With all the buzz around unified communications including new product releases, features, acquisitions and more, it’s easy to forget the why of UC and how it can benefit an organization. In this series of posts we will examine some of the key areas of UC and what the business benefit can be. For part one click here.

Now that we have examined what some of the key features of UC solutions are, it’s important to understand who are the major players in the market and what solutions they offer. While many of these solutions have been on the market for some time; others are new and constantly evolving.

Microsoft
Microsoft has been providing UC solutions in some form for over ten years. Microsoft’s Exchange platform (which powers around 65% of corporate email systems) has had messaging capabilities since the early versions. In 2003, Microsoft released Office Communications Server which has since evolved into Microsoft Lync. Lync has shown strong growth and interest from customers, and Microsoft recently announced that the Lync business unit has seen 40%+ growth. The solution offers what you would expect from a UC platform: presence, instant messaging, screen sharing and conferencing, video, voice, and more. In addition, Lync integrates closely with Outlook and Exchange to allow for unified messaging. Essentially email, voicemail, chat, and other communications all live within your Outlook desktop.

As part of Microsoft’s video strategy, Lync is heavily integrated with the Polycom video conferencing portfolio. From the Lync client, a user can seamlessly connect to a Polycom video system or join a multi-party conference via a Polycom bridge.

Cisco
Cisco has been offering unified communications solutions for quite some time. Jabber is the most recent and robust UC offering and integrates technology from WebEx, its voice products, Cisco Unified Presence and more. As with other offerings in the marketplace, Jabber has functionality around instant messaging and presence, voice, video conferencing and more. Of particular note with Jabber is that Cisco offers clients across multiple devices, including PC and Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android devices.

For customers who previously used Movi video conferencing from Cisco, this product has been renamed Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence.

IBM
IBM offers Sametime as its UC offering. Sametime provides the same features previously mentioned in other solutions: instant messaging, presence, online meetings (think WebEx), mobile, and voice. Sametime makes the UC experience more social by integrating with IBM’s social collaboration tools such as IBM WebSpere and IBM Connections. With this integration, users are able to initiate collaboration sessions within the context of their current project or assignment. For example, when reviewing documents hosted on an IBM social product for a particular project, a user can initiate a chat with an assigned team member to discuss that particular deliverable.

Avaya
Avaya offers multiple UC solutions including best-of-breed solutions that integrate with many of the tools currently available in the marketplace. Avaya’s most integrated option is Avaya Flare. Flare integrates conferencing, web collaboration, social media, presence, IM, video and more into a single interface. Perhaps one of the most compelling features of Flare is that the interface is identical across PCs, iPads, or even an Avaya Desktop Video Device (a result of Avaya’s acquisition of video conferencing manufacturer Radvision).

The Unified Communications market continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace. There are clearly a number of strong offerings available for any size organization. When evaluating these solutions it is important to look not only at the key features but also how it can integrate into your current environment.

 This post is part of a series on unified communications solutions.

Part One: What’s in the Box?

On September 20th, IVCi hosted a webinar presented by the Aberdeen Group that focused on travel expense management and the power of video conferencing to significantly reduce expenses. Christopher Dwyer, analyst, offered some compelling data about how best-in-class organizations have been able to reduce travel and meeting spend by incredible amounts.

SLIDES PRESENTED:

WEBINAR RECORDING:

The proliferation of unified communications solutions, such as Microsoft Lync, Cisco Jabber and IBM Sametime, has extended collaboration to employees around the world. These solutions offer many advantages, including ease of use and enhanced mobility; however, they also present a few key challenges including moving the UC experience from the desktop into the conference room.

Trying to connect a team of local participants with remote participants can be difficult using a desktop video solution. Crowding around a colleague’s PC gets extremely uncomfortable, not to mention it deteriorates the audio and visual quality of the meeting. On the other hand, having each participant join individually can become overwhelming and push the limits of cloud video bridging solutions.

After hearing these issues, our engineering team created a unique solution to easily bring unified communications to the conference room. UC Group systems are configurable, PC-based solutions that allow an organization to extend their desktop video client into a conference room setting. Anything from screen sharing to video conferencing can be accomplished with the click of a button.

Video is obtained through a PC card located in the display or from a local laptop or PC connection and displayed on the screen. Essentially, end users would connect to a video call in the same way and with the same application they would use on their computer. Then participants partake in a video conference with audio and visual quality similar to that of a traditional video conference room.

