Manufacturing relies on efficiency more so than any other industry. Being able to decrease the cost of goods sold by just one or two cents per unit can translate into a significant increase in profits. Many companies have begun outsourcing their manufacturing overseas for lower labor costs; however as products become increasingly complex and technical, a brighter and more technically sophisticated workforce is needed. As a result, the United States is starting to expand in manufacturing jobs. In fact, Apple recently announced that it plans to start manufacturing some of their Mac computers in the US.

Video conferencing and unified communications solutions can help US manufacturers drive efficiencies and remain competitive with global competitors. Here are just a few examples:

Hiring the Right People:
In a recent HBR article, Scott Erker states that manufacturing profits come from a company’s ability to “make the best use of technology to flexibly create high-quality products with continual process improvements and few accidents.” Therefore, US manufacturers need to hire “technically sophisticated, adaptable, engaged workers who are self-motivated to learn.”

Video conferencing allows hiring managers to screen applicants in a more effective manner, especially those located in different cities or even states. Conducting the first interview over video allows hiring managers to distinguish facial expressions and other non-verbal clues which can help determine whether or not the applicant will be a fit for the company.

Employee Training & Development:
Using complex machinery and technical equipment requires a significant amount of training for the most efficient and effective results. Video conferencing and unified communication tools can be used to enhance employee training and development. Streaming video can provide a consistent experience for training sessions, policy updates and other company messages while reaching multiple employees simultaneously.

Coordinate with Suppliers:
A key to efficient manufacturing is to build in redundancy for raw materials and source components from multiple suppliers in multiple geographic locations. Maintaining quality and consistency can be challenging and requires consistent communication with suppliers. Video conferencing solutions can be used to coordinate with suppliers, verify product quality and negotiate contracts without the added expense and hassle of business travel.

Green Initiatives:
Manufacturing places a significant strain on environmental resources due to the high consumption of energy and other natural resources needed to operate manufacturing equipment. Video conferencing solutions can help minimize a company’s carbon footprint by reducing airline and automobile travel to the plant without sacrificing face-to-face meetings.

Additional Resources:
Manufacturers Stay Ahead of the Competition with Video Conferencing

Audio Visual integrated environments such as boardrooms, huddle rooms, classrooms, and more offer an incredible array of technology that can be easily controlled by a single user. However, as easy as these rooms can be, and as important of a business tool they are, sometimes things just don’t go very well. It may be that the room was setup poorly, without proper attention being paid to acoustics, lighting and the overall integration of the disparate technologies installed. It may also be that the room is getting older and technology is beginning to fail.

Setting up a conference room for the weekly sales meeting shouldn’t be a chore. Here are five indicators that it may be time to call in an experienced AV integrator to get things back on track:

  1. When you walk into the conference room you’ve grown accustom to pulling down the shades and taping a large piece of white paper over the back window. If you don’t do this the video conferencing system shows a body and a glowing head that no one on the other side can make out. Most likely, when the room was designed no one paid attention to the overall lighting of the room; and controls for the shades were not integrated into the control panel.
  2. The room has a touch control interface but when you push the option for video conference, the TV starts showing CNN Headline News. You are then forced to manually change the input options on your displays to get the video conference going. The equipment in the room was most likely changed around without updating the control programming to offset the new technology.
  3. A video call manages to connect but the participants on the far end of the conference room table either have to yell across the table or someone has to pass the microphone down in order for the other side to hear. The furniture in the room was most likely rearranged and a larger table was brought in, however microphone quantity and placement was not updated.
  4. Displaying content on a local screen (such as a presentation) requires users to run a cable across the table, under 3 chairs, and over a large plant in order to reach their laptop.  At least one time per meeting someone trips over the cable, pulls the content, nearly damages the laptop and almost breaks an ankle. Cables were not properly run through the wall conduit and no one has checked to see if it can be redone.
  5. The displays flicker when they are turned on unless they are hit on the side a few times and every so often you have to unplug them for 30 seconds and plug them back in. Most likely, the displays are old and beginning to fail but are no longer covered under a maintenance or warranty plan.

An audio visual integrated room is like a living, breathing entity; it requires care and consideration not only during the initial design phase, but throughout its life. If you are experiencing any of the above issues or some other annoyance, the room itself could be hampering your organization’s productivity. Seek out an experienced audio visual integrator who can update your room into a collaborative powerhouse, allowing you to focus on the business at hand while the technology to fades into the background.

Last week Nintendo released the Wii U, the successor to the revolutionary Wii game console. The newest addition supports point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. Ofer Shapiro, Vidyo CEO, discussed bringing video conferencing to the masses along with the benefits of the Nintendo partnership. However, there have been several comments around whether or not this was the right decision for Vidyo and what this means for the ubiquity of video.

Is deploying a business solution to the masses through a video game going to dilute the brand? You most likely wouldn’t conduct business video call in your living room and you certainly wouldn’t put a video game console in the boardroom.

If that’s the case, won’t this partnership hurt Vidyo more than it helps?

The short answer is no because it opens up a significant realm of possibilities to connect businesses to consumers. Take telehealth for instance; have you ever woken up in the morning with a slight pain in your side and immediately thought what if I have appendicitis? Don’t you wish you could quickly ask a healthcare professional if there’s anything to be concerned about instead of Googling your symptoms and ending up with appendicitis or an abdominal tumor?

