Last week Nintendo released the Wii U, the successor to the revolutionary Wii game console. The newest addition supports point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. Ofer Shapiro, Vidyo CEO, discussed bringing video conferencing to the masses along with the benefits of the Nintendo partnership. However, there have been several comments around whether or not this was the right decision for Vidyo and what this means for the ubiquity of video.

Is deploying a business solution to the masses through a video game going to dilute the brand? You most likely wouldn’t conduct business video call in your living room and you certainly wouldn’t put a video game console in the boardroom.

If that’s the case, won’t this partnership hurt Vidyo more than it helps?

The short answer is no because it opens up a significant realm of possibilities to connect businesses to consumers. Take telehealth for instance; have you ever woken up in the morning with a slight pain in your side and immediately thought what if I have appendicitis? Don’t you wish you could quickly ask a healthcare professional if there’s anything to be concerned about instead of Googling your symptoms and ending up with appendicitis or an abdominal tumor?

Many health insurance companies currently offer 24 hour medical hotlines with access to medical professionals. Unfortunately, without being able to visually see the patient they can only offer limited advice. By connecting over video, the healthcare professionals can more accurately provide advice on certain medical conditions.

For example, Max twists his ankle playing outside and instead of going to the hospital his parents connect over video to a healthcare professional. The doctor asks Max to move his foot and rate the pain, along with a series of other tests, and determines he has just twisted his ankle. The doctor then recommends icing and wrapping Max’s ankle and taking Tylenol as needed for pain. Alternatively, the doctor could decide it might be a more serious issue and Max should go to the hospital for x-rays.

Other possibilities include tutoring sessions where students can connect over video for help with their math homework, instructor led workout classes, or even customer support. Think of the dad trying to build his child’s bicycle and having a couple “extra” pieces. He can easily call in via video, show the support agent the piece and find out where exactly it goes.

Up until this point consumer based, living room video conferencing systems have failed to catch on due to several factors including price and utility. The Wii, however, is a game platform that just happens to have video functionality. This could lead to explosive usage and the endless possibilities noted above.

Of course, interoperability presents a major challenge at the moment. There’s a slight possibility that putting the Wii in offices across the country may lead to a minor decrease in productivity. If Vidyo develops a business or desktop video client that interoperates with Wii the lines between consumer and business video will blur significantly and put us one step closer to true video ubiquity.

Distance learning programs are rapidly increasing in popularity as colleges and universities try to reach a wider array of students. Potential students scattered around the globe generally select a school that is geographically continent because they cannot relocate simply to attend school. Additionally, part-time graduate students find it difficult to attend class on a weekly basis due to work commitments, child care coordination, and the plethora of other things that come up in their busy lives.

Unfortunately, even though distance learning programs are growing in popularity, many continue to lack the interactive experience that facilitates true learning. For example, two years ago I took an accounting class online to fulfill one of the requirements for my MBA. The class consisted of self-paced video tutorials, online message boards where we were required to discuss current events related to accounting and an online chat room where we could ask our professor questions about our homework assignments in real time.

The video tutorials were essentially PowerPoint slides with sound clips; however, I found myself having to replay sections three or four times because my mind would start wandering to other things. It is extremely difficult to focus on a static slide with a voice over because there is nothing to grab your attention. In a traditional classroom, you are able to see the professor’s facial expressions and movements around the classroom which helps focus your attention on what the professor is saying.

Furthermore, trying to ask and answer questions over chat was quite frustrating, especially for a math based class. It is extremely hard to articulate a mathematical process without a visual representation of the steps and the numbers. Often times it would take twenty to thirty minutes just to get one difficult question answered because the professor was having difficulty understand exactly what question I was asking.

At the end of the class, I was very disappointed in the experience as I felt I did not learn as much as I could have. Face-to-face interaction is a critical component of the learning experience and therefore needs to be integrated into distance learning programs before these programs can truly rival traditional classroom-based programs.

The good news is video conferencing solutions can help bridge this gap by creating a virtual classroom. With cloud-based meeting rooms, a professor can simulate a traditional classroom environment with lectures and interactive discussions. Students only need a webcam to join and can connect to the classroom with Skype, Google Video Chat or even their browser!

The professor can then easily present a topic, call on raised hands to answer questions and even see when students are not paying attention. After the lecture, the professor can facilitate an interactive discussion among students since they are able to see the professor as well as other students simultaneously.

Integrating video conferencing solutions into the curriculum can not only help address many of the distance learning challenges but allow colleges and universities to find a renewed efficiency and effectiveness within their operations.

Stay tuned for more ways to integrate video into educational programs!

