Key factors to consider when evaluating video conferencing

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Video collaboration is an increasingly essential business communications tool, with business Internet video projected to grow more than 30% annually through 2018, according to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index report. However, many companies are unfamiliar with the options, concerned about logistical issues with deployments and unsure how to calculate the true costs of video for everyday business use.

While the deployment questions must be addressed, the traditional lens through which businesses are viewing video is problematic. Besides considering the cost of investing in video – the hardware, software and management of the technologies – enterprises must also consider the cost of foregoing the investment. Missed business opportunities, talent recruiting challenges, lack of competitive differentiation, problematic customer care, and lost reinvestment capital are among the significant risks enterprises take when delaying a video deployment.

In terms of options, video is realistic for all types of business needs – from the browser to the boardroom. The choice question ultimately comes back to the needs of the organization, but IT managers should know that quality video is available across a variety of use cases – experience does not have to be compromised and should not impact the bottom line.

An important consideration when choosing a well-designed video system is integration with existing unified communication and collaboration solutions. If a company’s communications infrastructure is developed on a piecemeal basis with siloed solutions, IT managers can become frustrated trying to get the pieces to work together. Video should be flexible enough so that participants can join from different devices, from a room or desk-based system or a desktop computer to a tablet or smartphone. Video users should also have the same rich benefits as a voice user with features like extension mobility, call forwarding and voicemail.

As you embark on your video collaboration journey, there are four key factors to consider: simplicity, reliability, scalability, and security.

A great, simplicity-driven user experience is critical for adoption. Ideally, vendors are making simple, intuitive tools that don’t require a user manual. Any necessary training should then be addressed up front – ultimately an investment in video is wasted if workers are not using it to bring value back to the organization through improved sales, better customer loyalty, reduced travel costs and other use cases.

Video deployments must be reliable. Once users have access to video and become accustomed to seeing other meeting participants through video, taking that access away or offering a compromised experience can seriously impair adoption and stall better business outcomes.

Scalability is important because a deployment must be designed with the capacity to grow. A modestly sized implementation may be adequate for calls involving a relative handful of people, but in many cases, the more that video is available, the more people want to use it. You will need to plan for more endpoints, more bandwidth and more video-enabled conference rooms as the business grows.

And lastly, a service must be secure. The downside of using a free, unrestricted video platform for business is security. Business video traffic should be encrypted when sensitive information is being discussed, such as new product development or litigation in which the company is involved.

IT managers are often confused by the cost considerations with video collaboration. One consideration is whether to develop a dedicated, fixed cost network or subscribe to a pay-as-you-go service. Some cloud-based video conferencing services charge what seems like a low price per minute, per user, but as the service gets more popular, users will be making more calls, talking longer and inviting more people online, generating a sticker shock bill at the end of the month.

While these cost considerations should be addressed, I’d argue that the true cost of video collaboration lies in the cost of not deploying at all. Video can create new business opportunities. In healthcare, a doctor in a big city hospital can treat a patient in a remote area. In financial services, a customer in a small branch can connect to a mortgage lender at a bigger branch.

In retail, video collaboration can move a business from e-commerce – clicking on an item and having it delivered – to e-services, in which an end-to-end customer experience takes place over video. For instance, a home improvement store can create an e-service so a shopper can talk via video with a kitchen designer who can visually help them with a remodeling project, sharing samples of paint, wallpaper, cabinets, countertops and other components.

In essence, developing a video strategy is not just about where a business can cut costs, but how the business can grow.

We’ve seen an energy company that operates offshore oilrigs look for a way for experts to consult with rig operators without having to fly hundreds of miles to the rig. Video was the solution.“Instead of bringing the expert to the problem, we’re going to bring the problem to the expert,” the company told us.

An example of how video can be integrated with existing processes comes from the business travel services firm Sabre. Sabre’s travel planning application for booking flights, hotels and rental cars can now also identify video conference rooms in various cities to which the company has access, eliminating the need for a flight to meet others within the company. In one case, Sabre customer Harman Kardon saved substantially on internal business travel and reinvested the capital to external travel expenses. Meeting face-to-face with customers allowed the company to win new business and further develop existing relationships. Video allowed Harman to ensure that spending money on travel would result in better business outcomes rather than shuffling employees from office to office.

Finally, video conferencing is increasingly being embraced by human resources departments as a recruiting tool and is increasingly important for attracting new, young talent. Perhaps the most often referenced generation in today’s vernacular, Gen Y wants access to the newest technology and is using video in their personal lives to connect, particularly on mobile devices.

In fact, a Cisco survey of young business people released in August 2013 found that 87% of respondents believe that video has a significant and positive impact on an organization and the vast majority would prefer to work for a video-enabled company over one that has not deployed video. “College-age kids don’t want to work at a company where there’s old technology. They want the new stuff,” said Gail Hagen, manager of conference resources at AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical firm, which uses video for hiring and recruiting on college campuses.

Overall, the video conferencing business is booming with new companies entering the space, new platforms emerging and new video applications being created. Careful planning is needed to make smart decisions about what type of video investments to make and how to consider the costs of making these changes. But sitting on the sidelines is not advisable. It may cost your business too much.

Cisco is the worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow by proving that amazing things can happen when you connect the previously unconnected. For ongoing news, please go to http://thenetwork.cisco.com.

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