Is audio conferencing on the way out?

Serious Business People On Conference CallWe hear a lot these days about the dreaded audio conference call.  People muting out and not engaged; background noise like a child crying;  a participant puts everybody on hold and everybody hears elevator music; someone starts typing on their keyboard making it sound like wood peckers are invading the meeting.  Many question the productivity of audio conference calls.    In spite of all of this it will be a long time before audio conferencing becomes a thing of the past.

Phones are easy and certainly ubiquitous with competitive audio conferencing companies everywhere.  It’s simple to dial into an audio conference, but not so simple to run an effective meeting.  We don’t think it’s on the way out, but there will be some migration towards videoconferencing.  One of our companies, BtoB Connect, www.btobconnect.com,  uses Scopia by Avaya.  This platform accommodates the world wide video standards and we can integrate a regular phone connection for those who don’t have a mobile device or computer with a web cam.  We conduct monthly meetings on this platform and it is interesting to observe how video participants interact vs. audio participants.  The Video participants are much more engaged.  You can see clearly how they are reacting to the agenda and the presentation input from the computer.  Often audio participants are tuned out and when addressed there is dead air for a moment because they are multi-tasking or otherwise not engaged in the meeting.  The contrast on who is engaged is overwhelming when you mix audio participants with video participants.

What we like about the Scopia solution is it’s easy to control the meeting.  It’s very simple to mute and un-mute participant’s mics, eliminating echo and background noise instantly.  Also video participants have their names displayed right below their video image — this is like an electronic name tag.  Phone participants get a gateway ID number and this gets highlighted in bold type when they speak.  We write their name down next to the gateway ID as they enter the meeting.  Because Scopia works within the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), video standards we can seamlessly connect to a conference room using videoconferencing.   This platform allows us to stay above the fray and confusion with the “video app flavor of the month” that’s not built on the ITU world standards.

In time, routine videoconferencing from any computer and any mobile device will be as ubiquitous as audio conferencing, but audio conferencing will be around for a long time.

See the enclosed Wall Street Journal Report:  “Surviving a conference call”

See enclosed article: “Why audio conferencing is so ineffective”

 

How do I purchase videoconferencing equipment and who installs it?

Installtion_Article_84Videoconferencing is still a bit of a divergent product.   Most companies do not have videoconferencing in their conference rooms.  Many question whether they really need the technology — after all they got along without it for years.  So if your enterprise decides that they want to purchase videoconferencing equipment, where do you go?  A variety of companies supply the equipment and installation:  the phone company;  A/V Integrators; IT companies; Network providers and others.  With the refinement of international videoconferencing standards most enterprises will be compelled to implement videoconferencing sooner or later.  This will certainly become another essential way to communicate, like cell phones and email and texting.

If your enterprise is looking into videoconferencing first look carefully at your applications.  (Reference article – 10 Ways a Small Company Decreases Overhead and Creates Revenue with Videoconferencing)How  you will use videoconferencing is your first consideration. If you have multiple locations, domestic and internationally you may use videoconferencing for routine management meetings.  You may have key clients with videoconferencing, and you may want to meet with them more often without the encumbrance of travel.   Many applications eliminate driving across town.  For example courtrooms are using videoconferencing for cross town arraignments.  This saves a tremendous amount of time and expense for local townships not to mention the increased safety of not having to transport prisoners from the jail to the courtroom.  Local healthcare providers are also using videoconferencing to meet patients across town and in their homes.

Once you clearly define your applications let’s move on to how to purchase videoconferencing.  First look at the hardware options.  There are about 5 prominent manufacturers: Cisco; Polycom; Lifsize; Radvision; and AVER.  All make very good and reliable products.  You need to do some homework on the manufacturers.  Find out who owns them and if they plan to stay in the business.  For example Lifesize is owned by Logitech and Logitech was considering selling Lifesize.  This transaction could disrupt or change the support you’re getting from the manufacturer.  Narrow this down to a couple of favorites, but be open to any of the above manufacturer as they are always improving the technology and getting very cost competitive.

After you narrow down the videoconferencing manufacturer find a reliable dealer that does installation.  One big indicator of a reliable dealer is one that uses the technology.  Look for video IP numbers on their business cards.  If they don’t have one, find a dealer who does.  Do not buy videoconferencing from a dealer who does not use what they sell.  Most reliable dealers have excellent installers who work closely with their clients to make sure they are comfortable using the technology. If your company is new to using videoconferencing it’s easy to practice with the dealer using videoconferencing in their day to day operations.

