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!

Enterprise Connect 2014 Recap

As I boarded my flight home from Orlando last Thursday I sifted through all of the great things I saw while at Enterprise Connect as well as the fantastic customer and partner interaction I had. Enterprise Connect continues to grow in its size and scope and is quickly becoming THE show for unified communications and collaboration.

Looking back at all the sessions, keynotes, and vendors there were several key trends that emerged from the show that are worthy of discussion.

Lync Domination
The adoption of Microsoft Lync as a full unified communications solution continues to accelerate. At IVCi’s booth this year there were so many companies looking for guidance on how to integrate Lync into the rest of their technology stack (room video conferencing, mobility, etc). Nearly every conversation we had in the IVCi booth focused, at least, partially on Lync. In Gurdeep Singh Pall’s keynote he revealed that 60% of enterprises have deployed or are planning to deploy Lync. Based upon the interactions at show, this does not seem unrealistic. Beyond the countless deployments, it was clear from the number of solutions on the show floor featuring Lync integration that its presence is ever expanding.

Single Solution, Not So Fast…
Manufacturers have been touting the concept of a single solution for many years. They wanted users to implement their solution across the board and rely on one source for everything, namely because it would lock their users in. However, it was clear that this trend is just not happening. In both my own interactions as well as in numerous panel discussions, the topic of single source came up. Ultimately, organizations are implementing multiple solutions for a myriad of reasons. The end result is a lot of technology that simply does not talk to each other properly. Providers like Acano are looking to be the connection between many of these environments and help to provide a more, pardon the pun, unified solution.

WebRTC…Getting There
This year’s WebRTC conference within a conference was another sell out with standing room attendance for most sessions. More and more vendors are turning to WebRTC to help solve interoperability challenges and to create a single click solution. Many manufacturers are embracing this technology (Unifiy’s Project Ansible is entirely WebRTC) but challenges continue. Browser ubiquity is not there yet, Chrome, Opera and Firefox are supported, but others are not (Internet Explorer, Safari). Even within the browsers supporting the standard we are seeing a bit of a fork in terms of functionality. Chrome now supports two-way content sharing, which is a big development, especially for content centric collaboration sessions. This functionality is not yet available in other WebRTC implementations. WebRTC is making major strides but it has not truly arrived at the level of ubiquity it needs. The next year should be interesting to see how this develops.

It’s All About the Experience
From the keynotes to the show floor; many were speaking less and less about the thechnology and more about the user experience. This is perhaps the most promising trend in the industry as manufacturers are really starting to focus on the user and not whiz-bang features. The proof will be in the pudding, but this is an exciting trend that I certainly hope will continue.

For someone who has worked in the world of collaboration and unified communications for a number of years it is easy to get carried away by the latest cool technology but this year I was just reminded by how “cool” collaboration technology is and how much it has become a part of business.  I look forward to this year’s developments and Enterprise Connect 2015. See you there!

What interested you most at Enterprise Connect? Tweet us @IVCiLLC!

“This call may be monitored for quality assurance.”

How many times have you heard that throughout your life? The reality is, as technology continues to change at a rapid pace, the way we communicate with our vendors and service provides is rather primitive. When the cable bill arrives with the wrong charges (surely that never happens!), one has to pick-up the phone only to wait on hold for twenty minutes to ultimately get a resolution. Or maybe a recent purchase for a child warrants some technical support; again a phone call and wait time must be endured. At the same time, it can be very difficult to explain a problem to a support agent by merely describing it.

For years, there has been talk about moving video technology into a business to consumer world. But, what does this mean? Simply, customers could connect to the very same contact center they call now, but speak to the appropriate agent via video. The advantages of this are significant! Suddenly, all customer service interactions would benefit from everything video conferencing has to offer. The agent can work with the customer and gain a better idea of their understanding of a particular topic. Second, the customer can point the camera at the item being discussed (extra parts to a new toy that don’t seem to have a use) and immediately give the agent better insight into the issue. Finally, video could put a more personal face on what can seem like a very impersonal interaction.

While video contact centers have been a topic of discussion for a while, why is now any different? There is a convergence of several key market and technology trends that could make this idea a reality.

The Proliferation of Video, Everywhere
Video is truly everywhere. Consumers are already accustomed to communicating with family and friends over video. Whether it is via a social network, Skype, or another service, video has truly gone main stream. At the same time, many people are used to going to work and using video as a tool to complete assigned projects and tasks.

Mobile Devices
The explosive growth of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tables, has put multiple video enabled devices into nearly everyone’s pockets. A user can grab their phone and make a video call just as easily as a voice call. These devices have not only helped make video ubiquitous, they have also made video far more accessible than ever imagined.

Advanced Contact Center Technology
Even though most customer service interactions have been limited to voice, the technology driving these connections is rather advanced. Many organizations had implemented technology that allows them to hire the most talented support agents and place them anywhere. In addition, these solutions are able to route calls intelligently to both an available agent and the most skilled agent for the issue at hand. Customers have become far savvier and do not accept being transferred multiple times. Technology has helped route customers to the right person at the right time.

WebRTC
WebRTC has been discussed many times on this blog and the technology is one of the main catalysts of the video contact center. If a user requires help, the desire to spend 15-20 minutes downloading an application to their computer or smartphone is nonexistent. With WebRTC, one click could immediately initiate a video call right in their browser. With no downloads needed, the customer would get near immediate access. Unfortunately, there is no technology that can eliminate wait times completely!

