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

This time last week I was in beautiful Monterey, California at the third annual VCI-Group conference. Today, I am hunkered down in my house anxiously awaiting Hurricane Sandy, aka Frankenstorm, aka The Ring of Evil. As I look outside at the wind and rain that are only going to get much worse I can’t help but think about sunny California.

Polycom, Cisco and Vidyo gave keynote speeches each morning of the conference. While they all gave their own take on where the industry was going there was one key theme – convenience. Convenience is what drives adoption and it’s what is driving the video conferencing and unified communication market.

Stuart Monks, VP Group Solutions, Technology and Architecture, at Polycom discussed three drivers of the video communications industry. These drivers are hybrid cloud technology, web-centric clients, and the evolution of tablet and smartphone capabilities and connectivity. The first two drivers make it easier for organizations to implement video and unified communications solutions. Enhancements to tablets and smartphones, combined with web-centric clients, make it easier for individuals to video conference and collaborate with one another.

Jacob Nordan, Senior Director Collaboration Infrastructure, at Cisco highlighted the transition to the cloud, the new virtualized workspace, and most importantly less complex solutions. The tools and opportunities needed to collaborate now exist virtually, whether it’s through video conferencing, instant messaging, or a full-featured collaborative hub powered by WebEx Social.

Once again, this provides easier access for individuals to collaborate. Another important note Nordan made was the drive toward simplicity and removing the complexity of visual collaboration solutions. Simple solutions enhance the user experience by enabling individuals to engage and collaborate effortlessly. He stated, “The user experience drives adoption and increased adoption equals better and faster ROI.”

Finally, Ofer Shapiro, President and CEO of Vidyo, also highlighted the trends from hardware to software based clients. He cited the price-performance curve of telepresence and web-based solutions. Essentially, room-based telepresence systems provide high audio and visual quality; however, this comes at high price. Advancements in software clients and web-based solutions can now also provide a high quality audio and visual experience for a fraction of the cost. While these solutions might not provide the exact same experience, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. The investment required for room-based system begins to exceed the enhanced audio and visual quality these systems provide.

A caveat to this logic is situations where high-intensity, active collaboration is necessary. Web-based solutions work phenomenally well for planning, status updates or training sessions. However, collaborative sessions that require immediate decision making under stressful situations (for example the decision to evacuate Battery Park City and other low-lying areas of New York City in anticipation of a hurricane) require a life-like collaborative experience.

To everyone in Sandy’s path – stay safe out there and good luck!

As visual collaboration announcements about new products continue to hit the news it can be somewhat challenging to discern the technical jargon from the user benefit. Nearly all of these announcements refer back to some set of technical terms that may be lauded in the announcement but aren’t fully explained. Below are some key terms and meanings that you might have seen recently.

SVC – Scalable Video Coding:
Up until now most major video conferencing manufacturers have built their solutions around AVC (Advanced Video Coding). Essentially AVC and SVC are formats of compression technology that allow high definition video to be sent across networks in an efficient manner. AVC essentially sends video at a one resolution, one frame rate with one level of quality across a network. The weakness with this approach is when there are network issues; quality suffers because the stream is unable to adapt down to different resolutions or frame rates.

Conversely, SVC sends multiple layers and resolutions, while monitoring the network. When problems arise, SVC can essentially peel back layer by layer, adapting to the network environment. The result is smoother video that provides a superior user experience.

1080p30 vs. 1080p60
720 and 1080 refer to the lines of resolution of a high definition video single. If you own a HDTV at home you are generally watching 720 or 1080 content on your screen, usually at 30 frames per second. Essentially the human eye is interpreting 30 images a second to create the motion of the content on TV. Now video conferencing systems are starting to use 60 frames a second; the result is a more lifelike, fluid motion. As these frame rates go up, along with the resolution, the image becomes closer to reality.

B2B
The “holy grail” of video conferencing has been the ability to easily connect to and communicate with vendors, partners, and suppliers. Many of the roadblocks for this type of communication have been technological; either due to interoperability or network issues. The term B2B in the visual collaboration world refers to this type of cross organization connections.

H.323
Delivering video conferencing signals across networks requires a number of elements to be successful. The H.323 protocol is design to be a standard that video conferencing manufacturers use which allows their systems to speak the same language. H.323 controls the audio and video signals, the bandwidth, and call control (alerting you to incoming calls, providing alerts, etc). Major manufacturers such as Polycom, Cisco, and Lifesize offer H.323 systems that can easily communicate with each other.