Lawyers and Videoconferencing — Here are three stories

Themis 3330Early in the development of videoconferencing, attorneys were a bit slow in embracing the technology.  Over time, however law firms became very adept at using videoconferencing.  Here are three stories whereby lawyers maximized the technology and really took advantage of the benefits.  In the legal field time really is money.  You will see how these law firms became a tremendous asset to their clients because they use video conferencing.

Story One — A law firm specializing in medical malpractice needs to consult with experts around the country.  They purchased a videoconferencing CODEC with multi-point capability to connect with clients and expert witnesses.  This firm made their purchase in the late 1990’s making them a somewhat early adaptor.  They expanded this use to include depositions.  Many court reporting firms around the country use videoconferencing making it even more convenient for depositions requiring a court reporter.

Story Two — One law firm spent more than $25,000 for videoconferencing in their conference room only to discover it only worked on one communication standard that was used in VoIP but not in videoconferencing.  A rude awaking occurred as they noticed they could not videoconference with anybody.  The problem was fixed when they used the Radvision Scopia hosted service that works on all videoconferencing standards and can seamlessly connect to any PC, MAC or mobile device. They can now connect to anybody, even those who do not have videoconferencing equipment.  Radvision’s Scopia saved the day. (Link to Scopia Video)

Story Three — A senior partner in a mid size law firm was on an extended trip abroad.  A critical deposition was already scheduled and to take place while he is away.  He was planning on flying back in the middle of his extended stay, just for the 2 or 3 hour deposition.  This consideration was eliminated easily with Radvision’s Scopia mobile app.  The attorney seamlessly connected to the law firm’s standards based videoconferencing system and attended with full participation in the deposition right from his tablet.  The firm saved thousands of dollars and travel, not to mention the cost of the attorney’s time. The only thing the traveling attorney needed was broadband internet access.  Security was no problem as the video call was encrypted.

We learned a lot from our legal clients.  When they meet the last thing they want to worry about is the technology.  Simple control and standards based videoconferencing certainly eliminates these worries and allows attorneys to conduct important meetings anywhere anytime.

10 Ways a small company decreases overhead and creates revenue with videoconferencing

Outside sales without going outside   A small company can sign up with a hosted videoconferencing service and connect to clients and prospects without the need to purchase hardware or the need for the prospect or customer to subscribe to any hosted service.  This becomes a virtual company car traveling in several directions simultaneously at light speed. The ROI is almost immediate — More face time with clients with less sales people and a significant decrease in fuel expenses. (Sales Article)

Customer service and support   A small company’s customer service reps can meet with existing clients using a hosted videoconferencing to help resolve software problems in real-time, share information for trouble shooting, help customers update orders or resolve order discrepancies.  Using standards based videoconferencing all of the above applications are simple.  Additionally, on-site tech support can be accomplished on the factory floor using an iPad; iPhone or Smart phone.

 – Productivity   A small company with employees working from home in remote locations can increase productivity substantially eliminating trips and per diem costs going back and forth to the home office.  Small companies get the most out of field service reps and regional managers working in remote locations.

Management & Administration   Small companies really need to work more efficiently these days to survive, let alone thrive. Day to day operations run much more smoothly when all remote parties can meet face-to-face on video for management meetings.  For example Job interviews of potential candidates can easily be recorded through a hosted service or on a thumb drive with some videoconferencing systems.  Recordings can easily be shared through a link.  Also, participants miss fewer meetings.

Product training   Small distributors and manufacture’s reps can use videoconferencing to launch new products.  A critical part of this launch is new product training.  Using a hosted videoconferencing bridging service you can connect with many locations simultaneously and train everybody in one day with the entanglements and big expense of travel. The ROI in this application is immediate.

Supply Chain management   Supply chain management is critical part of any small manufacturer. Face to face video meetings with vendors and key partners can certainly increase efficiency.  Visits to key vendors can be significantly reduced while developing a closer a more efficient relationship with vendors.

Quality Control  A small manufacturer achieves better quality control when issues occur in the manufacturing process.  For example if a vendor ships a faulty part, the faulty part can be seen in real-time on video with the explanation on how it’s affecting the assembly line.  A small manufacturer can take the vendor right out to the factory floor via video to show problems in real time — Solutions present themselves quickly.

Marketing   One small manufacturer in Canada put a videoconferencing CODEC in their show room and published their public IP video number on their web site with an open invitation to connect and look around. Because they are using standards based videoconferencing, visitors can remotely take control of their PTZ, (Pan Tilt Zoom), camera and look around the show room on their own. They literally opened a video store front whereby any visitor can just pop in.  Staff is trained to welcome visitors and see if they need any help.  This is a genius marketing move on their part especially when most of their customers are in the videoconferencing business. (Link to VFI article).