As all of these elements come together, the promise of the video contact center is very real. The ultimate question comes down to the customers themselves. Will they embrace this type of interaction and will they push the vendors they do business with to implement this technology? What do you think? Would you welcome the opportunity to get support via video?

Enterprise Connect 2013 has come to a close and what an event it was. This was IVCi’s first year attending and exhibiting at the show and it was a fantastic experience that provided many opportunities for us to connect with our current customers as well as future prospects. In addition, the opportunity to see the latest technology and offerings from our partners was great. The event was jam-packed with great sessions, keynotes, exhibitors, attendees and more. Here is an overview of some of the key takeaways and messages from the event.

WebRTC
WebRTC (as previously covered here on Collaboration Insight) is a new browser based protocol that allows for real-time voice and video communication to occur right inside a web browser. WebRTC has gotten to be so big; the conference dedicated an entire track to the topic and every session was full. The reality of WebRTC is that not all browsers currently support it (only Google Chrome and the developer builds of Firefox) but the potential for it is endless.

At the end of the day, WebRTC will enable any browser to be a video client or endpoint on a communications network. In Cisco’s keynote, the example of a shopper on a website was used. They were looking for accessories and information on a his store  purchases. They simply clicked a link and a video session was initiated with an expert back in a video call center. No wait to download a client and no security issues with the install; it simply happened in the browser. When the standard is ratified and included in all browsers, the potential will be limitless! Cisco demoed a Jabber client built entirely in the browser, contact center agents could access their voice services right within the browser and more. It has to the potential to breakdown interoperability issues and extend enterprise collaboration to an organization’s customers.

Unified Communications
Frost and Sullivan presented a session at the conference in which they defined unified communications as “an integrated set of voice, data and video communications applications, all of which leverage PC- and telephony-based presence information.” UC was in full force at the conference with all major players showing their latest innovations. Both Cisco and Microsoft came with their entire vision. Microsoft presented their total solution from mobile devices (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) to tablets (Surface, iPad) to desktops and even room systems. The solution was elegant and worked as advertised. Microsoft has been pitching this vision for a while and it was great to see it fully realized. At the same time, Cisco showcased their Jabber solution which offers interoperability across all platforms and seamlessly integrates voice, video, data sharing, and more.

The key takeaway about UC is that the technology is very real and organizations are definitely implementing or looking to implement it in their current short term roadmap. Voice, video, and everything in between have converged!

The Cloud and Mobility
There was not a session that didn’t include a discussion around how cloud delivery and mobile devices would influence employees and technology. Even sitting in the sessions themselves one could see dozens of attendees taking notes on their iPads, checking email, and ultimately staying connected. The discussion of cloud, however, must be secondary. The user of the technology, how it can impact user productivity must be first. How it is delivered (on-premise, cloud, etc) is a decision that comes after.

Business Case
Perhaps the most exciting trend seen at Enterprise Connect was a focus on making the business case for the technology being presented. Certainly there was a large amount of discussion around the technology itself, the features, etc. But in many of the sessions, the business case for collaboration technology was continually presented. Some of the key messaging was around how these technologies can help move a business forward and help fulfill strategic goals. Additionally, simply deploying technology does not equal success. Organizations must see widespread adoption and employee satisfaction to really judge if the technology implementation was a success.

The video conferencing industry is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. The technological innovations are staggering and many have led to greater reach and lower cost, higher quality video solutions.

One of the latest trends emerging is video conferencing directly within the web browser.  HTML 5 and a new standard known as WebRTC are making many of these solutions possible. WebRTC allows browsers to facilitate real-time communication; including voice, video, and point-to-point file sharing. This new technology will soon be standard in all popular browsers.

This standard is still in a “draft” format from the Web Standards Body but many of the applications that have experimented with it have been quite impressive. Small software companies to major manufacturers of hardware based video conferencing systems have been working with web clients for some time. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. Users can be connected to a video meeting with little to no download and setup time. Currently WebRTC is not finalized so small plugins must be downloaded the first time a user enters a video meeting. In the near future this should be eliminated and the browser will be able to launch directly into the video call.
  2. Beyond a web camera, there are no hardware requirements to participate in a video meeting.
  3. Browsers exist on devices beyond PCs; mobile devices, televisions, tablets, and more. Soon these devices will be video conferencing ready out of the box without any configuration.

There have been a number of announcements that have centered on video conferencing in the web browser including:

Blue Jeans:  This service has bridged the gap between consumer and professional video conferencing offering “meet-me” rooms in the cloud that allow users of pretty much any traditional VC system  to connect with users on Skype, Google Video Chat and Microsoft Lync. Last month, Blue Jeans added a browser-based option to their service. When a user receives an invite to a Blue Jeans meeting, they can click a link and attend via their web browser.

Polycom:  Last year Polycom acquired ViVu, a small organization that had been offering “embeddable” video conferencing into web applications. This week Polycom announced the first initiative based on that acquisition. HP is now shipping a Polycom HD video application with their new web cams. The app makes it easy for users to connect, via video, to any of their contact lists from Facebook, Skype, Google, etc. When a user invites a contact, the receipt simply clicks a link and is immediately launched in a web based video call.

Cisco: A few weeks ago Cisco announced some significant updates to their Quad social portal. The newly branded Cisco Webex Social features integrated video calling that all happens in the browser.

There are sure to be many more announcements and releases around web-based video conferencing. Its impact on the industry remains to be seen, but it is sure to be significant and will only make video even more accessible for everyone.