The Audio Conference Call is Dying. Here's Why.

angry lady yelling at phone

The traditional conference call has taken quite a beating over the past few years. This David Grady spoof was the first “laugh so hard, I cried” satire I came across. I think what struck me with this one was each time I thought it was getting old, he threw in something that made me laugh even harder… for nearly five minutes!

This week, the video “A Conference Call in Real Life” by Tripp & Tyler is making its rounds through social media. It’s funny too, although I think I’m still partial to the David Grady version.  And just today, I came across an article on “the existential despair of the conference call,” to which one of my colleagues replied, “I laughed, I cried, I kept watching! This would be a good clip of what can (and does) go wrong … unless you use Scopia.” She did include a “winky face,” but the truth of the matter is that Scopia does overcome almost all the issues identified in these conference call parodies. Not the barking dog, of course, and not the random background noise, but Scopia does take out A LOT of the guesswork.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve been at Avaya for years, and other times, I’m blown away that it’s already been 20 months since the acquisition of Radvision. Where have the past (almost) two years gone? When I look back at the changes I’ve seen at Avaya, one of the biggest is that we have an incredibly strong video conferencing culture. And if you think I’m making it up, the proof is in the numbers below:

avaya scopia in house usage

Last month, we had almost 40,000 video meetings on Avaya Scopia with 340,000+ attendees. From June 2012 through December 2013, we had more than half a million video meetings and have surpassed the 3 million mark on number of participants. That’s A LOT of video, and that doesn’t even count the video calls I host (which often feels like another half million or so per year :) ).

Why is video usage so high within Avaya? I have a few theories, and they go to the core of the spoofs mentioned above.

  1. Get rid of the unknown: When I joined Avaya, conference calls were mostly audio-only. As a newbie to an organization of 15,000+ employees, I never knew who was talking. I was constantly IMing colleagues asking, “Who’s speaking now?” With Scopia video, active speakers are highlighted in the virtual meeting room, and names are displayed. There’s never any question who’s speaking, and all participants are clearly identified in the participant list.
  2. A picture is worth a thousand words: The ability to see who is speaking and to read his/her body language as well as the body language of other participants is huge. You get fewer interruptions, fewer questions, and richer communication because your meetings are taking place face-to-face.
  3. Get on the same page: Content-sharing is easy on Scopia, and content is displayed in high definition. There’s no more asking, “Are we looking at the same page?” or “Can you send the deck you’re referring to?” What’s more, participants can easily scroll through content that’s already been presented without interrupting the active speaker (a feature that is totally unique to Scopia).
  4. The power of mute (and more): With Scopia, you always know who the speaker is thanks to active speaker tracking. That means you also know when someone is “speaking” without meaning to… i.e. furiously typing on their keyboard, crinkling papers, having a side conversation, etc. The beauty of Scopia is that all users –whether in a conference room, on Scopia Desktop or joining via Scopia Mobile – have full meeting moderation. That means you can mute the noisemakers without interrupting the call. The ability to mute the far end can be beautiful thing when you have a lot of people on the line. And Scopia moderation goes far beyond mute – you can add or disconnect participants, take “control” of content-sharing (without having to ask for it), change your layout so content appears larger or smaller, etc.

Of course, I’d be exaggerating if I said every Scopia call goes off without a hitch. But when I read articles or watch videos like those mentioned above, I have to say, the death of the traditional conference call must be on the horizon. Why use audio only when you can use video, too? If you ask me, video conferencing is a no brainer, especially with the leaps we’ve made in personal video conferencing at the desktop and on the go.

What are your thoughts? If you use video, have your conference calls been more effective? I’d love to hear from you.

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Helping Navigate the “Perfect Storm”

Air Force and Social Security Administration Turn to Fabric Networks and Unified Communications for Cybersecurity, Service Delivery, Telework, and Modernization Without Rip and Replace

This year presents a particularly challenging environment with tighter budgets, limited resources, and a Presidential Election. Agencies are looking to take advantage of promising new technologies that speed efficiency and delivery while tapping into their existing infrastructure. In other words, modernize rather than rip and replace. We see government becoming more agile while working under tighter budgets, creating the “Perfect Storm.”

The need for an agile and flexible government has never been as necessary, or possible, until today. Harnessing time and money-saving technology in cloud, mobility, telework, cybersecurity, data center consolidation and the need for real collaboration has created great opportunities for all of those in the partner chain.

