If there is one feature in the world of video conferencing technology that has undergone the most improvement over the years, it is the quality of video itself. We have gone from lower resolution images to life-like high definition and immersive telepresence experiences. It is fair to say that when properly configured with the right amount of bandwidth, the quality of video conferencing today is pretty amazing.

What continues to be more challenging is the reach of video conferencing and more specifically, the ability to easily connect to anyone you want. The term B2B refers to video calling between different organizations, but this can include individuals as well.

If you think about your cell phone, you dial the number of anyone you want to reach and simply connect. Unfortunately, video conferencing has not made it to that level of ease and connectivity. But why? Here are some of the hurdles holding video back from achieving total reach, and some solutions.

Network
To achieve the highest level of video conferencing quality, many organizations choose to implement a private network dedicated to video conferencing. The advantage of this is that video is separate from the rest of the organization’s network traffic, ensuring the highest level of picture and sound quality. In addition, many organizations will place their immersive telepresence systems on a network exchange from a telecom or other cloud services provider which provides connectivity to others on the same exchange. Again, the highest level of video and audio quality is available, but the challenge with this setup is that users can typically only talk to other video and telepresence systems on the same network. So if you are on a private network of your own and a partner organization is on a different telecom network exchange, you’re out of luck!

Security
This could be placed under the network category, but security is also a major factor preventing true B2B calling. For organizations that implement video conferencing, firewalls are incredibly important for protecting internal applications and data. Firewalls, however, can cause major issues with video conferencing. Fortunately, the technology offered from many of the video conferencing manufacturers provides the ability to get around this roadblock. Products that enable firewall traversal have made B2B video a little easier to achieve, assuming your network has connections to the public internet.

Mobility
With the introduction of camera equipped mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, video conferencing has an entirely new audience. The problem that presents itself is the ability to get these mobile users connected in a standard B2B conference. With so many users taking advantage of these devices, it is incredibly important to make these connections possible. Fortunately, a number of cloud services have been brought to market to address this issue.

Process & Expertise
Perhaps even more challenging than the technology and network issues of B2B video conferencing are the issues of process and expertise. Even if networks are able to connect to one another and firewalls are properly configured, there are still challenges on how to physically dial another system, how to ensure audio and video flow seamlessly, and how to bring mobile devices into the loop. On top of all of these challenges, how do you determine who is on what exchange, who you need to talk to for support on connecting those exchanges, and how do you make sure your iPad is connected as well? Organizations must build processes and have the expertise to execute on these challenges. This can be built internally or outsourced to a managed service provider.

There are many challenges to B2B calling, but the technology is constantly evolving and there is hardly a day without a new announcement bringing new innovation to connecting disparate technology and networks. With the pace of this change it’s only a matter of time before true B2B video calling is ubiquitous.

 

Norm Goes to Japan

July 27th, 2012 | Posted by Lisa Avvocato in Tips & Tricks - (0 Comments)

Guess what? We finally closed the Japanese bank deal! It’s been a bumpy ride the past few months but on the bright side I’ve learned how to distinguish between about sixteen different types of hmmms.

Let me back up a little.

Prior to my first meeting with the bank’s executive team I sat down with my sales manager Tom to discuss our strategy. He explained that business was conducted differently in Eastern cultures than it was in Western cultures. In the first meeting, the initial focus is on establishing a relationship by understanding each other’s needs rather than simply discussing different products and services.

He also told me that when we exchanged business cards to make sure I took each business card with two hands and looked at it for a couple seconds before putting it away. Simply taking it and putting it away is considered disrespectful.

I felt pretty confident going into the first meeting but left feeling extremely frustrated because we barely got anything accomplished and I was sure they were not interested. But a few days later they set up an additional meeting so I guess they were.

Anyway, at one point during the second meeting, the CEO asked if our software could perform a specific function. I was getting ready to say no when Tom interjected saying that it would be very difficult but he would look into it. The rest of the meeting went this way and I was so confused. Every time a question was asked, the answer was either that is something we can accommodate or that will be very difficult.

What happened to a simple yes or no?

After the meeting, I asked Tom what was going on and he shed some light on the situation. Apparently, Japan is a very high context culture; answers are situational instead of explicit. Saving face in front of peers is extremely important and the word “no” is almost never used. It is better to use phrases like that will be difficult or we will have to think about it. Basically, how things were said was more important than what was said so I needed to pay more attention to how they were saying things.

