Desktop Video – The gateway drug of choice?

In 5 Steps for Developing A Video Work Culture, Simon Dudley, Video evangelist for Lifesize, lays out his key points an enterprise should consider for their video strategy. For the most part, I tend to agree with them, but I think Simon really blew it on a major item.

Simon’s list was as follows:

  1. Figure out what people want/expect from video tools
  2. Don’t mistake desktop video as a gateway for room solutions
  3. Simply ask the question: Can this be done over video?
  4. Encourage video usage in non-critical situations
  5. Make the technology accessible

Point #2 was particularly troubling to me, as Simon suggested that “If you really want to ignite someone’s interest in video, desktop video isn’t it. Webcams are suitable for one-on-one situations, but it doesn’t ignite self-perpetuating interest because the quality of the experience is subpar: You’re very aware of the technology enabling the interaction. Video conferencing needs to be “looking-through-a-window” quality so that the participants forget that they’re on a video call. When rolling out video, launch a room solution in a bigger environment that will highlight the visual quality and then, once everyone is onboard, roll out a ubiquity story for desktop and mobile.

We’ve been rolling out video here at Avaya for a number of years, even starting with conference rooms and telepresence-like solutions from companies like Lifesize themselves. But until we acquired Radvision and began the full-scale deployment of desktop video using Avaya Scopia solutions, I can’t say that video had much of real impact to my daily work life.

In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that Simon has it completely backwards. Before making the investment in a “looking through the window” solution, go ahead an make the technology widely accessible to as many employees as possible. Don’t just lock it up in a few conference rooms, giving scheduling and access to only the mighty and powerful.

I’m a remote worker, and work out of a home office. Under Simon’s model, I’d have absolutely zero ability to experience, let alone develop an video-positive culture, based on room-centric telepresence deployments.

On the other hand, in the past 8 months I’ve grown increasingly reliant on (and culturally positive towards) desktop video.

I’ve used my Scopia room to meet with 20-30 Avaya associates at one time, without limitations or performance issues. I’ve used it to run meetings with my suppliers and partners, for non-Avaya participants who needed to make nothing more of an investment in time and money than in downloading a browser plug-in. I’ve even used the Scopia iPAD client when I was traveling to host some of those calls over public WiFi networks. And not once did I ever feel like the experience was “sub-par”. In fact, under some of the most convoluted and uncontrolled network conditions, I find the quality of the experience to be quite good.

Moreover, I’ve often found that conference room video solutions actually fall short in enabling true collaboration, because the layout of the room puts me further away from the screen, and with my eyesight, I can’t often see the details of whatever materials are being shown on the TV screen that is often 2 meters or more away from me.

And let’s be honest… most of the video calls we have aren’t really focused on seeing the face of the other person as much as it is seeing the information they want to share, be it a Powerpoint, video, web site walk through, or even demo of a system’s UI. While it is nice to describe the need for high-power Board of Director reviews or Merger and Acquisition discussions, where the slightest arching of an eyebrow could result in the difference of millions of dollars, most day-to-day employee interactions aren’t going to require this sort of high definition video quality.

By working from my desktop, I have the ability to learn forward as much as I need to in order to see shared information, or even to fire up my browser or other desktop applications to search for and find related information. Seeing the twinkle in the eye’s of my peer because I have a “window in to their office” isn’t really as important as just seeing that they are engaged and paying attention to the ongoing discussion.

And before you say, “yeah, but you could use your laptop while sitting in a conference room video call just as well,” let me point out that none of the other participants sitting in that conference room with me would be easily able to share their desktop right in to the video call itself either. With our desktop video solution, every participating user can easily share and contribute on their own… something that room based systems make extremely difficult to do.

In the end, I found Simon’s advice to fall in the mode of “when I have a hammer, everything looks like a nail“. Lifesize (as the name implies) focuses on creating that “life size” experience, so I’m not surprised that their advice would be to start by enabling the few with the best they have to offer. But that doesn’t mean that it is the best advice.