For many agencies with legacy ISDN networks, there is no ability to fork lift the entire telecommunications network. Instead, using secured cloud platforms, many agencies are turning to month-to-month OpEx solutions to get the modern solutions that they now need.

Fabric Network Bolsters Cybersecurity
In this market environment, agency, IT managers are looking for fabric network solutions because they offer an upgradeable and sustainable path. Bridging the old and new networks, fabric networks can help make a switch to migrate forward. For instance, when the National Guard recently needed to upgrade its network, they looked toward a software-defined network with four goals:

  • Replace their cybersecurity posture

  • Modernize and simplify their operations network

  • Add the capability and easy access to applications and services on the fly that can meet their mission

  • Ensure flexibility and agility as necessary

Just recently, McConnell Air Force Base, located in Wichita, Kansas and home to the Air Mobility Command’s 22nd Air Refueling Wing, Air Force Reserve Command’s 931st Air Refueling Group and the Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing, installed Fabric Connect technologies to modernize its network infrastructure that supports 6,000 users.

The new architecture will improve protection against cyberattacks through a unique approach that makes the McConnell network invisible to scanning techniques used to uncover network topologies and develop a plan of attack.

While defending against attack, the Social Security Administration (SSA) planned for its 500 millionth phone call. Each of the SSA’s 1,6000+ offices had been long dependent on a conventional, old-school PBX phone framework nearing end of life. Creating a nationwide network required a cutting-edge IP telephony network to manage its average 400,000 daily calls. The SSA recognized the need to future-proof its system with an impending influx of Baby Boomers coming of age for Social Security.

The SSA was able to streamline and consolidate systems, and cut costs by as much as 50% depending on office location. The carrier-grade, enterprise solution is government-owned and Avaya-managed, end-to-end. It features leading technology, from Network Skills Based Routing to Dynamic Virtual Forward, and gives the agency redundancies that help it support contact centers in four regions of the United States seamlessly. As a result, the agency was able to get through Hurricane Sandy, and major blizzards and storms without an incident. Next step for SSA is to look toward unified communications to deal with plans for an increase in soft phones, teleworking and VoIP capabilities in the near future.

As government agencies evolve and into the 2020’s, innovation will be a must. Rather than focusing on processes, market surveys, and requests for proposals with rigorous requirements, forward-thinking agencies need to consider turning to industry for open and innovative solutions.

Going forward, we hope to provide an overview of how the government can take advantage of best technology practice and solutions in this ever-challenging market environment of limited budgets and reuse of legacy systems. Vendors with vast experience and capabilities in moving government forward have never been more necessary than today.

  • What are your top network priorities?

  • What trends do you see developing in the second half of 2016?

America’s 9-1-1 System: John Oliver Got it Right (Mostly)—9-1-1 Access still remains the most crucial step to emergency response

For those who may have missed HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on this past Sunday night, there was a humorous but important segment featuring America’s 9-1-1 system. I had gotten a heads up on this earlier in the week, and was anxious, albeit fully expecting this to be the average story, poorly researched and full of inaccurate assumptions around 911.

Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong. I sat back, watching the segment go on for nearly 15 minutes—each second being more amazing than the last—sprinkled with just the right amount of humor to make the important points stand out. I have to commend Mr. Oliver, and his staff, who obviously did a great deal of homework on the topic. The level of detail, as well as the subtle references, proved that quite a bit of preparation went into this piece, and they had talked to the right people in the industry. While John formulated a ton of pertinent points, accurately describing the sad state of America’s overall 9-1-1 infrastructure, he focused on cellular location accuracy and challenges leading to how we got there. But in addition to this problem, a few other critical points were missed—starting with ‘access.’

For any current 911, or Next Generation 911 system, to function properly—access into the system is first required. Only then can any end-to-end functionality and benefit for citizens be expected.

Universal access to 911 means being able to reach emergency services from any device, at any time and from anywhere. It means that 911 works both with and without an access code in Multi-Line Telephone Systems (MLTS), as I have covered in Kari’s Law many times. Currently there are House and Senate Bills working their way through the legislative process, and in these, we make the point that access to 911 must be followed immediately by on-site notification that immediately establishes situational awareness—bringing the building aware of the fact that a particular station dialed 911, and most importantly, the location of where that particular device is in the building.

