Modern Video Communications 101
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
It's an all to common situation. A company has a growing workforce, a few different offices, an outbound sales team, and a #telework policy to keep up with work/life expectations. You need something to help keep people #connected and make sure you avoid diluting company culture through phone calls and emails. You want to enable video, or maybe have some form of desktop video conferencing service, but it hardly ever works. Or is it that no one knows how it works? And which one do you use? Do you need to look at #Videoconferencing instead of #Web-conferencing? Aren't they the same?
In this post I'd like to break it down to the basics to help you get started in your journey. This is by no means meant to be uber technical, so if you're already a pro this may be more of a refresher.
WEB-CONFERENCING VS VIDEOCONFERENCING
Web-conferencing is essentially just another form of Video Conferencing (or VTC). The biggest distinction is in the hardware and backend used to support the video and audio streams. Traditional VTC systems rely on hardware based codecs to process incoming audio and video feeds from other hard codecs (called "hard" because they're physical boxes). These codecs relied on infrastructure networks that were costly and complex to implement and maintain. This created a barrier to entry for most small and midsize businesses looking to adopt video communications. Meanwhile the User Interface (UI) of these was confusing enough to stump many users. Clunky, expensive, unintuitive. A recipe for failure. However, not totally obsolete as you'll learn later.
Fast forward to today, #web-conferencing uses familiar devices such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and leverages the public internet as the backbone. Some popular examples of these services include #Zoom, #GoToMeeting, #WebEx, #Skype for Business, etc. These hybrid and cloud-based services often tie in other elements such as presence (online status), chat, video, audio, and screen sharing features. Many refer to this as Unified Communications (#UC) since it's tying in more than one service at a time which you'll see referenced all over our website.
The flexibility this creates means employees can video chat in real time with the device that best fits their comfort level. Combine this with continual improvements to call latency, sleek user interface designs, and scalable license models, and and these platforms are becoming extremely popular.
The proliferation of web-conference platforms is not without its challenges, and I would encourage you to read on as I address common these and some best practices before or during a deployment.
FIVE CHALLENGES & TIPS FOR WEB-CONFERENCING
Open UC vs. Native UC - another challenge is what standards you implement for Video. The IT department manages the Skype for Business licenses, but the CEO prefers Zoom, while a few rogue account execs like Hangouts. Do you lock everyone down to one platform, or do you implement systems that support all of the above? If you're on a single platform, going with products such #ZoomRooms with Native integration to your Zoom service minimize training and service variables. Using Open UC products like a #Crestron Mercury are just USB extensions of a webcam and gives flexibility to connect different platforms, but leaves you open to the mercy of whatever someone plugs into the room AV system. You can't control what you don't manage.
Tip Consider if your approach to Unified Communications software and hardware is a more of an Open UC or Native UC mindset. Ask yourself how much control of the variables are you willing to sacrifice for total flexibility and choice?
Security & Reliability - one of the glaring challenges associated with video over the public internet is the security of your data. Will your enterprise security policies allow for the use of transmitting sensitive company information over the public internet? Many of these software platforms use security measures such as end-to-end AES encryption, secure login password protection, meeting pins, session tokens, etc. However, for many government agencies and larger financial firms this may not pass the sniff test and may not be a level of risk they're willing to take.
Tip Consider your company IT security policy and make sure that is at the forefront of conversations when evaluating software-based web conferencing platforms. At minimum make sure the platform supports end-to-end encryption of data and meets security certifications from 3rd party standards bodies such as eTrust.
Workflow - how your meetings and spaces are reserved are just as important as making sure the technology software and hardware is dialed in. Without management, often times rooms can get double-booked creating a last minute scramble. If someone isn't properly trained, a meeting with teleworkers may be reserved without a web-conference link, again, leading to a last minute scramble and waste of time and patience.
Tip Consider working with a professional to develop a Workflow Action Plan that is geared towards creating simple, repeatable workflows that can be integrated into the employee on-boarding process and/or company culture initiatives. Explore how integrating hardware, software, and your corporate calendaring services can improve usage.
Scaling to Large Rooms - one of the biggest hurdles is translating the desktop video conference experience into the conference room. This is where tried and true methods of using SIP/H.323 compatible hard-codecs and cameras is required. Simply put, the optics and microphone in your desktop webcam are only designed to capture you, that's it. When outfitting a conference or meeting space, experienced AV consultants will look at factors such as room characteristics, viewing angles, camera focal length, microphones, and connectivity for presentation sharing.
Tip Don't assume what works at a desktop works in the conference room, and don't skimp in high traffic meeting spaces. Knowledgable AV professionals such as CDG can guide you through development of standards that best fit your meeting spaces.
Etiquette, Etiquette, Etiquette- we've seen the parodies of conference calls reenacted in real-life. Someone is in a coffee shop with a terrible connection, dogs are barking in the background, someone's unmuted in a noisy airport, or someone hasn't figured out how to select "front camera" on their Surface Pro. It's funny because it's true, but this too is also expensive to the company and annoying to no end. Employee frustration is counterproductive and, if avoidable, should be treated with the similar consideration as other factors.
Tip Consider creating and distributing your own internal Video Etiquette 101 video or document. It sounds silly, but if it keeps meetings running clear and smooth, it's probably worth it.