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Video conferencing uses span across nearly every industry and profession. When it comes to staying connected with both internal and external contacts, there is no better way to maintain communication and provide the highest level of customer service. When it comes to sales, utilizing every avenue available to differentiate oneself is critical to closing that next big sale. Previously we have discussed the merits of video conferencing as a tool for sales professionals who work directly with customers. But another key area to apply the power of video is the internal management of sales within any organization.

Sales managers across a variety of industries struggle with similar challenges; including managing a team of sales professionals, providing timely and accurate forecast data to upper management, as well as being able to mentor and contribute to each rep’s success. Let’s look at how video can be used in these key areas.

Forecasting

One of the most challenging aspects of managing a sales team and sales effort is receiving accurate forecast data from the sales team as well as reporting the most accurate forecast to upper management. Video conferencing provides a far better way to work with remote reps on this critical business area. In many organizations, reps provide their forecasts electronically through a CRM or other tool.

These numbers may be discussed via a phone call with a manager before submittal but sometimes they only live electronically. Even in those situations where a manager and rep discuss the numbers, it can be hard to read the sales rep’s demeanor and overall confidence in the numbers. When these forecast calls are elevated to video, non-verbal cues can help the manager quickly ascertain if the forecast is based on solid information or purely on conjecture. Armed with that “truth” the manager will be able to provide forecasts that are based on reality.

Internal Teams

Another challenge a sales rep must overcome is the need to rely on different teams within an organization to provide the products and services they are tasked to sell. Especially in a technical sale, sales reps are required to call upon engineers and other subject matter experts to help explain products and services, define pricing and scopes of work, as well as give the customer more in-depth technical presentations. In many cases, these subject matter experts must be flown to different locations (thus increasing the cost of sales). With video, sales can easily communicate internally with the SMEs on what they need to move the sale forward and can also bring a customer into a video meeting to help sell the value of the organization’s technical expertise.

Sales Training

How does an organization keep its sales team updated on the latest product and service developments without taking the team away from the business of selling? Video conferencing can provide a way to do short, specific training sessions with sales reps, no matter where they are located. Instead of requiring the team to come into one location for an extended period of trainings and updates, information can be disseminated in smaller sessions, more frequently. Even better, a sales rep would only have to take an hour or two out of their schedule and they can return to selling as soon as possible.

Video conferencing has the power to transform a sales team into an incredibly efficient and profitable machine. When sales is more prepared, better connected, and held even more accountable, the results can only increase an organization’s bottom line!

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!

 

As many of you know Hurricane Sandy roared through the Northeast earlier this week and wreaked havoc in New York City and Long Island (IVCi’s Headquarters). Monday night my husband and I simply watched the sky light up as trees blew over and knocked down transformers. Approximately 90% of Long Island’s power was knocked out, along with all of lower Manhattan, due to immense flooding and downed trees/power lines.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy will be felt for days from as close as New York to as far as Japan. The New York Stock Exchange closed for the longest time since 1888. Airports from Washington DC to Boston closed while New York’s LaGuardia flooded in dramatic fashion. Unprecedented damage has been done to New York’s subway system with seven tunnels completely underwater; keeping the city’s main method of transportation closed.

However, just because New York is shut down doesn’t mean the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world, stops working. Therefore, it is extremely important for organizations to have a business continuity plan in place. This allows the business to continue functioning; even if at a reduced capacity. Redundancy and communication, both internal and external, are key components of any business continuity plan. Management must ensure they are able to communicate with employees effectively and minimize the impact on customers.

Most importantly, a back-up generator is crucial to keep an organization’s operations running. Email, video and voice calls are only valuable if they work; therefore, it is important to ensure email servers and other key applications have power, even if the actual office is closed. This allows remote employees to continue working; either from home, their local coffee shop or wherever they can get power and a wifi connection.

Additionally, video conferencing and unified communications solutions are useful not only in the wake of natural disasters, but in the planning and preparation for one as well. For example, city officials and other emergency response teams need to communicate with each other to minimize the disaster’s impact and ensure the safety of citizens. The ability to quickly connect over video results in faster updates and quicker decision making which are critical in any emergency situation.

Finally, as the clean up and rebuilding process continues, we appreciate your understanding with delayed responses. In addition to little power, approximately 25% of cell towers and many network/data lines are down. As a result, communication is extremely difficult for many people.

For those of you looking to help, a little donation goes a long way. Visit http://www.redcross.org/, call 800-Red-Cross, or text the word “redcross” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. All donations will provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by the storm. Thank you!

*Photo courtesy of Huffington Post