This past week people from all over the world attended the Cisco Collaboration Summit for a variety of updates on Cisco’s strategy and product offerings. This year’s theme was Empower, Engage, Innovate. Empower people to make the best use of their workspaces and engage in today’s virtual work environment through mobility, cloud and video. The result is to innovate by discovering new relationships and ideas. Watch the powerful keynote speech along with a case study from Virgin Media here.

The highlight of the keynote speech was a demonstration of the major enhancements to WebEx resulting in a full-scale unified communications solution.

WebEx Meetings, the online meeting application we’ve used for years, still provides an interactive forum for groups to meet and exchange ideas. The major addition to the offering is WebEx Meetings Server. For the first time, an organization can choose to deploy the same WebEx Meetings functionality within their data center on a dedicated server. This allows for greater control and a private cloud implementation.

WebEx Telepresence (formerly Callway) enhances traditional WebEx Meetings with video capabilities. Features include point-to-point video chat or up to nine-way video calling, as well as, a private company directory.

WebEx Messenger provides instant messaging and presence capabilities which includes recommended methods of communications. For example, if a user is on a video call, it will suggest sending an email or leaving a voicemail.

WebEx Social (formerly Quad) provides a social hub within an organization and facilitates collaboration and knowledge sharing. For example, users can type in a project or a question and obtain a list of results. Furthermore, users can seamlessly connect to others within the application from a click of a button.

In a compelling case study, Virgin Media discussed how a combination of these solutions helped enhance both vertical and horizontal collaboration within their organization. Vertical collaboration is enhancing collaboration with the same people users already collaborate with. Horizontal collaboration, on the other hand, creates new opportunities for people to collaborate by expanding the network of people available to collaborate with.

Room based telepresence systems, along with WebEx UC solutions, create a more efficient means of collaboration by connecting a larger and more diverse group of people. The results include increased collaboration along with faster and more agile business decisions.

Additional Resources
Cisco Announces New Cloud Collaboration Capabilities

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.

Yesterday Polycom held a press event at NASDAQ to announce a bevy of products and offerings. This event was the culmination of several years of R&D and the announcements signaled Polycom’s strategic direction for the next several years. Specifically, the announcements surrounded room and personal based video conferencing systems, as well as, new software based solutions and cloud offerings. Specific announcements included:

Move to SVC
Polycom is moving to an open source version of SVC (Scalable Video Coding).  What is particular interesting about this is not only is Polycom gaining the feature benefits of SVC (1080p60, bandwidth scalability, etc), they are also offering up their SVC implementation free to the marketplace. Microsoft has already started working this into their next version of Lync (2013).

New Room Systems
The RealPresence Group Series is a new collection of room based video conferencing endpoints designed for the middle market. These solutions feature the new Polycom UX (User Experience) which is a redesigned interface for the systems that is shared across the entire product line. The new interface makes it easier to schedule and use the systems. In addition, these solutions will offer the SVC codec out of the box.

New Desktop Solution
The RealPresence Desktop solution is Polycom’s software based endpoint supporting both Windows and Mac based operating systems. This solution combines the best of Polycom’s m100 software and CMA managed solution into a single client. The application can run independent or as a part of Polycom’s management tools, enabling infinite scalability. In addition, this app has been enabled with the new SVC codec.

Updated Mobile Solution
Polycom’s RealPresence Mobile is being upgraded to version 2.0. This new release (for both Android and iOS Devices) brings several new features including SmartPairing (the ability for the device to control room systems as well as seamlessly transfer video calls from one device to another), as well as, support for SVC, the new interface introduced in the rest of Polycom’s offerings and compatibility with Polycom’s new Access Director software.

RealPresence Access Director
Access Director is Polycom’s new solution for enabling video within and beyond your firewall.
From Polycom: “RealPresence® Access Director™ is a software-based edge server that enables users within and beyond the firewall to securely access video services—whether at home, in the office, or on the go.”

RealPresence Collaboration Servers
Polycom introduced several key enhancements to their MCU (multipoint control unit) product line that enables SVC, 1080p60, and many other options. In addition, the 800s, Virtual Edition is designed to run purely as a software based solution on industry standard X86 processors.  This opens up an entire new world of virtualized delivery options.

RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite
CloudAXIS brings Polycom’s solution for enabling video connectivity between business level solutions and consumer applications such as Skype and Google Video Chat. The solution is built around a web browser that enables participants to join video calls with nothing more than a webcam. CloudAXIS interfaces with Skype and Google “buddy” lists allowing for easy drag and drop call setup. A user can simply grab a Skype friend, a business connection on a standards based video system, and a Google contact, drag them onto the screen and a call is immediately launched. Polycom is offering this solution to their partners who can then offer a cloud based, subscription model to sell to their customers.

Whew! There was a lot announced yesterday and there is a lot more to come. Over the next week few weeks we will focus on the different solutions, the benefits they offer and how they can impact organizations.