SIP
Like H.323, SIP is a protocol design to enable the communication and connection of devices across networks. SIP is an older protocol that was designed more for closed systems that would ultimately connect via gateways to other closed systems. Additionally, it is not as robust for adding new features.

Since most people have little to no understanding of legal jargon and legal processes they rely heavily on their attorney to handle things properly. Clients must place a significant amount of faith in their attorney; trusting that he knows what he is doing because it’s impossible to check over his shoulder. For example, at the grocery store you can double check your bill to ensure you were not double charged for items; but how do you know if your lawyer filed the correct paperwork?

Law firms rely heavily on building relationships by staying in touch with clients; and face-to-face communication is a key component. Unfortunately, due to busy schedules of both attorneys and clients it can be difficult to coordinate these meetings and status updates. As a result, many law firms are turning to video conferencing to meet with clients as these solutions provide the face time without the added travel expenses.

Plus, trends in new cloud services are making it easier than ever for clients to connect with law firms. Clients can join the video conference including Skype, Google Video Chat and even their web browser eliminating the need audio conferences or renting public telepresence rooms for clients. Furthermore, even when attorneys are traveling they can still attend critical meetings; such as important client updates or internal meetings to prepare for an upcoming case.

In addition to staying in touch with clients, video conferencing solutions can provide a number of other benefits for law firms. Here are a few more ways law firms can utilize this technology to provide better service to their clients while minimizing costs.

Video Depositions: Preparing for trial can be a lengthy process depending on the number and location of witnesses that need to be deposed. As long as they have a web cam, witnesses can connect to a video deposition without having to travel to the law firm’s office. Additionally, these calls can be recorded and archived so they can be played back as needed.

Subject Matter Expert Interviews: Expert witnesses play a significant role by providing credibility and backup for key evidence and claims. Unfortunately, these specialists can be difficult and costly to access; especially if they are located internationally. Video testimony allows specialists to provide expert opinions that corroborate evidence without the added expense and potential delays of travel.

Coordinate with State Agencies: Earlier this year Michigan Social Security Administration’s (SSA) real-time video conference system went live. Law firms who specialize in disability cases have to work with the SSA on a regular basis; video conferencing can help alleviate some of the redundancy by providing a more efficient processes for handling cases.

Video conferencing offers a wide variety of cost savings and business benefits to law firms; from reducing travel time to increase efficiency and interoffice communication. Firms can strengthen relationships with clients and gain a competitive advantage through superior client services.

Additional Resources
Growing Your Law Firm with Video Conferencing

IBM conducts a biannual study of global CEOs to determine the latest trends in global organizations.  In a HBR chat, Saul Berman and Stephen Hasselmann discuss some of the findings from their recent study. If you have an hour to invest, the recording is well worth the time; otherwise the highlights are available here.

The key takeaway from both the study and the chat is the value of connecting employees, partners and customers. Technology is changing rapidly and the advances that result are changing the business and economic landscape for most companies. We are more connected than ever and the most effective CEOs not only understand this but embrace it.

The study highlights three main beliefs of exceptional CEOs which are:

  • Organizational openness and collaboration
  • Engaging customers as individuals
  • Amplifying innovation with partnerships

Essentially, these CEOs understand that collaboration drives innovation and a shared purpose drives motivation. Providing quarterly updates on company performance, the mission and future goals helps drive an open culture where employees understand and support the company’s vision.  As a result, employees can become more empowered by making task related decisions; such as scheduling collaboration sessions or determining procedures. This results in job enrichment which can increase motivation.

Additionally, these CEOs understand the power of social media and tailoring products and services to individual needs. Engaging with customers allows organizations to improve response and accuracy to market needs. Nilofer Merchant wrote a great series on the Social Era stating that organization need to have conversations with customers; they should be sharing experiences, not telling customer what to think and how to act.

Finally, these CEOs understand that partnerships can push collaboration beyond traditional boundaries. Every organization has a set of core competencies, specific skills that they excel at, and the best CEOs form partnerships around these core competencies. Instead of trying to do everything in-house, they work with other organizations to generate new revenues sources or even create new industries.

However, understanding and embracing the value of connections is useless if an organization does not invest in the tools and resources needed to connect employees to colleagues, customers and business partners. Video conferencing and UC solutions are a critical component of any savvy organization’s IT strategy. These solutions allow people to connect effortlessly, as well as, develop trust and strengthen relationships through face-to-face communication and casual interactions.