliances to software applications that run on standard servers, a whole new world is opening to video.

Previously, when an organization required additional “ports” to bridge large groups of callers, a significant hardware purchase would be required and the device installed into current infrastructure. Now, as more and more software based products become available, it will be as simple as purchasing a software license and simply adding additional cloud computing power. Even better, when these additional licenses are not in use, there will be no need to pay for the additional server power.

In the last few months several products have been announced that will be able to take advantage of this new model of deployment. Polycom announced its RealPresence ® Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition. This software based bridge (or MCU) will be compatible with virtualized platforms and allow organizations to quickly and easily deploy and scale implementations.

Another notable product launch from last year was Vidyo’s VidyoRouter Virtual Edition. Vidyo is an entirely software based video conferencing platform that runs on standard servers. This new virtualized edition allows for deployment on elastic cloud services like those mentioned above.

As the power of the cloud continues to grow and be leveraged in new and exciting ways, video conferencing will benefit and become more agile for both deployment and management. The growth of elastic cloud services and the move to video conferencing to software based platforms is perfectly aligned to create new and exciting offerings for organizations of any size.

The past year has been full of exciting announcements in the video conferencing and visual collaboration industry. The industry is rapidly changing and 2012 was a particularly noteworthy year for video conferencing. The term ubiquity was thrown around more than ever before due to increased access to video solutions . Here are some particularly noteworthy announcements and trends from 2012.

Greater Interoperability
Always a hot topic, interoperability continued to be a major trend in 2012. The Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), of which Polycom was a founding member, continued to expand its membership; and in late 2012, the first services that connect its members’ clouds became available. This was a major step to breaking down barriers between video conferencing and telecom providers.

Video Conferencing in Your Browser
The introduction of HTML5 and WebRTC have made video conferencing widely available by allowing participants to video conference directly from their browser. Participants no longer have to download software and set up different accounts for different platforms. This provides numerous opportunities for business-to-consumer video conferencing. Blue Jeans greatly enhanced its service this year with a browser connection option.

Higher Quality Mobile Video
Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are being equipped with better cameras on the front of the device making high quality video more readily accessible. Users no longer have to sacrifice quality for mobility; as long as they have a solid internet connection, users can have the best of both worlds. Both the iPhone and iPad were updated to include 720p resolution on their front cameras.

Pervasiveness of Cloud Services
Cloud services have become one of the biggest trends in 2012. Cloud services play a major role in business continuity by providing an extra layer of redundancy. Additionally, these services help expand an organization’s network by easily connecting remote employees. The cloud has also been incredibly powerful in expanding interoperability.

Nintendo and Vidyo Partnership
In a revolutionary announcement, Nintendo announced that the Wii U will support point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. This has the possibility to represent the largest deployment of living room video conferencing systems in history and truly makes video available to the masses.

Polycom
Polycom continued to shift its focus to software and cloud based services. In October, Polycom made a slew of announcements that included new room endpoints, mobile applications, software based infrastructure, and most notability, its CloudAXIS suite. This solution (another browser based option) enables users to video conference with anyone on their social contact list including Facebook, Google Chat, Skype, and more. The user simply drags their contacts into a window, clicks connect and each participant receives a link on whatever service they are logged into.

Cisco
In 2012, Cisco continued to expand its collaboration footprint beyond video conferencing. Key announcements included the expansion of their WebEx offering, as well as, moving its Quad offering (a social collaboration tool) to the WebEx brand. Expect Cisco to unveil a slew of new video offerings in 2013.

This past year has been significant for the world of visual collaboration. As we move to 2013 (provided the world doesn’t end tomorrow), the industry will continue to grow and evolve. Each announcement and service has the potential to bring the true video ubiquity that many have envisioned.

 

 

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.