Organizations are investing in collaboration tools and environments as the importance becomes increasingly prevalent. Not to mention, many organizations have recently started to break down walls (figuratively and literally) in offices. Companies are eliminating office spaces and creating open floor plans to facilitate interaction among colleagues.

Physical spaces, namely conference rooms, where employees can gather to work on deliverables or projects are necessary components to facilitate collaboration. However, since these rooms are shared resources, scheduling is necessary to make sure meetings don’t interrupt each other. This can be frustrating for teams who want to meet spontaneously.

With that in mind, huddle spaces or teaming rooms are being implemented in more and more organizations. What are they? Simply, a huddle space is an area within a company where a group of people can come together and collaborate; whether it is the corner of a room or open space near the cafeteria. These spaces are generally unscheduled resources and are available on a first-come first served basis.

The make-up of a huddle space varies significantly across organizations, but here are a few examples of solutions we have seen:

The Content Sharing Space:
These spaces are built around an LED TV mounted on a simple floor stand/cart. Attached to the unit is a wireless content sharing component that allows participants to attach a small device to their laptops and easily share their screen with the click of a button. Up to four participants can see their content on the screen at the same time, making it easy to compare work and collaborate on deliverables. A large professional services firm has implemented these content sharing stations in hallways and other open spaces throughout their office.

The Video Room, Everywhere:
When it comes to deploying video conferencing, a choice usually has to be made about what rooms and which employees to equip. This is due to both the cost involved and the scalability of infrastructure need to make video work. A media firm decided that they didn’t want to make an investment in higher-end video room systems and instead chose to go with desktop video software (that can be scaled to very large numbers). They simply took a small television cart and equipped each one with a PC and webcam. The result was a low cost video conferencing system that could be easily placed into any room or huddle environment.

The Web Conferencing Room
Web conferencing solutions, such as WebEx and GoToMeeting, provide functionality around content sharing, white boarding, chat, and some video conferencing. Many organizations have chosen to use web conferencing across their entire enterprise as a means of collaborating. One major manufacturer realized the importance of giving as many people as possible the power to connect, both remotely and in the same room, and implemented a web conferencing room solution. For the hundreds of meeting spaces that they have not equipped with video, they have implemented a low cost solution that allows employees to walk into a room and immediately join a web session. From there, individuals can work together in the room and connect with remote team members.

The above examples only scratch the surface of the concept of the huddle room. Ultimately, these solutions are about untethering collaboration from a finite space and making it possible for employees, both those in a local office and remote, to collaborate on an ad-hoc basis without having to schedule static resources and without a huge investment.

Video conferencing security continues to make news every now and then. Last year, it was HD Moore who hacked into conference rooms around the globe and this year German magazine Der Spiegel said the NSA hacked into the United Nations video conferencing system. In the wake of these events, many users of video conferencing get worried and some get downright paranoid.  However, video can be extremely secure if it is configured properly.

All standards-based video conferencing systems include 128-bit AES encryption which secures the audio and video data being sent between users. Encrypting the audio and video packets prevents hackers from seeing where the data is going or what the contents are. According to an article from the EE Times, it would take one quintillion (1018) years to crack AES encryption using a brute force attack meaning the data is highly protected.

So if AES encryption is so strong, and most video systems support it, why do there continue to be stories of systems getting hacked? Because faults in configuration create weaknesses that leave systems vulnerable to attack.

The most common, which also happen to leave systems the most vulnerable, are leaving systems outside of a company’s firewall and having systems configured to automatically answer calls. This allows virtually anyone to dial into the video conference system undetected because there is no firewall to prevent unwanted access and the only visual evidence that a call has been connected is a tiny light on the camera.

