A guest post from Michael Alp, President, Polycom Asia Pacific:
In the technology industry, everyone wants to know what the future holds. We always look to predict what the next big development will be and the pace at which new technology will evolve. The possibilities can often seem endless. As a leader in the world of unified communications, I believe we are about to experience a revolution in video technology; an advancement in transforming an already remarkable collaboration tool into something even greater.
Video collaboration is not just about a piece of equipment anymore, or about two rooms of executives coming together for a business meeting. It changes people's lives. As someone who lives this change every day, I can genuinely attest to the substantial and sustainable impact of video technology on my own productivity and work-life balance. The growth in the use of video beyond the boardroom has been nothing short of extraordinary. Some of these cases include: healthcare providers using mobile video technology to deliver medical services to patients in some of the remotest parts of New Zealand; a law faculty in Hong Kong collaborating with overseas students, and simulating courtroom proceedings in real-time; and research teams at a pharmaceutical manufacturer in India speeding up development and approvals through increased collaboration between laboratories.
As we start 2014, I have been thinking about the next phase in the evolution of video collaboration and how this will impact our technology roadmap. Here is what I broadly see as being the top five trends to look out for in the year ahead:
1. BYOD and the Cloud
A recent Polycom global survey found that by 2016, videoconferencing is expected to be the world’s preferred business communications tool, ahead of email and voice calls[i]. In light of this, the continued growth of mobility and mobile workforce strategies, BYOD (bring your own device) policies and cloud-based technologies are all set to forge the way. Other research has shown that the number of smartphones and tablets brought into workplaces will more than double by 2014[ii]. In fact, tablets are also expected to surpass desktop and laptop shipments by 2015 growing to just under 3 billion by 2017[iii]. With video technology software available on tablets and mobile devices, secure, enterprise-grade, face-to-face collaboration has moved far beyond the office and will continue to actively transform the ways in which we work.
2. Content is King
Content is a key part of any collaboration experience. Users want to do much more than project a static presentation, and participants want to interact with and benefit more from the content they receive. The ability to display multiple streams of information – for example a video, a presentation, a remote participant, and a web site – is where I see the content aspect of video collaboration proceeding. Having the capability to split content across several screens for a more dynamic experience has the potential to enrich a lecture or meeting, increase engagement among participants, and allow users to interact more with the materials at hand.
The present generation of technology users very intuitively navigate devices such as tablets; searching, swiping, copying, and pinching-to-zoom content for example. The future of content-sharing via video collaboration should therefore match this expected behaviour. Users also need to have flexibility with how content is shared. Whether they physically plug in their desktops to a meeting room video environment, or pair screens through a tablet device while standing anywhere in the meeting room, users need to have the same functionality. The ability for all video participants to interact with content, for example annotating over text or images, will become the norm.
3. Defying Distance
In 2014, we will also see a rise in the uptake of videoconferencing by individuals, business functions and departments not traditionally associated with this technology. The use of video in the enterprise, to some extent still struggles with the stigma of being limited to use for management meetings. I believe that as the potential of the technology across organisations is realised, video will move on from being viewed as just a management communication tool to a resource positioned at the heart of organisational culture that positively impacts productivity and efficiency.
As organisations continue to operate in challenging environments and keep a close eye on the bottom line, finding better ways of working has never been more important. Cross-border product launches, IT troubleshooting, brainstorming over architectural blueprints, training a global workforce – these examples just touch the surface of how video collaboration can inherently defy distance for many business functions in more ways than one. There are some excellent examples to refer to here.
A particularly exciting opportunity also now exists for organisations to extend the collaborative technology they have invested in to external stakeholders, beyond an internal firewall. For customers, partners, or suppliers it can now be as simple as clicking on a shared hyperlink, in order to join the secure, HD video conference you are hosting. Nothing more than a webcam and browser are required.
I expect collaboration over video will become as normal as voice teleconferencing with external parties, but with all the added benefits offered by live visual communication.
4. Collaborative Workplaces
When it comes to doing more with less, real estate and office spaces are perhaps the largest investments firms are looking to maximise. Meeting rooms and working environments should no longer remain static, and the office of the future will fundamentally be flexible and reusable, dependant on the needs of the workforce. About a third of the global workforce is mobile today. As a result, in 2014 I expect organisations will look even more closely at providing an effective environment to support employees that work from home or any location, and save considerable money in the long-term.
Good communication and employee engagement are central to an organisation’s performance and bottom line; and the office space should be looked at as an enabler of innovation, productivity, and creativity. By designing an office with distance collaboration technologies and providing seamless access to smart work tools such as wireless networks, mobile video apps, integration with UC applications like Microsoft Lync, and smart transfer between mobile and fixed collaboration tools, a workplace immediately becomes more connected, more collaborative, and more cost-effective.
If I look at where video collaboration has the opportunity to evolve in 2014, the focus should be on getting smarter with the technology. Already, we have the ability to smart pair a video call from a tablet device with a room video system. This means very easily transferring a conversation from a portable tablet onto a fixed screen. The next phase would be the development of contextually-aware smart technology. For example, this could include sharing and receiving content directly on a personal device, software that identifies the number of meeting participants through facial detection, or creating more bespoke profiles for individuals to make their video collaboration sessions even simpler than they are now.
While we head towards yet another new era in technology, the individual or the end-user should always remain the primary focus. Technology in any environment, especially that which is about collaboration and bringing people and processes together, should not be looked at as something complicated to adopt or merely a CIO-led initiative. User behaviour and the needs of the workforce who use it every day will drive any technology development and deployment, and the ease-of-use for our customers will always be an ultimate goal.
Without a doubt, the impact video collaboration is now having on many industries globally, and in the lives of individuals, including mine, is profound. The future of video technology is on a fantastic trajectory and I am greatly encouraged by its development so far. I do believe we are facing a new video revolution; guided by an increasing mobile workforce, a new generation of digital nomads, an increased need to shrink distances between people, the restructuring of traditional workplaces, and in fact, a wide and varied uptake of the technology across many more industries and job functions. There is an insatiable hunger to discover and do more with visual technology. For the year ahead, I will keenly look forward to seeing the projected trends come to fruition, and am more assured than ever about the constructive influence of video in our daily working lives.