We are not asking for internal folks to answer those calls—they are likely not trained to do so—we want them to be aware the calls happened. Doors may need to be unlocked, elevators may need to be held, and life-saving assistance might be rendered while waiting for public safety to arrive. Such pre-arrival coordination can speed response considerably. Despite the fact that many building operators feel they should be answering their own 911 calls, this is generally not a good practice to follow. When you dial 911 or you dial another established emergency code in the building, the call needs to reach the proper public safety answer point (PSAP) and not be intercepted by someone who is not trained to respond properly.

Less than half of U.S. States have current legislation covering this, and only a small few have any penalty for non-compliance. This may radically change if the House of Representatives takes an important next step in ensuring access that will lead to increased public safety by voting on H.R. 4167, also known as “The Kari’s Law Act of 2015.” This Bill sat in committee for only a day before a unanimous vote and 24 Republican and Democratic sponsors brought this to the House floor for a full vote. As most of my readers already know, Kari’s Law was named for “Kari Dunn who was murdered in 2013 by her estranged husband in a Marshall motel room while her 9-year-old daughter tried unsuccessfully to dial 911…because the girl did not know that the motel phone system required dialing an extra 9 to reach an outside line.” After much work in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott enacted Kari’s Law as the first Bill he signed. A similar bill is expected to be signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam sometime in the next month.

Federally, Kari’s Law in the bi-partisan H.R. 4167 Bill, with a companion S.2553 in the U.S. Senate, will accomplish the following:

    • Amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require phone vendors and individual buildings to ensure people can connect directly with emergency services without having to press ‘1’ or ‘9’ first.

 

    • Require outgoing ‘911’ calls connect directly to emergency services without local interference.

 

    • Ensure that on-site personnel are notified that a ‘911’ call was made.

 

Why does this matter? It matters because countless Americans will finally have protection, confidence and necessary peace of mind that when a 9-1-1 call is made, there will be a first responder who will have the necessary information to reach the victim without the many issues raised by you, Mr. Oliver. It will mean that America’s network of phones, an invention created by Alexander Graham Bell in March 1876, who’s first call was actually an emergency call, when he called out to Watson after spilling acid on himself, will finally serve the interests of all Americans nationwide.

So what can Americans do? Call your Congressman NOW at (202) 225-3121 to express your support for H.R. 4167. Support for this initiative has never been so important.

Backstory: Zang Forget Me Not Service for Mother’s Day

On May 4, we announced the Zang Forget Me Not Service for Mother’s Day (press release, blog)—a free service through which people could schedule a voicemail to be delivered to their mother. Candidly, the idea was born out of a marketing meeting I, a PR manager at Avaya, attended on April 14 when thinking about what we could do to promote the simplicity, utility and virtually endless possibilities of Zang. And with Mother’s Day around the corner, the stars seemed to be aligning nicely to tie in the one day of the year that the most phone calls are made.

On April 20, I met with the head of Zang product management to run the idea by him. Much to my excitement, his response was, “Yes, that’s something that Zang can do.” Score! Now, it was just a matter of getting the project approved and resourced, which happened over the next few days. When everything was said and done, the development took all of two days, testing and UI “beautification” took another couple of days, and on Wednesday, May 4, the Zang Forget Me Not service was announced to the world.

With just 2 1/2 business days to promote the service, we hit our PR and social media goals and then some. Launching an internationally-available service during a time when several countries celebrated Mother’s Day was quite fortuitous (i.e.: U.S., Canada, India, China, Australia celebrated on May 8; Mexico celebrated on May 10). Interestingly, 55 % of the calls processed came from outside the U.S. –quite a revelation.

The Zang Forget Me Not service for Mother’s Day was a timely demonstration of the power and flexibility of Zang. The PR “stunt” provided a simple and easily understandable example for users to experience what all too often seem esoteric technical concepts. People, especially outsiders to our industry, struggle to understand what cloud, “as a Service” and other buzzwords really mean to their lives. With this easily applied concept, we brought home the realization that there are true productivity enhancing applications available to those who embrace new technologies.

Many of the questions and comments I’ve seen in response to the various blogs that featured Zang Forget Me Not are if we’ll make this available for Father’s Day? Stay tuned!