While these are the most severe configuration issues, a recent post on No Jitter mentions other common faults that can leave video systems vulnerable. These include:

  • Using outdated video systems that don’t support encryption
  • Failing to use the most current software on video systems and other devices
  • Connecting to other devices like gateways or video bridges that either don’t support or have encryption turned off
  • Failing to use proper passwords, not changing passwords often enough, or failing to keep those passwords secure

So, what can be done to help keep video conferencing environments secure?

One of the best things to do is  invest in a firewall traversal device such as a Cisco VCS Expressway or Polycom VBP. This allows devices to remain behind a firewall but retain the ability to connect to the public internet. As a result, members located on an internal company network can connect with other participants located outside the network without compromising the network’s security.

An alternative to investing in hardware is to subscribe to a cloud-based managed service. These services provide access to a team of highly trained video professionals that will ensure every call is connected in a secure manner, as well as, confirm all endpoints are configured to security standards.

Additional security options include:

  • Change encryption settings from On (If Available) to On (Required) to require encryption for every call
  • Disable auto-answer functionality
  • Disable far end camera control on the system
  • Close camera shutter when the system is not in use

As with anything, there is a balance between increased security and added functionality. Restricting access to only users located on the internal network provides the highest security but is not very functional. Leaving video systems on the public internet makes it easy to connect with users outside the network but presents numerous security and privacy risks. Every organization is different and the best video networks fall somewhere in between. The bottom line is there is a way to have a highly functional video conferencing environment while mitigating many of the risks that leave a network vulnerable.

Security Consultation

With the next generation of executives taking control over established companies, new changes are bound to arise. The 2013 Cisco Global Young Executives’ Video Attitudes Survey shows that many of these new managers are interested in video collaboration and plan on incorporating it into their business or company. Many new managers understand the benefits video can provide for their company, and some will not even consider working with other companies unless they use it as a tool.

The convenience of video conferencing is something that many young executives and managers are taking advantage of because it allows participants to read visual cues, “be there” without traveling, and have the ability to share content instantly. Constantly traveling in order to meet with clients or other people is time consuming and costly, not to mention frustrating when flights get delayed or cancelled. More organizations are shifting to visual collaboration as the technology continues to advance and creates interoperable and scalable solutions.

The data from the survey shows that many young executives plan on relying heavily on video conferencing to manage their business. Three out of five young executives say they will rely more heavily on video within the next 5 to10 years and 87% believe video has a significant and positive impact on an organization. These executives cite benefits ranging from enhancing the experience of telecommuters to saving money on travel costs and even attracting top talent.

Video collaboration is also an effective method of transferring information and connecting geographically dispersed people. It not only allows those within the states to contact one another, but it also opens up the global marketplace. Of the organizations surveyed that have less than 400 employees, 94% said they utilize video in order to break down language barriers in the increasingly global marketplace.

Telecommunication is a major appeal to prospective employees as well. In fact, 87% of respondents say they would choose to work for a video-enabled organization over a company that has not invested in business-class video communications. This is because organizations that invest in visual collaboration embrace the increase in technological advancement and are considered to be more innovative.

While video conferencing is a great tool for many companies, people are still wary of it. Survey respondents showed that their top five fears about video conferencing were: a messy office, personal appearance concerns, the inability to multi-task, the need to eat and some are not comfortable on video in general. However, as people utilize the technology more often, they will eventually become more comfortable with it.

The advancement of technology is rapidly increasing, and it is up to these companies and businesses to keep up. The new executives plan to do what they can to run successful companies, and telecommunication is a tool that will allow these companies to be successful.

Take a look at the slides below for more survey data.

Another school year is upon us, and again we are faced with the challenge of accessibility and cost of education.

Massive open online classes, more commonly referred to as MOOC’s, are gaining substantial popularity across the nation. These online courses, offered to large numbers of students, and often free of charge, use a recorded video curriculum that students can access at their convenience. One of the major benefits is the on-demand structure of that content. Furthermore, this increased accessibility allows students to participate regardless of their location or scheduled availability.