I’d counter that, if your company is getting serious about video, focus on making the technology broadly accessible, taking it out of the conference room and putting it directly in the hands of your users. You’ll may be surprised to see that the benefits of video aren’t necessarily directly tied to the ability to see every pore and eyelash as if I were sitting next to my peer, but rather to understand their engagement levels and to share the key information we need in order to conduct effective business.

Desktop video can ignite self-perpetuating interest. It certainly isn’t sub-par. And it certainly doesn’t need your company to rollout a full HD telepresence solution before you can begin making the shift to a video work culture. Get your culture set first, and then look to build higher levels of video experiences when and where it make sense.

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A Look Back At Enterprise Connect – And Some Good News for Radvision Scopia Desktop!

If Enterprise Connect 2013 (EC13) is any indication, it looks to be a good year for video conferencing. As Dave Michels pointed out in his video news recap, “The show that used to be called VoiceCon has rapidly turned into a show about video.” The conference had multiple sessions on WebRTC and mobile video for the enterprise. See Eric Krapf’s day one recap of the WebRTC conference within a conference and his day 3 recap on mobile.

As video traffic continues to grow on the network, more video-enabling devices and software are reaching end users on smartphones and tablets via solutions like Radvision Scopia Mobile, and enterprise clients continue to reap the rewards of traditional video conference room systems, such as our Scopia XT5000 offering.

Today, Frost & Sullivan named our very own Scopia Desktop as the recipient of its prestigious North American Product Leadership Award in the category of software-based desktop video conferencing. There’s no question that video is becoming more pervasive as it reaches our desktop and mobile devices, and unified communications is likely at the heart of this trend.

Another related topic at EC13 was cloud-based services. Avaya announced its expanded cloud portfolio, which touted numerous customers that have launched hosted video, including Yorktel, Telstra, and now, Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan’s largest telecom services provider. The Avaya Collaborative Cloud portfolio includes the Cloud Enablement video solution, which offers provider packaging of the Elite Series MCUs, Scopia Mobile and Scopia Desktop. Among other benefits, this model makes it easier for smaller companies to take advantage of affordable, interactive, high definition video conferencing without the need to deploy and manage a video network. This approach is hugely beneficial to SMBs who might not have the resources to deploy and manage their own video networks – but really, businesses of any size can take advantage of the hosted model.

EC13 proved to be another great event with thought-provoking tracks and discussions. While I wasn’t there in-person, I felt a part of the dynamic thanks to all the social media dialog and video streamed keynotes. And of course, several of my colleagues attended the conference – I’ve seen and heard some great recaps from them and look forward to reading more.

My key takeaway: EC13 reiterated the fact that video continues to be an explosive market and consumers are demanding access to video from all of their devices, regardless of location. And that’s good news for all of us in the industry! I’d love to hear from those who attended/followed the show – what were your key takeaways?

Telecommuting Used To Suck. Today's Technology Makes It Awesome.

Let’s not sugarcoat things: as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s now-notorious HR memo states, working with nearby co-workers has its pluses. And telecommuting CAN be rough on employer and employee. I know the latter from first-hand experience. For about four years late last decade, I worked from my suburban Seattle home as a tech journalist.

It was great at first. I ate lunch with the wife and kids, snuck away for mid-day workouts and avoided draining commutes. While I was thousands of miles and three time zones away from my bosses, I was traveling enough to tech conferences and back to headquarters to feel tethered to my colleagues. But with the economic downturn, my travel dried up. As layoffs mounted, my co-workers, who as reserved writer-types were never chatty by phone or IM to begin with, clammed up even more. I started feeling so out-of-the-loop and claustrophobic that even the view from the window of my home office started depressing me. It was so unchangingly grey that it may as well have been a gloomy oil landscape painting.

grey landscape.jpg

Like this, with perhaps
a few more trees.

Five years later, I’m again an (occasional) telecommuter with Avaya. This time, it’s an AWESOME experience, which I attest to three factors: balance, pro-innovation company culture and technology.