Trade show participation   Some small companies are connecting videoconferencing from the trade show floor to the home office.  If key clients visit the exhibit and they need to meet with a design engineer or sales rep at the home office they can get business done right at the trade show exhibit.

Telecommuting on snow days   Just because the roads are closed doesn’t mean a small business needs to be closed.  Employees can still show up for work via videoconference through the Internet.   All the planned meetings can still take place complete with white board and collaboration through a videoconference hosted service.  The meeting can be recorded for later viewing for those who could not make the meeting.

As videoconferencing becomes more ubiquitous, more applications will present themselves. The bottom line is that videoconferencing affects the bottom line.  It all boils down to saving time and saving money.

Mobile videoconferencing apps – Sorting out the confusion

Here are a few mobile videoconferencing apps: Skype; FaceTime; Tango; EZMeetup; Adobe Connect; Hangouts; ClearSea and whatever the new Flavors of the Month,” are.  Many mobile videoconferencing apps are free, like Skype – But therein lays the confusion.  Many of these work well in the context of personal use, like meeting with your son, daughter or significant other who is away at school or serving overseas.  These solutions, however, fall short in the context of business use or as a routine way to communicate in the enterprise. The first big problem is the fact that they all work independently in their own proprietary protocols and not within the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), standards.  Many working in business use these mobile videoconferencing apps and certainly like the idea of what they do, but find they all fall short in practical use within the enterprise.Question mark cubes

Another problem with most of these apps is there is no collaboration or sharing documents, very much needed in most business meetings.  Younger people expect everything to work seamlessly and for the most part they do with many of these videoconferencing apps — However they don’t work seamlessly with each other because they ignore the ITU videoconferencing standards.  As younger people get older and work in business they will expect videoconferencing to connect seamlessly with collaboration and without the worry of who is using what app.

Over time the confusion will dissipate because all videoconferencing applications and equipment will be designed and developed within the ITU standards.  Currently we have a “Tower of Babel” scenario built in proprietary videoconferencing silos.  In the long run this inefficiency will catch up with itself and the videoconferencing apps built in silos will either collapse or adapt to the ITU world standards.

One of the redeeming qualities of the free videoconferencing apps like Skype is that it gets many people using videoconferencing and seeing the benefits of meeting face-to-face on video as opposed to an audio call.  To clearly see where this is all headed you need to look at email; cell phones; texting and all the other ways we communicate with technology.  Certainly you do not see separate texting apps or separate email apps that only work with those using that specific app.

Currently there are several high tech innovators developing videoconferencing apps that work within the ITU standards and can connect to any conference room or board room with a standards based videoconferencing system.  In time more of these innovators will appear.  In the future, choosing a videoconferencing app will be simple.  It will be the one you are comfortable using and can connect to any conference room, board room, or other person using an ITU standard based videoconferencing app.

Videoconferencing technology is leading edge in many ways, yet far behind in other ways.  Soon these apps will be easy to use and you won’t have to worry about how any other party connects.  Videoconferencing will be just as ubiquitous and easy to use as email and texting.

My advice — It won’t hurt to try a free app, but don’t use them in a critical business meeting.  Stick with the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), videoconferencing standards.  Also continue to visit this web site as we are keeping a close eye out for any solutions using ITU standards based videoconferencing.

Collaboration – Why this is a critical part of videoconferencing

 

FCollaboration or sharing documents is critical in any videoconference.  If you cannot easily collaborate in a videoconference the equipment is falling way short of what should be expected.  If you look carefully at the variety of hosted web based conferencing solutions like GoToMeeting and WebEx you can see how collaboration works.  The big problem with these solutions is that they operate in communication silos.  In others words they are not part of the ITU, (International Telecommunication Union), protocols. (See article What is the difference between proprietary conferencing and standards based videoconferencing?”)

All newer videoconferencing CODEC’s, (Coder Decoder – commonly referred to as the videoconferencing system), have the ITU standards based H.239 or duo video protocol which allows collaboration. This means you can be on any videoconference and simply plug a computer into the CODEC via VGA connection, hit one button on the remote and eureka you are collaborating.  You can share spread sheets, Power Point, or anything on your computer in real time. The really neat thing about this standards based collaboration protocol is that it sends two video streams simultaneously to the far end. Your audience sees both you and the secondary input from your computer or document camera.  It’s just like you’re in the room up front standing next to the screen.

Think about all the meetings you are in whereby you collaborate using an LCD projector.  Your videoconferencing system should be no different and just as easy to connect.  If it doesn’t easily connect for collaboration you have the wrong CODEC. The good news is that most videoconferencing manufacturers make it very easy to connect a computer or document camera to the back of the CODEC.

