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Getting videoconferencing right

Talking Tech By Brian Kopf, manager of unified communications practice, CDW, Network World
September 21, 2010 03:08 PM ET

Network World - Videoconferencing has gone mobile. Anyone who has seen the recent iPhone commercials can attest that you no longer need "an app for that" -- it's built in. But while individual consumers now have videoconferencing at their fingertips, many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are still relying on different modes of communication.

Primary modes of communication – instant messages, e-mails, phone calls and in-person meetings -- all have their appropriate place in the mix. Yet, in some cases, IMs are blunt, e-mails seem stodgy and phone calls become rushed.

Is your network ready for HD videoconferencing?

Enter videoconferencing. Unlike the other solutions, videoconferencing allows for face-to-face meetings without the cost or hassle of travel. Additionally, a successful videoconferencing system can alleviate more than travel pressures -- it can also reduce operating costs and provide opportunities for distance/remote training, all while improving the quality of interactions.

Making the move to videoconferencing can be daunting, and SMBs discussing adoption should consider the following:

Choose a system: The types of videoconferencing systems run the gamut from immersive telepresence systems to PC-based applications, all with varying costs and benefits. Determining the best fit requires a clear understanding of the organizational stakeholders' expectations and the business drivers behind implementing the solution.

If the intended use is for executive-to-executive communication, high video quality will likely be preferable. If, however, a business is using the system for "many-to-many" video collaboration, with multiple users in separate locations, then the standard definition solution may be the most logical choice.

The choice of a videoconferencing system also depends upon the size of both the room and audience as well as the experience level of the user. For a large conference room, ensure that the system has pan/tilt/zoom capability and that it can support multiple displays and microphones. If the system has multiple endpoints, it is important to consider a conference management application with video bridges, as well as video recording/streaming and firewall traversal.

Organizational buy-in

Videoconferencing can increase network load significantly, requiring the highest level of priority and affecting the quality of service (QoS) for other applications. Before embarking on a large-scale videoconferencing deployment, complete a network assessment to ensure the network is robust enough and has QoS enabled to prioritize traffic properly. While a full assessment is not required when adding videoconferencing capabilities, it is highly recommended.

Demonstrating high value and a return on investment (ROI) often fast-tracks a business project and changes to IT systems are no different. To gain executive acceptance, SMBs must clearly define ROI from the start, including cost, productivity savings and a timeline for when savings will be realized.

Implement effectively 

Understanding the business' unique needs is only the beginning. You must still choose a system and get management on board. Like any new technology roll-out, success relies on proper planning. Here are some key points to help you get started:

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