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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