It took a few more meetings but I finally was able to distinguish when my points were received favorably, when they were not interested (fyi “we’re considering it” means we’re not so move on), and when they simply needed a few moments for personal reflection. It was completely exhausting but we were finally able to tailor our offering to their needs and close the deal!

As more and more business move their primary IT and other functions to the cloud there is one issue that is always present; security. It is similar to the early days of online shopping and banking when many consumers were concerned that anyone could gain access to their credit card number or bank account information. But, over the years we have learned that while online banking and shopping is not 100% bullet-proof (frankly nothing really is); it really is quite secure.

With the move to the cloud, security is an ever-present topic for conversation, and it should be. There is a certain leap of faith that occurs when an organization moves a system or function off their premise or control to someone else’s data center and custody. Recently, however, there was a report issued that sent a pretty strong message surrounding the cloud and security.

On May 15th, the White House’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) issued a report on cloud computing to the president. The main topic of discussion was should the government consider moving vital systems to the cloud and what are the implications for areas such as national security (NS) and emergency preparedness (EP)?

The report weighs in at over 100 pages but the overall message direct from the report’s executive summary says “Conceivably any NS/EP process, including the most sensitive matters, could be moved to “some kind of” cloud, given proper attention to architectural and security decisions. The key qualifier in this judgment relates to the choice of deployment and service model, each seen in the context of the specific mission to be migrated.”

Additionally, the report adds, “At the highest level of summarization, the NSTAC’s response is that if and when cloud computing can demonstrate a regime of policy, legal authority, security, and oversight that is comparably rigorous, complete, and trustworthy relative to those currently in place for NS/EP activities via legacy means, then the response is “yes.” In so doing, efforts must focus on implementing recommendations designed to permit cloud computing to operate at that level in regard to NS/EP.”

As one reads through the report it becomes quite clear that the government is taking the cloud seriously and sees its application for redundancy, disaster recovery, and flexibility as its key strengths. One could simply stop there and say, if it’s good enough for the government, it’s good enough for me! Clearly that is not a strategy that any organization will find acceptable for vetting their system security in the cloud.

Let’s take a look at video conferencing and visual collaboration. What are the areas of concern and security implications for these systems?

  1. Network – a major concern for any network administrator is a hacker or other outside influence gaining access to a private network. With infrastructure and other technology in the cloud, secure VPNs and other connections may be established, virtually linking your locations with the cloud data center. To ensure that there are no intrusions, proper firewalls must be in place and security policies must exist that prevent the exposure of IP addresses and other network information.
  2. The Room – there have been more stories about conference rooms being hacked. This was accomplished by gaining access to room IP addresses in addition to the auto answer feature being enabled on individual conferencing systems. When hosted in the cloud, the network measures mentioned above can help to reduce or likely eliminate any security threats to the room.
  3. Infrastructure – Organizations want to ensure that outsiders can’t simply gain access and start using ports for their own nefarious reasons, especially with a bridge. A strict policy of IP address security, conference pins, and authentication can ensure that bridges are locked down and only used for the purpose that they were intended for.

Visual collaboration is only one of thousands of functions that can be moved to the cloud. With the government looking so closely at the cloud, it makes sense to examine your organization’s systems in the same way the White House did. When taking all of these considerations into account you can feel confident that your cloud hosted system is secure and will perform to the highest standards possible.

Additional Resources:

Big Brother Can’t Watch You in the Cloud
NSTAC Report to the President on Cloud Computing

Social collaboration, a combination of social media, visual collaboration and unified communications, is becoming a significant trend in business today. When used together, these technologies can improve products or processes and ultimately drive true innovation which has a direct impact on a firm’s bottom line. This is the final post in a series discussing the benefits of social collaboration. For part one click here.

Customer needs are changing faster than the weather these days and companies have to find new ways to adapt; otherwise they will simply fade away. Pushing products or services upon customers, à la advertising or herded cattle, is no longer an effective business model. Technological innovations have changed the way consumers think, act and shop; however, they have also made it easier for companies to develop relationships with their customers.

Why should companies care about developing relationships?