Most bridging or hosted services accommodate Duo Video or H.239.  This means if you have multiple participants they will see you and your computer or document camera input simultaneously.   Before subscribing or hiring a hosted service make sure they operate through the ITU standards and provide duo video.  Additionally, if you are presenting from a computer on a video conference, duo video should operate in exactly the same way sending your live video feed from your webcam and computer input.

The ITU standards are gravitational pull in videoconferencing technology.  These standards really accelerated the development of the technology.  ITU Standards are getting more refined and manufacturers can easily build towards them.  Over time videoconferencing access will be as ubiquitous and easily to connect as our cell phone and email and text messaging. There will be no more worry about what app someone is using.

One very brilliant company using videoconferencing to expand sales

One of our vendors in Canada manVFI_Showroom_Article_79ufactures furniture and fixtures for videoconferencing and multi-media technology.  The company is VFI, Video Furniture International.  If you go the home page of their web site prominently displayed is their public IP videoconferencing number with their business hours noted below the number. This company does not manufacture videoconferencing CODECS or software but they serve companies who resell videoconferencing technology. When you call the video number you go directly to their show room, and one of their staff members pops in and asks if they can help you.  It is obvious their staff is professionally trained to accept these video calls as they make everybody feel welcome and glad they called. http://www.video-furn.com/  .

VFI is a business to business company.  They understand how to leverage videoconferencing technology where prospects and existing customers can just walk in, say hello and see the latest products.  Because they are using ITU, (International Telecommunications Standards); prospects can control their PTZ camera remotely and look around the show room.  You can easily assume VFI competitors are clueless on how to do this; it’s so simple yet brilliant on VFI’s part.  Their sales will certainly increase because they make themselves incredibly accessible for resellers, customers and partners through videoconferencing technology.  To quote Peter Drucker, internationally known business guru and author, “Marketing and innovation are the only two functions that build businesses that sustain paying revenue. Everything else is an expense.”   VFI’s use of videoconferencing technology clearly does both.

Another interesting innovation is VFI’s use of computer based videoconferencing. We received an email from Mike Skinner CEO and owner listing the email addresses of their sales staff, product designers and president. Here is the message in the email:    All sales staff now has high definition webcams installed and they all have videoconferencing apps.  To serve you better contact any of our reps to schedule a video meeting”   We can now meet our VFI sales rep face to face while we are waiting for our turn to go into the show room.

Those who manufacture and develop videoconferencing and unified communications technology can certainly learn from VFI’s example on how to best use videoconferencing technology.  Yet many still do not use it in developing new business, (Refer to article The companies making and selling video conferencing – Do they use it?.”  Videoconferencing becomes an exciting way to communicate when a non-videoconferencing company makes a modest investment either in hardware or hosted service. They find that a world of opportunity instantly opens up to them.

Can videoconferencing replace a drive across town for one-on-one meetings?

Traffic_Article_78Videoconferencing can certainly replace the drive across town. Some are doing this right now, and in the future just about all of us will eliminate the drive across town altogether.  First thing to consider is the videoconferencing technology and how people are doing it now.  There are many ways to meet across town now – Skype; Facetime; Tango; GoToMeeting; Easymeeting; Webex; Adobe; Google Hangouts; and this list keeps growing.  You can certainly meet across town or across the country with any of the above platforms, but there are four inherent problems with the above examples if you want to meet across town in a business context.

The first problem is the party to whom you want to meet must have a subscription or license with the app you are meeting on.  If you are making sales calls across town this is an annoying imposition on your prospect or client. The second problem is all of these apps are operating in conferencing silos.  In other words if you want to invite a third party to your meeting they will also need a subscription or a license on an application which operates in that restricting platform or conferencing silo.  The third problem, many videoconferencing applications only work on a PC.  The person you want to visit may have a mobile device like an iPad or iPhone.  In any event, if you are making business calls across town or you’re a doctor seeing patients, you need something easy to implement and use for the party you are visiting.  The fourth problem is collaboration.  In most business meetings documents are shared and this is difficult and impossible to collaborate with several of the above applications.

Our company uses videoconferencing every day to make sales calls across town.  The technology we use is Scopia by Radvision/Avaya.  The videoconferencing technology eliminates all four problems.  The prospect we are meeting with downloads a free videoconferencing plug-in from our server.  They can meet via PC; Mac; or Mobile device.  Because this plug-in is standards based we can meet right in the client’s boardroom on a standards based videoconferencing system allowing us to meet with all the decision makers at one time.  Additionally if one of our associates needs to pop in on the meeting and they are on the road, they can call from a cell phone.  Because we are in a “virtual room” all parties can share documents with one touch.  We can also annotate over these documents with a built in white board.  Also, there is complete encrypted security.

