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!

In most organizations, highly interactive working sessions not only occur but are considered crucial to the business. Unfortunately, many times subject matter experts and other team members are located different offices. While video conferencing helps, it doesn’t quite offer the level of interactivity needed for high-pressure situations or critical projects.

Picture this: it’s almost 7:30 pm in New York and the Tokyo stock exchange is set to open in about a half an hour; but first, there’s a quick strategy meeting with the Japanese office. There’s a long list of trades that need to happen plus the futures market is looking a little shaky and needs to be discussed.

Everyone takes their seats around the center table while the call automatically connects with Japan. A document with the trades is displayed on the whiteboard and participants located in New York and Japan are making changes back and forth.

When the market finally opens; real-time ticker data is projected on the screen to the right while trade data is being noted on the whiteboard to the left. Carl is slightly stressed out and is pacing around the room watching the ticker and listening to what everyone else is saying.

How is that even possible?

Well, start with a Cisco CTS 1300. Then add a large, interactive SmartBoard and integrate it with Cisco WebEx. Throw in a projector and second display screen for good measure and don’t forget to replace the standard conference table with a few café-height tables.

The end result: An Active Collaboration Room.

This true technology mash-up provides a collaboration experience like none other. Participants are no longer confined to a chair; they can move around as needed, enhancing creativity, inspiration and innovation. Remote participants can share, annotate and create documents as if they were in person; expanding teams to include the best and brightest individuals within an organization. Complex projects are completed faster with improved quality and reduced errors driving efficiency throughout the organization.

The benefits are endless and the collaboration seamless; innovation knows no bounds with a Cisco Active Collaboration Room.

Additional Resources:
Cisco IBSG Whitepaper: Transforming Business Models by Accelerating Distributed Team Performance
Brochure: Active Collaboration Room

I use video on a daily basis whether it’s to collaborate with colleagues, catch up with friends and family out of state or simply say goodnight to my husband when I’m out of town. There is something about connecting face-to-face with someone who is hundreds or thousands of miles away that still amazes me and I’m constantly trying to convert people I know into avid video users.

Unfortunately, I’m still met with a significant amount of resistance from some people who have, what I deem as, irrational fears of video. Here are some of my favorites:

People can (and will) spy on me
I was visiting my family in St. Louis when I went to talk to my mother, who was in her office, and I noticed a piece of paper taped over the top of her laptop. I asked her what it was and she very nonchalantly told me she was covering up the built-in webcam on her computer because she didn’t want people spying on her. I just rolled my eyes and said I was pretty sure her coworkers had better things to do than sit and spy on her.

Yes, it’s possible for someone to hack into your camera to spy on you but, as long as you’re careful, it’s improbable. A few tips to keep yourself safe is to first and foremost turn off any auto-answer capabilities. This applies to consumer and especially enterprise video applications including software clients, personal and room-based endpoints. Second, make sure you are on a secure network, behind a firewall and use a decent antivirus and spyware detection software. Here are a few other tips to keep your webcam from being hacked.

I can’t multitask
Alright this is true; you can’t get away with everything you can on the phone. But let’s face it, you really shouldn’t be multitasking; not only is it rude, it actually decreases productivity. Need proof? Read the HBR blog article How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking. Video essentially forces you to focus on the matters at hand which can lead to enhanced creativity and quicker decisions.

Now, we’ve all had a chatty Cathy talking our ear off when we have about five thousand other things to be doing. It’s difficult to interrupt over audio so you simply put her on mute while you go about your businesses and feign interest here and there. With video it’s easier to escape; simply look at your watch or hold up a finger to catch her attention then let her know you have to run into a meeting or finish up a deliverable that’s due shortly.

Video creeps me out
Personally, I think being able to see someone’s facial expression over video is pretty darn amazing. Unfortunately, I have heard many people say that video is downright creepy. It took me a little while, but I finally understood what they meant – just replace the word creepy with vulnerable. Yes, video is more vulnerable as participants can pick up on visual clues, such as facial expressions, that would otherwise be missed over audio.

I have to admit this does take some getting used to and there are times I would love to roll my eyes or laugh at a ridiculous comment someone made. But, more often than not, being able to see my colleagues’ expressions has helped meetings progress. I can easily tell when they’re following along and when I’ve lost them in a field somewhere.

Now please get over your fears and join me on a video call. Thank you!

Related Articles
Stop Being A Video-phobe Part Deux