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.

Videoconferencing and Streaming – What is the difference?

Look at videoconferencing like you would look at any other meeting.  People get together and interact with each other and collaborate using input from a computer, document camera, projector or white board.  Look at streaming like a broadcast or one-to-many speaking event.  The big difference is that in a videoconference everybody is interacting with each other like any other meeting.  In streaming, there is no interaction. It’s a one-to-many communications like a television broadcast.  The streaming presenter can still use input from a computer, document camera or white board but he or she is the only participant showing this input.

Article_75_Stream & videoconf_FINALThis brings us to the second question — When do you use videoconferencing and when do you use streaming? Videoconferencing is an interactive meeting whereby participants communicate with each other just like any other meeting.  Streaming would be used for a one-to-many scenario.  For example:  A quarterly financial report or major announcement to hundreds or thousands of investors.  In a stream participants cannot interact they can only observers the presentation.  There is also a major cost difference.  Cost per participant in streaming is very low compared to a videoconferencing event.

The third question – Where do you go to get help with videoconferencing and streaming?  We recommend a hosting company that does both.  They can certainly guide you to the right solution for your particular event or application.  The problem in going to a videoconferencing only source is that their recommended solution for everything is only videoconferencing and cost can get out of control.  The problem in going to a streaming only source is exactly the same, their recommended solution for everything is streaming, when your application really needs videoconferencing.  The good news is there are several firms that do both and do them efficiently with great customer service and guidance.  Below will help guide you to the best solution:

VIDEOCONFERENCE:

–          Interactivity or real-time input from participants is required

–          There is a limited number of participants – No more than 20

–          The agenda  requires decisions to be made by the participants, i.e. board meeting

–          Participants have web cams or mobile devices with web cams

STREAMING:

–          No interactivity or real-time input required by participants

–          There are many participants

–          No decisions are needed by the participants

–          Participants have no web cam or video access

One more question:  What can you stream from?  Answer – Just about any computer or mobile device with a mic and camera.  You can also stream from a standard videoconferencing CODEC or camera.  If you are sharing input from a computer, it’s best to stream from a computer or videoconferencing CODEC with a VGA computer input port.