WebRTC - Hype or the Real Deal?

For those who have been watching the collaboration industry closely it is hard to not see a multitude of articles and announcements that discuss WebRTC and the latest product to feature the technology. We have blogged extensively about WebRTC in the past but, in short, WebRTC is a web browser standard that enables real-time audio and video directly in the browser without the need for plugins. The standard is still being developed and has not been completely “ratified” by the governing bodies that ensure web based standards are, well, standard. Browser support is not universal (Chrome, Firefox & Opera support it; Safari, Internet Explorer and others do not). With these limitations in mind, let’s explore what WebRTC can actually enable.

Immediate Access
In the past, joining a rich media experience within your browser would require that a plugin was downloaded. In many cases this is still required; think of web conferencing solutions like WebEx or GoToMeeting. With WebRTC, a developer can utilize the native browser to achieve much of the functionality that their plugin provides. In the case of Cisco, they recently announced WebEx compatibility with Google Chromebooks and that compatibility is being achieved by rebuilding WebEx as a WebRTC native application. Now a user simply clicks a link and they are in the meeting instantly.

Video Enabled Business Processes
Much of our work on a daily basis happens inside specific business applications such as CRMs, EHRs, or other custom designed solutions. Since WebRTC is web based, it is much easier to embed web assets into an application and allow video communication to happen right in the system workers use every day. From a healthcare perspective, many doctors and physicians live in their hospital’s Electronic Health Records system. With WebRTC enabled assets, a doctor, nurse, or other employee could be reviewing a patient’s records and immediately initiative a video call on that screen. They would continue to review the data and be able to collaborate with each other in real time, without leaving the application. The productivity gains can be enormous!

Reduce Security Concerns
Many organizations choose to lock down user computer systems from the installation of applications and other components to reduce the risk of malware and viruses. Only when IT is involved can an application be involved. This lock down, while good for security, can be bad for productivity. If a user wants to join a media rich session they would needed to request IT to install a needed plugin. With WebRTC, that employee can utilize the native browser they use every day to join these sessions without having to wait for IT to set-up the application.

Extended Reach
A critical component of collaboration technology is the ability to bring anyone, from anywhere into a meeting without a heavy burden. Previously connecting to a partner or a customer over video required the installation of proprietary software and some finagling of firewall settings, etc. With WebRTC enabled solutions, users simply receive a link to the meeting and they can join instantly. With the case of many solutions out there these links can connect users into sessions that also feature users connected with unified communications solutions (Lync, Jabber) and standard video conferencing systems (Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize).

The use cases for WebRTC are significant and the technology is already opening new doors. While the standard still has a way to go with both ratification and browser support, I feel strongly that WebRTC is here to stay and certainly worth of the hype it has created!

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