Thursday, February 24, 2011

Easy Video Conferencing anytime, anywhere

A few days ago I had an email exchange with a group of industry peers started by one of them, an IT Manager of a single office Law Firm, asking about Video Conferencing vendors and strategy. He is starting a project on this area and one of the requirements is to have the ability to conduct business with clients via video. His questions got me thinking and I pointed out that he should look beyond the Conference Room, another requirement. I think that we all have to approach video conference this way nowadays and make it available to internal and external customers anytime, anywhere in order to enhace enterprise collaboration.  Yes we need good setups in conference rooms, especially in multi-office environments such as where I work, but this technology has evolved during the last two to three years in part propelled by emerging technologies and trends such as Skype, mobility or a more mobile workforce.
Is Skype changing the game?
Certainly. Whether or not your enterprise supports Skype, you are probably asked to provide access to it often. We neither support it nor allow it in our Firm’s machines for security concerns primarily, yet we still have to provide our business with tools that facilitate the way they conduct business, which has led us to both be creative and upgrade our Video Conference Equipment infrastructure (VCE), which is Cisco Tandberg.
One thing that we have done to avoid Skype is use our Webinar technology. We use AdobeConnect to provide clients with presentations and other marketing events. We have taken advantage of the software’s video and VoIP capability by creating “Video Rooms” that our attorneys and their client can access securely over the web and run meetings effectively. It has been a good work around for now but the challenge expressed by our internal customers is that they need to be accessible by clients in an ad-hoc manner like that provided by Skype and such tools.
Today, after a recent upgrade to what I call “Cisco Tandberg ecosystem” we can provide stronger alternatives to our attorneys that extend the video experience to the desktop/laptop. This means that regardless of physical location, attorneys will be able to communicate via video with both internal resources and clients or partners outside the firm.  We are introducing two different tools that we can now provide: Movi and Conference Me
Video Conference anytime, anywhere.
Movi, is a small SIP client that we can deploy internally and externally so that attorneys, staff and clients can participate in Video Conference right from their desktop regardless of whether they are inside or outside our network. The client can dial another Movi user and have video calls anytime in an ad-hoc fashion, or you can call video conference bridge that is in progress in the Codian. Now, one of the beauties of it is that we can send the executable to our clients who will now have the same capabilities as our internal customers. Attorneys and clients can now call each other regardless of where they are and have video conference meetings just like they would do with tools like Skype. Furthermore, with just one click of a button, Movi is also capable of sharing your desktop for presentations or document reviews for example, something very valuable for industries such as legal.
Another tool, Conference Me, has its place too. This tool can give internal and external customers access to video conferences held in the Codian from a web browser. We send the client the link they click on it and register to our VCS and they are in the conference room, much like we use our AdobeConnect today. This is more like a scheduled conference where everyone has to enter the bridge to communicate, but just as effective as being in the conference room. Conference Me can also be used in Streaming mode, so that attendees can watch meetings without necessarily interacting with presenters.

The Challenge: Conference Management.
Or is it? The Tandberg ecosystem also includes two management pieces, the Tandberg Management System, TMS; and Tandberg Content System, TCS. Traditionally, our Technology Department has been heavily involved with opening and tearing down these meetings which were held in pre-defined “bridges” in our Cisco MCU. However, with the addition of TMS meetings can be scheduled and dynamically started and finished by anyone with proper training. We are looking at delegating this function to our receptionists who are heavily involved with all type of video or audio conference scheduling anyway. This will eventually free up IT resources that can concentrate on other activities and only engage when troubleshooting is needed.
All of these meetings can be recorded by TCS and make accessible internally or externally to be viewed anytime. We have used this tool many times in different ways, such as regular meetings or presentations, or attorneys preparing for depositions, trials and such. And the addition of TMS will make it much easier to use as the recording piece will be scheduled just like any other endpoint.
What’s next?
Telepresence has been the next big thing in video conferencing for a while, but as you can see other, more affordable tools have emerged and in my opinion this trend will continue, beginning with enterprise video to mobile devices such as iPhones, Droids, etc. In fact, we have effectively tested a couple of H.323 apps for the iPhone which can be used to connect to our Codian conferences. I see this as big trend especially with newer video enabled tablets coming up soon. I can see how tools such as AdobeConnect could potentially be used from tablets in the same way we use them today from desktops to do presentations that incorporate VoIP and video.
Skype, and Skype-like service will continue to make their way to the enterprise and there are a few gateways that provide bridging to them today. If you are an AVAYA customer for example, they now have a gateway service that bridges telephony to Skype and they are working on video. Until Skype can be more transparent the challenge is avoiding having to run the Skype client inside your network.

Presence systems deployments, another feature of Movi, will continue to grow. We are expanding our Cisco Presence system, an Instant Messaging tool, which can now support video natively as well as IM with a click of a buttom. In fact, Cisco is incorporating Movi as its video engine and, in my opinion, will eventually phase out one of the two and give the client (CUPC) a new wacky name as they usually do.
Telepresence will eventually get there too, but that is big setup in a Conference Room, and adoption will continue to be slow until it is made more affordable and mobile. Small and mid-size business will take on Video Conference more and more as it becomes more accessible. The botton line is that we need to communicate effectively anytime anywhere, and for us Cisco Tandberg is making it possible for us.


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  3. Thank you for your comments. Adoption of video conference has been slow due to investment but it will continue to evolve and adoption continues to grow. It will be the preferred way of communication very soon.