Many health insurance companies currently offer 24 hour medical hotlines with access to medical professionals. Unfortunately, without being able to visually see the patient they can only offer limited advice. By connecting over video, the healthcare professionals can more accurately provide advice on certain medical conditions.

For example, Max twists his ankle playing outside and instead of going to the hospital his parents connect over video to a healthcare professional. The doctor asks Max to move his foot and rate the pain, along with a series of other tests, and determines he has just twisted his ankle. The doctor then recommends icing and wrapping Max’s ankle and taking Tylenol as needed for pain. Alternatively, the doctor could decide it might be a more serious issue and Max should go to the hospital for x-rays.

Other possibilities include tutoring sessions where students can connect over video for help with their math homework, instructor led workout classes, or even customer support. Think of the dad trying to build his child’s bicycle and having a couple “extra” pieces. He can easily call in via video, show the support agent the piece and find out where exactly it goes.

Up until this point consumer based, living room video conferencing systems have failed to catch on due to several factors including price and utility. The Wii, however, is a game platform that just happens to have video functionality. This could lead to explosive usage and the endless possibilities noted above.

Of course, interoperability presents a major challenge at the moment. There’s a slight possibility that putting the Wii in offices across the country may lead to a minor decrease in productivity. If Vidyo develops a business or desktop video client that interoperates with Wii the lines between consumer and business video will blur significantly and put us one step closer to true video ubiquity.

Distance learning programs are rapidly increasing in popularity as colleges and universities try to reach a wider array of students. Potential students scattered around the globe generally select a school that is geographically continent because they cannot relocate simply to attend school. Additionally, part-time graduate students find it difficult to attend class on a weekly basis due to work commitments, child care coordination, and the plethora of other things that come up in their busy lives.

Unfortunately, even though distance learning programs are growing in popularity, many continue to lack the interactive experience that facilitates true learning. For example, two years ago I took an accounting class online to fulfill one of the requirements for my MBA. The class consisted of self-paced video tutorials, online message boards where we were required to discuss current events related to accounting and an online chat room where we could ask our professor questions about our homework assignments in real time.

The video tutorials were essentially PowerPoint slides with sound clips; however, I found myself having to replay sections three or four times because my mind would start wandering to other things. It is extremely difficult to focus on a static slide with a voice over because there is nothing to grab your attention. In a traditional classroom, you are able to see the professor’s facial expressions and movements around the classroom which helps focus your attention on what the professor is saying.

Furthermore, trying to ask and answer questions over chat was quite frustrating, especially for a math based class. It is extremely hard to articulate a mathematical process without a visual representation of the steps and the numbers. Often times it would take twenty to thirty minutes just to get one difficult question answered because the professor was having difficulty understand exactly what question I was asking.

At the end of the class, I was very disappointed in the experience as I felt I did not learn as much as I could have. Face-to-face interaction is a critical component of the learning experience and therefore needs to be integrated into distance learning programs before these programs can truly rival traditional classroom-based programs.

The good news is video conferencing solutions can help bridge this gap by creating a virtual classroom. With cloud-based meeting rooms, a professor can simulate a traditional classroom environment with lectures and interactive discussions. Students only need a webcam to join and can connect to the classroom with Skype, Google Video Chat or even their browser!

The professor can then easily present a topic, call on raised hands to answer questions and even see when students are not paying attention. After the lecture, the professor can facilitate an interactive discussion among students since they are able to see the professor as well as other students simultaneously.

Integrating video conferencing solutions into the curriculum can not only help address many of the distance learning challenges but allow colleges and universities to find a renewed efficiency and effectiveness within their operations.

Stay tuned for more ways to integrate video into educational programs!

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This week Apple announced that it had sold three million iPads since the launch of the iPad Mini and the new fourth generation iPad. What is particularly interesting, especially from a video conferencing perspective, is that both of these devices feature 720p cameras on the front.

With recent trends around mobile devices and extending the reach of video, many have suggested that quality can take a backseat to mobility and accessibility. Over the last year or so, the major limitations of video conferencing with mobile devices have been the camera and the network connectivity.

For example, while 3G networking has been widespread the real-life speeds are relatively slow.  Plus, the response rate of these network connections interrupts the steady flow of data hampering the transfer of high quality of video.  As a result, video calls are frequently interrupted, freeze up or simply drop out creating a frustrating experience for all participants.

While Wi-Fi increases the quality, many of these mobile devices have low resolution cameras on the front.  This also diminishes the quality of a video call by providing a grainy image instead of the clear image many have come to expect with HD video conferencing.

The release of several Android smart phones and the iPhone 5 has made 4G more prevalent. “True” 4G provides bandwidth over 10x the speed of 3G, in addition to a faster response (or latency). In many areas, 4G can actually be faster than a cable or DSL connection in markets providing a superior experience.

Wireless carries in the United States have recognized the value and increased throughput of 4G and continue to invest billions in expanding their 4G coverage. Just this week T-Mobile and Sprint announced major investments in their network infrastructure; but AT&T announced the largest with a $14 billion expansion.

So what does all of this mean to the video conferencing user? Really it’s the best of both worlds. High quality video conferencing is more accessible than ever before as mobile users now have multiple options to join video meetings. Once relegated to dialing in over audio, the road warrior can now be fully involved. Even more astonishing, is that the mobile user will no longer have to sacrifice quality to reap all of the benefits of visual collaboration.  As a result, the ubiquity of video is well on its way.