At a time when we’re overwhelmed by information via email, social media and other communication, face time still leads to the fastest decisions and closer and more productive business relationships.
The state of today
Increasingly ubiquitous connectivity, combined with a progressive adoption of unified communications and cloud services, highlights how businesses are truly going mobile.
This trend is being augmented by explosive demand for tablets and smartphones, not just for consumers, but for business as well – and increasingly as a blend of the two.
According to a recent report from research firm Gartner1, more widespread adoption of tablets among businesses is helping drive IT spending growth this year. The analysts predict that worldwide media tablet spending is projected to reach $29.4 billion in 2011, up from $9.6 billion in 2010. Global spending on media tablets is forecast to increase at an annual average rate of 52 per cent through 2015. Furthermore, Gartner cites the growing popularity of tablets and other mobile computing devices as a key reason behind a decline in the growth of PC sales and predicts that in the future, PCs will no longer be a market by themselves, but part of a larger device market that ranges from smart televisions to the most-basic-feature phones.
This was reinforced by Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Skype for $8.5bn – a move that highlighted the company’s belief that the use of video communication is rapidly becoming mainstream both at home and at work, and that the differentiation between the two is blurring.
While the way we do business has changed almost beyond recognition over the past decade, the value of face-to-face contact hasn’t diminished. At a time when we’re overwhelmed by information via email, social media and other communication, face time still leads to the fastest decisions and closer and more productive business relationships.
Historically, video conferencing has been seen as a costly and poor relation to a ‘real’ face-to-face meeting. The state of technology and network connectivity even just a decade ago, meant that high quality video communication systems required expensive installed hardware and dedicated network lines, and even still frequently failed to meet expectations. This means that although video has existed as a form of communication for years, the assumption has long been that for the important meetings, only in-person meetings will do.
But we’ve moved on, both technologically and culturally.
Wireless operators are promising sky-high bandwidth and limitless communication avenues when 4G networks are unleashed, and new smartphone designs promise forward-facing cameras and more powerful processors. This opens up a host of mobile video conferencing options particularly for the consumer market.
While for the world’s weary business travellers, the advent of effective, affordable, real-time HD video has heralded a new age of commerce – reducing the stress of disruptions, anonymous hotels and departure lounges. It no longer costs a fortune to equip mobile workers with the right tools, ensuring that it’s business as usual.
This trend raises critical challenges and opportunities for those charged with crafting and executing a communications and collaboration strategy for their organisation, both internally and as part of their mobility approach.
These factors create a need to develop a business case for video communications as a whole. We’re already starting to see specific instances of how companies are looking at the potential to use video to deliver new services, improve productivity or cut operating costs.
A recent report from Forrester Research found that up to half of business travel could be replaced by video communications – impressive when you consider the amount of travel undertaken by many executives.
The report focused on data from the European division (2,500 employees) of a Japanese consumer electronics giant. This division implemented LifeSize HD video communication solutions across 47 offices in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia. LifeSize HD video communications superseded another vendor’s legacy, an ISDN-based videoconferencing system that was no longer being used.
The results revealed a 392 per cent risk-adjusted return on investment, a saving of more than $1m on the travel budget each year, and up to a 12 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. That’s a tangible business benefit for any organisation.
As fuel costs soar and travel consumes an ever-larger portion of an organisation’s budget, a well constructed mobility plan – incorporating video communications and unified communications – can not only save your business money, but create a more flexible and productive workforce.
Video communications can also be an essential element of your organisation’s business continuity plan. Should travel disruptions occur or offices become inaccessible due to severe weather or disaster, your video calls can be re-routed to home offices or mobile phones. The result: your business remains functioning while competitors are still figuring out what to do.
Today’s mobility solutions allow calls to be placed or received anywhere: at home, on the road, or in the office – all without leaving customers on hold or forcing them to call back.
Forrester’s research proves many businesses are already using video technology as part of their daily working lives; in five years’ time it will be as common as a voice call or an email, and we’ll wonder how we managed without it.
In the interim, while it’s clear that there is increasing interest in extending video-enabled platforms to the mobile user, internally and externally, challenges exist that must be addressed if these initiatives are to succeed.
Successfully supporting video communication platforms for mobility across the organisation requires IT architects to address support and management issues upfront, and to work with security and compliance groups to minimise risk. While the temptation may be to opt for a cheap, consumer focused system, these systems don’t have the reliability, security and quality of a platform designed for business. While a dropped call or poor image quality and sound may not be the end of the world during an internal call, when dealing with customers and partners, this can be detrimental.
It’s important to remember that the goal of video platforms for mobility is to improve the collaborative experience, not diminish it. With this in mind, as well as using good quality equipment, education around video communication tips and etiquette are essential. Those participating in a high-quality immersive telepresence featuring life-like HD audio and video might not take too kindly to a mobile user in a dark room with an SD camera, shaking his or her device while moving around.
Connectivity is another key aspect to ensuring that mobile video communication is as good quality as possible. Although next generation mobile networks such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) promise excellent signal strength and high bandwidth, until these networks are commonplace, users need to ensure that their connection is strong, not over-subscribed and has sufficient throughput to minimise video communications latency.
The final aspect of delivering a strong video communication platform is to help and support for when issues arise. This applies to office based video communication systems as well, but for mobile users particularly, the help desk must prepare itself to answer calls from users experiencing problems with devices and connectivity. This means you need to provision management tools to gain insight into performance of applications on mobile devices.
An aside issue, but one that is nonetheless a very important consideration is the topic of compliance and security for mobile users. For scenarios like business travellers participating in conferences while physically located outside of corporate walls, or confidential client video calls that take place across countries, there are security and compliance implications. Issues can be wide ranging, such as adhering to HIPAA regulations when physicians or patients use video communications for consultations, the legal implications of discussing financial information over video chats, or simply protecting proprietary or company-sensitive information discussed during a conference involving a mobile participant connecting from a public space such as a hotel or airport.
Security managers will wish to ensure that conferences are encrypted and that firewalls and other security measures are not compromised or circumvented in the process, especially if going across public access points. Again, this boils down to a combination of using the right technology, which enables these features and education, so that users are aware of the correct steps and protocols to ensure that business information remains secure and compliant.
The benefits of video communication are enormous and none of these issues should prevent a company from implementing it. But they do require careful consideration as part of an effective video communications strategy for business on the move/mobile workers. It is imperative to work with vendors to understand their capabilities in terms of devices, management, security and privacy, and educate your users on the need to protect corporate information assets and set realistic quality expectations for mobile video applications.
Essential travel for business meetings will certainly never be replaced. But video communications can be a vital lynchpin in augmenting this, saving businesses time and money, while delivering a company that is more flexible and operationally responsive. The use of video communications on the move is growing, especially as network performance and camera quality improves and users get more accustomed to the benefits and protocols involved.
To this end, LifeSize Communications continues to deliver high-quality, interoperable and affordable HD video communication solutions at the lowest TCO on the market today. In the words of LifeSize CEO and Founder, Craig Malloy, “where there is voice, there should be video” – a philosophy that drives LifeSize innovation to maintain productivity for business on the move anytime, anywhere.
To schedule a demonstration with the LifeSize team at the Gherkin offices in London, please contact Mike McCarthy at [email protected], or visit www.lifesize.com to find out more about how your businesses can enhance collaboration using LifeSize video communication solutions.
1. Gartner Worldwide IT Spending Forecast, March 30, 2011