The Milton Hershey School recently announced that it will extend its Hershey Learn to Grow Ghana Distance Learning program, which launched last fall. The program connects students in Hershey, Pennsylvania with students in Assin Fosu, a rural town in central Ghana and allows students to explore each other’s culture; such as important events or special occasions that are celebrated.

David Bruce, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Milton Hershey School, said “we believe this new approach will be more meaningful and provide a deeper understanding for the students of what it’s like to live in each country.”

Additionally, in a touching story, Ed Schermerhorn of Cisco recounts his experience of the first telepresence call between the two countries. After dealing with a power outage that was resolved by a standby generator, he describes how watching the students in Ghana and Hershey interact made it worth it. “All it took was a vision and a team of dedicated people to open doors that these students had never imagined were possible,” Schermerhorn stated.

It’s truly amazing how video conferencing technology can break through previous geographical barriers and connect people around the world. Distance learning programs that facilitate the interactions between students from different countries allow students to gain a better understanding of different cultures and provide them with experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Students are able to discuss topics and listen to points of view from a different perspective which helps promote tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. Some of the best ideas come from bringing together people from different backgrounds. That’s an important lesson for students to learn and businesses to remember.

*Photo courtesy of Dan Gleiter. View the entire photo gallery here.

The past year has been full of exciting announcements in the video conferencing and visual collaboration industry. The industry is rapidly changing and 2012 was a particularly noteworthy year for video conferencing. The term ubiquity was thrown around more than ever before due to increased access to video solutions . Here are some particularly noteworthy announcements and trends from 2012.

Greater Interoperability
Always a hot topic, interoperability continued to be a major trend in 2012. The Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), of which Polycom was a founding member, continued to expand its membership; and in late 2012, the first services that connect its members’ clouds became available. This was a major step to breaking down barriers between video conferencing and telecom providers.

Video Conferencing in Your Browser
The introduction of HTML5 and WebRTC have made video conferencing widely available by allowing participants to video conference directly from their browser. Participants no longer have to download software and set up different accounts for different platforms. This provides numerous opportunities for business-to-consumer video conferencing. Blue Jeans greatly enhanced its service this year with a browser connection option.

Higher Quality Mobile Video
Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are being equipped with better cameras on the front of the device making high quality video more readily accessible. Users no longer have to sacrifice quality for mobility; as long as they have a solid internet connection, users can have the best of both worlds. Both the iPhone and iPad were updated to include 720p resolution on their front cameras.

Pervasiveness of Cloud Services
Cloud services have become one of the biggest trends in 2012. Cloud services play a major role in business continuity by providing an extra layer of redundancy. Additionally, these services help expand an organization’s network by easily connecting remote employees. The cloud has also been incredibly powerful in expanding interoperability.

Nintendo and Vidyo Partnership
In a revolutionary announcement, Nintendo announced that the Wii U will support point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. This has the possibility to represent the largest deployment of living room video conferencing systems in history and truly makes video available to the masses.

Polycom
Polycom continued to shift its focus to software and cloud based services. In October, Polycom made a slew of announcements that included new room endpoints, mobile applications, software based infrastructure, and most notability, its CloudAXIS suite. This solution (another browser based option) enables users to video conference with anyone on their social contact list including Facebook, Google Chat, Skype, and more. The user simply drags their contacts into a window, clicks connect and each participant receives a link on whatever service they are logged into.

Cisco
In 2012, Cisco continued to expand its collaboration footprint beyond video conferencing. Key announcements included the expansion of their WebEx offering, as well as, moving its Quad offering (a social collaboration tool) to the WebEx brand. Expect Cisco to unveil a slew of new video offerings in 2013.

This past year has been significant for the world of visual collaboration. As we move to 2013 (provided the world doesn’t end tomorrow), the industry will continue to grow and evolve. Each announcement and service has the potential to bring the true video ubiquity that many have envisioned.

 

 

When you think about collaboration what comes to mind? Perhaps you see a bunch of colleagues sitting around a table talking about different ideas or topics. Maybe you see a presentation or document displayed while meeting participants make comments and take notes. On the other hand, you might see a person standing by the whiteboard writing down ideas for new products, positioning strategy, or other key business decisions that need to be made. Participants are generally confined to their chairs; especially if they’re meeting over video and need to stay within view of the camera.

However, collaboration and the creativity that results in innovation is much messier – for lack of a better word. Not only do participants need to get up and walk around, they frequently jump from one topic or document to another topic or document. Ideas need to be voiced, and more importantly, written down as quickly as possible before their train of thought has vanished.

A new set of collaboration tools and technologies are being developed to help enhance the interactive aspect of collaboration. Participants will be able to work together effortlessly, whether they’re located in the same room or across the globe. The future of collaboration will be more dynamic and intuitive; the tools will help organize the mess without removing the freedom needed to inspire creativity.

Here is a look at some of the new technologies that will help shape the future of collaboration by making it more interactive and engaging.

  • SMART Freestorm solutions are a combination of interactive whiteboards and displays that allow participants to display documents, videos or websites then write over them with digital ink. Multiple participants can work on the same content simultaneously and annotate each other’s documents regardless of location. All ideas and notes can then be saved and emailed to anyone that needs them eliminating the need for someone taking notes separately on the computer, or worse, having to take a picture of the whiteboard each time you need to erase it for more space.
  • Cisco’s Active Collaboration Room adds another layer of interactivity by freeing remote participants from the confines of a chair. The room fosters an engaging environment by allowing participants to stand up and move around the room all while being captured by video. Additionally, enhancements to Cisco WebEx allow participants to create and annotate documents in real time through interactive whiteboards while still maintaining the highest level of audio and video quality.
  • Cyviz Bizwall takes collaboration to the next level by providing a high resolution, wide display that allows meeting participants to add and switch between different sources of content. Multiple sources can be displayed simultaneously; plus the system can be enabled for stereo 3D and rotated systems. Participants can not only see granular details in product quality but also view “the big picture” for product renderings or building plans.

All three of these solutions offer unique value and help transform collaboration for both local and remote participants. Collaboration becomes more dynamic as the technology eliminates inefficiencies like multiple working documents or having a designated note taker. These solutions also allow remote teams to work together in a more realistic way by combining the visual aspect of video conferencing with the interactivity needed for content creation.

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!

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