Having a business meeting on the standards based Scopia plug-in vs. the above proprietary applications is like going from having a meeting in a phone booth versus having a meeting in a very nice conference room with all the amenities.  Participants always leave the meeting very impressed.

“Failure to Launch” — Why videoconferencing is underutilized after deployment

Have you ever heard about a company spending large amounts of money for videoconferencing equipment and it gets underutilized?  In one case a company spent more than one half million of their capital budget to deploy videoconferencing on their worldwide network and ended up with less than 5% utilization.  Needless to say, there was no return on investment.  There are basically 3 reasons for this failure – (See the article in this web site: “3 reasons why videoconferencing fails or falls short after a deploymentFailed Videoconferencing“).

There is however an overall problem with a very simple solution.  Have you ever walked into a conference room and seen a speaker phone on the conference table — One that you have never seen before?  Chances are you can make a call from this speaker phone immediately, only asking if you need to dial 9 for an outside line.  Maybe there was a laminated reference card on the conference table that included dialing instructions and phone extensions to key personnel in the company.   In any event more often than not there is no need to call a technical person to make a simple conference call with just about any speaker phone.  Videoconferencing in a conference room should be exactly the same.  Anybody should be able to walk in, pick up the remote and connect a videoconference call from the system’s phone book or easily dial a videoconference IP number.

We offer a bundle program whereby we combine the circuit with the hardware. The client does not have to spend any capital budget on the equipment.  It’s all consolidated into one low monthly fee.  The package makes videoconferencing simple and reliable because it does not touch the client’s existing network. (See Reason 1 – in the article “3 reasons why videoconferencing fails or falls short after a deployment“).  We specified a simple yet robust videoconferencing CODEC. They can connect a computer into the back just like an LCD projector and present from a distance easily with the push of one simple button on the remote.   In the event someone needs help, we prepared a laminated remote reference chart for each deployment. There are also 800 support numbers for both the network and the system —   We are still waiting for someone to call us.  Now we know what the “Maytag Repairman” feels like.   So far nobody has needed to refer to the plastic remote reference chart.  This is good news for this particular product — Videoconferencing should really be that simple.

The hardware deployment failed if you needed to call tech support to make a videoconference call. This is a “failure to launch” — This is inexcusable.  Videoconferencing should be simple and easy just like a speaker phone.   The next challenge is the other annoying office appliance, the copy machine!But that’s another story all together.

(Solve the problem with  “Worry free videoconferencing“)

Videoconferencing for large National Associations – “Members Only”

Association_Article_76Any type of national association needs to constantly deliver new added value to attract and retain members.  It could be access to technical information; a database of other members; events; tradeshows; newsletters with articles on the latest innovations or networking opportunities — What about videoconferencing?  Some associations are taking a serious look at adding boardroom and mobile app videoconferencing as an added value for “members only.”   Associations with nationwide multiple offices have a tremendous opportunity in offering free videoconferencing as a member benefit.  Sharing information, resources and new ideas among members should be part of any association’s mission. What better way to do this on a national level than a videoconferencing network just for association members.

Imagine having membership in your professional association and with that membership you have the ability to meet with partners; potential employees; vendors; customers; or anyone critical to your business, free of charge via videoconference. This benefit is worth about $200.00 dollars an hour for one location or $400.00 per hour for two locations.  The association gains at the far end with added exposure to a new potential member who participates in the videoconference.

Another gain for the association is board member recruitment.  Associations need to retain and recruit quality board members. What better way to have a board meeting and to have it via videoconference.  The association saves a tremendous amount of time and money for board meetings.  Also, to attract new high level busy executives to their board, videoconferencing will give an association a tremendous edge as their time is valuable and indeed limited.

Associations can also make their videoconferencing network an added income stream. An association can register all their videoconferencing rooms with an international room broker.  The room brokers send their clients to these locations.  Room brokers charge an hourly fee for non-members and split this fee with the Association. The association only needs to reserve their conference room and offer the non-member participant a friendly welcome and hot cup of coffee.  The brokers take care of all the billing.  The association invoices the brokers against a purchase order. It’s very simple to develop a steady income stream with the equipment.

One association, BtoB Connect, offers its members free videoconferencing in their boardroom for any member.  Any national association will have a tremendous edge on attracting and retaining members by offering videoconferencing as a membership benefit.  Visit BtoB Connect at:  www.btobconnect.com.