Balance: with Avaya, I do the 35-mile one-way drive into the Silicon Valley headquarters a couple of times a week and work from home the rest of the time. Having that balance is great. On the days I brave the up-to-90-minute commute in, I try extra hard to get all my work done and catch up in person with the co-workers I work with. On the days I stay home, I savor all of the time I saved and therefore am that much more productive.

Culture: As at my old job, most of the people I actually need to work with are scattered around the world. But Avaya does walk its Collaboration and Innovation talk. For instance, the Radvision Scopia desktop videoconferencing that we acquired last year is rapidly replacing teleconferences as the main way WE hold internal meetings. What’s the big deal? Well, being on camera forces everyone to focus. So no more surfing ESPN or Amazon on mute. You also get a better sense, through everyone’s non-verbal body language, what your colleagues are REALLY thinking. That helps us come to decisions faster, even though we joke around and socialize more. In a non-fake way, it recreates the sort of impromptu dialogue and team building that Mayer thinks you can only get on campus.

(To see an unserious, extreme demo of this, see our Harlem Shake video filmed with Scopia Desktop.

Scopia is as easy to use as Skype and FaceTime – all you need to do is download, choose your webcam and headset, and go. While both Skype and Scopia Desktop boast up to 720p HD, 30 frames-per-second quality, the key phrase is “up to.” Like you, I’ve used Skype plenty of times. Honestly, Scopia Desktop delivers noticeably better sound and picture quality almost all of the time. Plus all conversations are encrypted and comply with your corporate firewall and authentication policies. Which, as an enterprise-class product, you’d only expect.

Technology: five years ago, I used a hodge-podge of sub-standard tools for telecommuting – Vonage for my home phone line, AOL instant messenger and an underpowered BlackBerry. They were impossible to knit together and widened that gulf between me and my colleagues.

Today’s Unified Communications tools shrink that gulf. Avaya Aura, for instance, can extend unified phone and data services to home workers. With the Avaya one-X Mobile app on my iPhone, I can instantly set turn call forwarding and simul-ring on and off, set my presence so my co-workers know whether to ping me by IM, phone or e-mail, and more. With Scopia Mobile or Avaya Flare Experience, I can start a high-def videochat with a colleague on my iPad or Android device anytime, anywhere.

Bring Your Own Device is old news. What’s in is Bring Your Own Unified Communications. Workers who once clamored to use business mobile apps on their personal iPhones and tablets have moved on. With today’s crop of superphones and turbocharged tablets, they are asking for the enterprise-class equivalents to Skype or FaceTime.lg optimus pro.jpg

Care to videochat on this LG Optimus G Pro with 5.5-inch 1080p screen, quad-core chip, and 2.1 gapixel webcam? Um, yes, please!

Avaya is answering that call. For instance, Radvision is working with Quanta Computer, one of the largest makers of laptops and mobile devices, to deliver HD video calling over the TD-LTE network of China Mobile. TD-LTE is China’s homegrown 4G network, with speeds equivalent to your ultra-fast 802.11n wireless Wi-Fi router at home. Chinese workers will soon be able to videochat with no-jitter video and great sound wherever they are, as well as collaborate nimbly on shared documents, and more.

Collaboration technology continues to improve. The next generation, called ‘Awareness’, is set to leapfrog today’s passive presence information to provide a virtual personal assistant. Say a calendar invite pops up. Click once to join the conference in audio, video or Web chat mode, and the latest versions of the documents needed for the meeting are automatically located on your e-mail, hard drive or network. Similarly, if you get a phone call from a co-worker, Awareness can automatically find and open up the current versions of the relevant documents. It’s all of these little things that lubricate interaction between colleagues and can collectively jumpstart employee collaboration and innovation. Read Senior Vice-President Brett Shockley’s article, “Awareness. Simplicity.Customers.” to learn more.

To sum up: telecommuting used to have major drawbacks. But UC and video conferencing apps running on today’s super-powerful mobile gadgets bring the Innovation back. Mayer may think the only way to turn Yahoo around is to jail employees inside their cubicles five days a week, but I disagree. The right collaboration tools can nearly recreate that agile, intimate office experience, at lower financial cost to employers, and at lower personal cost to employees.