Enhanced mobility features allow end-users to connect their laptop and wheel the cart between rooms. As a result, any conference room can become a video-enabled room! Plus, with easy content display options, UC Group systems can double as presentation rooms when video is not in use. Additional features include:

  • Power management capabilities that automatically turn the display on and off
  • Fixed or pan/tilt/zoom camera to accommodate smaller or larger groups
  • Table or ceiling microphones for enhanced audio
  • Cisco WebEx integration for webinars or other web conferences
  • Connect up to 25 software or hardware video systems with Multipoint Experience

The UC Room and UC Mobile are platform agnostic and can run on any software video client including Microsoft Lync, Cisco Jabber, Polycom CMA/m100, Skype and Google Video Chat. These solutions enhance an organization’s UC platform or consumer video solution by accommodating larger groups and allowing participants to reap the benefits of a traditional video conferencing room without significant upfront investments.

Video conferencing has made it easier for managers to lead remote employees as well as enhance team cohesion among remote members. However, simply holding video calls will not guarantee a successful remote team. It requires additional time and effort to develop relationships and motivate team members who are scattered around the globe. One of the biggest challenges remote leaders face is overcoming a lack of visibility.

Managers of remote teams can’t take a walk around the office to see how their team is doing nor can team members pop by for a quick chat or clarification. For example, consider a scenario where an employee is hung up on one aspect of the project. It’s nothing major, the numbers just aren’t adding up correctly or everything seems to be in place but the program just isn’t running properly.

A local team member might signal his boss when she walks by and ask for a second set of eyes. They can take a look together, quickly spot the issue and the employee can move along on the project. Unfortunately, remote team members and managers do not have this luxury. A fully deployed UC platform can help by allowing a team member to ping his boss over instant messaging and then shift to a video conference to resolve the issue. However, if their manager does not seem available or team members do not feel comfortable with their boss they might continue to work on the problem themselves.

Developing relationships through face-to-face interactions is absolutely critical for remote leaders. Managers should proactively reach out to their remote teams to check in, ask how things are going or if there is anything they have questions about. These informal interactions not only help put team members at ease but develop a sense of trust by increasing a manager’s viability. When an employee has a question or needs a second set of eyes on a project they feel comfortable quickly reaching out to the manager.

Additionally, due to limited visibility, it is critical for remote leaders to not only have a clear vision in place but ensure each team member fully understands and supports the vision. The vision is what gives employees direction when their managers are not around and can help them make decisions without constantly checking in for approval.

For example, when developing the product packaging and promotional messaging for a new product a team member might have a choice between a cost-effective option and a higher-quality option. If the manager has clearly articulated the vision for the product is high quality the team member can make the decision on their own by selecting the higher-quality packaging material.

When setting the vision it is important to engage all remote team members. Allowing them to be part of the vision creation helps develop team spirit and cohesion, as well as, inspire team members individually.

Fashion is considered an art form to many people and New York City’s semi-annual Fashion Week is the event of the season. More than 500 fashion shows attract over 230,000 attendees as people gather from around the world to view the latest creations from New York’s top designers. In fact, according to a statement from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fashion Week generates an economic impact of $865 million annually.

The pressure to produce and present high-quality, unique garments is felt by everyone from the designers to seamstresses, fabric providers, models and modeling agencies, and more. Fashion changes faster than almost any other industry; therefore, the ability to produce the right designs with the right quality at the right time is critical for success.

It’s no wonder that design houses, like Tommy Hilfiger, are turning to video conferencing solutions to support their operations. Communicating with seamstresses and sending fabrics and designs back and forth can become cumbersome; not to mention expensive, when using an international courier. Telepresence solutions eliminate many of these challenges by allowing designers to stay in contact with suppliers all over the world.

With high definition systems, designers can see the quality of fabrics and clothing samples down to the actual stitch. They can browse fabric rolls and choose prints as if they were walking through the warehouse resulting in a quicker selection process. Since the feel of fabric is of utmost importance, samples of selected fabrics can then be sent to the designer for final selection and approval.

After fabrics have been selected, samples of the clothing designs must be created by seamstresses. Telepresence allows designers to give directions while seamstresses pin alterations in real-time to ensure the garments align perfectly with their vision. The misinterpretation of comments and alterations from communication or cultural barriers can be avoided. Plus, it significantly reduces the cost and time of sending samples back and forth reducing the time required to finalize designs and get them into production.

While clothing collections are the spotlight of Fashion Week, there is just as much to do when planning a show. Selecting the right models is critical to ensure the collection is displayed properly. In addition to proper fit, skin tone must accent garment colors for optimal impact. Design houses can use video to pre-screen models in the same way corporations use it to screen job applicants. As a result, designers can easily approve model selection while finishing the last minute details of their collection.

In the fast-paced and ever changing fashion world; designers must find new ways to stay in touch with consumer needs and create collections in an efficient and effective manner.