Three words: customer lifetime value. The stronger the relationship a customer has with a brand the higher their loyalty, their retention and ultimately their sales. Having conversations with customers over social media and listening to their thoughts, opinions and ideas can help form a solid foundation for a relationship. Similarly, utilizing video technologies for customer service or technical support can help establish trust with consumers as video almost humanizes the company in customer eyes.

Furthermore, strong customer relationships can help drive innovation. The more companies converse with customers and the stronger the relationship is; the more apt customers are to provide honest feedback. This not only helps companies fix product flaws but allows them to stay in tune with market needs and opportunities.

Companies can collaborate with customers to create products and services that are perfectly aligned with market needs. Product development cycles can be sped up through beta versions of a product where customers provide feedback on their likes and dislikes and offer suggestions on how to make the product better. According to Nilofer Merchant in the HBR article Rules for the Social Era, “the social object that most unites people is a shared value or purpose.”

A shared value or purpose can be creating or modifying a product to satisfy a market need. People love to be the first to try something new; even more, they love giving feedback so they can say they helped create a product.  Unified communications solutions have given a new meaning to the word focus group; companies can easily set up forums for customers to give their thoughts on beta versions. This is far more cost effective, and provides better results, than hiring a few engineers and product development specialists to test all aspects of a product before mass-marketing it.

Collaboration with customers allows companies to stay agile and ahead of new trends. It helps ensure they are meeting customer needs by constantly making improvements or trying new ideas to create new niche markets. Collaboration helps companies stay relevant which really is the key to staying in the forefront of customers’ minds.

This post is part of a series covering the benefits of social collaboration within an organization.

Part One: The Rise of Social Collaboration
Part Two: Unified Communications, Unified People
Part Three: The Power of Business Partnerships

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other consumer devices, employers are now dealing with a high demand from employees to not only allow BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but also to provide the tools and support needed to integrate these devices into new and existing business technologies.

One major area of interest is mobile video conferencing. Due to the many options available, it is important to define a clear strategy to ultimately drive usage and adoptions. While there are many areas of the business to consider, here are five key ones to begin with when defining your strategy.

What’s the end game?
It is important to understand what the goals of implementing mobile video are. Is it about connecting remote teams no matter where they are located? Is there a travel expense reduction component to it? Or, is it providing visual feedback to manufacturing floors and production plans? No matter what the goals are, it is important, as Stephen Covey would say, to “begin with the end in mind.”

Usage & Adoption
The worst thing that could happen to a mobile video strategy is that time and monetary investments are made, but no one uses the technology. It is imperative to consider the end user experience from initial setup to day-to-day usage. Any mobile strategy should include a comprehensive usage and adoption program that focuses on internal communications, training, on-going awareness, and user feedback.

Technology Management
Do not underestimate the task of managing the technology (mobile devices) and any infrastructure involved. Depending upon your environment, servers may require software updates, user devices may require software and security tweaks, and remote networks may need to be configured properly. As part of the strategy, ensure there is a clearly defined technology plan that takes all of these areas into account. Without this, the technology could fail and create end user disappointment and negative sentiment towards mobile video.

Extending Existing Services
If your organization already uses video conferencing in boardrooms and/or desktops, it’s important to ensure the mobile technology can integrate seamlessly. This should not be an issue if you plan on using tablet and smartphone applications from the major video conferencing manufacturers. However, if part of the plan calls for the integration of consumer video applications such as Skype or Google Video Chat, additional services and processes will be needed to bridge the gap between professional and free applications.

User Base
Another key decision will be who do you want to give mobile video access to? Organizations with a BYOD approach may think that since users are providing the technology, they might as well extend mobile video to everyone.  However, while ubiquitous video can only help to increase collaboration and efficiency in an organization, managing it can be a huge undertaking. If your plan is to provide the service to all, begin with a small key user group who can test and help work out the bugs. Those users can then be empowered to train other users within the organization. This “train the trainer” approach saves time by pushing training out faster, as well as, saves the cost of involving the technology group in training every person within the organization.

Mobile video conferencing has improved the way people can work. When heading down a path of implementation, make sure you create a comprehensive plan that examines all areas of your business and what will be needed for success. If the proper planning is done the roll-out will be easier and your user base will be happily engaged!