Although MOOC’s can vary drastically from class to class, they have one thing in common; their use of video. Combining video conferencing equipment and infrastructure, educators are able to record, edit, and stream high quality lectures and content. The growth of collaboration in education beyond traditional video conferencing also includes the use and integration of interactive whiteboards. Instructors are now using these interactive whiteboards to complement and add dimension to their online curriculum. The collaboration of these technologies give students the face-to-face feel of a traditional classroom without having to physically be there.

Recently, an increased number of universities around the country have started to offer both, single for-credit courses, as well as full-scale degrees using a paid MOOC platform. This structure of education gives institutions the ability to start attacking the cost and efficiency problems that traditional programs struggle with. Based on a recent article in the New York Times, Georgia Institute of Technology announced that they are planning to offer a MOOC-based online masters degree in computer science. The price tag for this degree will be $6,600, a staggering difference in comparison to the $45,000 for the on-campus offering. This is just one example of the multiple universities who are launching these for-credit, mass online classes and programs.

Along with a strong number of supporters, comes quite a bit of criticism around MOOC’s. Many educators believe that a blend of both virtual and traditional face-to-face learning, as opposed to an online-only structure, is the most effective combination for student success. Critics argue that these mass online programs are difficult to scale while still keeping the tuition rates at the lower end. Additionally, many also argue that recorded courses lack important real-time engagement and conversation. However, the true effectiveness of these classes is still up for debate due to a lack of concrete data available at this point.

With the wide spread popularity of this emerging education trend, there are sure to be many more debates on the subject. As th­­e number of these programs increase, the more we will be able to understand and judge how successful they really are. Do you think MOOC’s are the wave of the future in higher education?

As an employee of a visual collaboration organization I often take for granted the ease of access to video solutions and the fact that everyone I interact with on a daily basis is on video. In most organizations video conferencing deployments are often limited to a subset of users. For example, middle management or functional departments like sales are given video due to their high proportion of remote team members.

In a typical video environment, most companies use a mix of hardware devices and software, often causing interoperability issues. Conference rooms normally have some sort of standards-based video system from Cisco or Polycom, while desktop and mobile users have various software applications. Additionally, many organizations have Microsoft Lync clients that are sitting dormant either because the organization doesn’t know how to implement the client, or the client doesn’t interoperate with their current video deployment.

Today, Acano announced general availability for their revolutionary new product that solves many of these challenges, and unites previously incompatible audio, video and web technologies into coSpaces. IVCi is always looking ahead to the next big technology and we are excited to announce that we are one of the first partners selected to resell this solution.

So, what exactly is a coSpace?

It’s a virtual meeting room, only radically better. Users can connect with any device or application they have, ranging from a standard video conferencing endpoint to Microsoft Lync or their web browser. Acano also offers native iOS and Android apps that allow users to not only join from their smartphone or tablet, but also split how they attend. For example, if I am connected to a meeting from my desktop system but have to leave the office, I can “throw” the call to my iPhone with a push of a button and without disrupting the meeting. Then, when I get to my destination, I can throw the call back to my iPad.  Or, if I am in a busy area, I can view video on my iPad while sending audio through my phone. That brings new meaning to our mission of Collaborate Anywhere!

coSpaces also go beyond a virtual meeting; they provide a dedicated space for people to organize and exchange ideas by storing chat logs, meeting notes, and more. Users can create as many coSpaces as they need, one for every project, supplier or team, and then invite participants to join.

Acano’s hardware is based on standard Intel processors (similar to those found in a laptop computer) but have been modified specifically for video and collaboration. Based on the hardware and their specially designed software, a single Acano server can handle up to 2500 users, making the solution extremely scalable. Now, every user in an organization can have access to video. Furthermore, all of the inactive Lync clients floating around can be effectively utilized to drive collaboration.

Acano overcomes technology barriers allowing you to work wherever your ideas and creativity thrive. See for yourself with the demo performed at Infocomm below.

To learn more about Acano visit our website.