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The Workplace of the Future is a trending topic in the world today, and there have been substantial conversations and discussions around it. At Polycom, our approach to this trend is the belief that work is not a place you go, but is what you do – defined by the action of adding value to the organisation you work for.

 

With employees working from anywhere, the expectations for a collaborative experience have evolved over time. If we look at the way our customers are now working and the environments in which they operate, these have changed significantly from how it used to be. In the past, video collaboration (“conferencing”) was an isolated, siloed technology that was done from a special room, with special equipment, requiring a booking to be made, and more than likely, additional IT support.

 

In the video below, I discuss Polycom innovations such as RealPresence® EagleEye™ Producer and Acoustic Fence™  that simplify the collaboration experience, putting user experience ahead of the technology. Have a look and see how you can add value to your collaboration experience.

 

As a regular reader of Fortune magazine I always look forward to their annual edition of “The 100 Best Companies to work for”.  Buried within that issue are nuggets of management advice on how to be a better manager, create a better workplace and motivate my team.  One thing that struck me this year reading their analysis of successful companies and workplaces, was the shift away from the value of an individual’s knowledge and what that brings to an organisation.  Instead, the focus is now more around how that individual interacts within the organisation and the value that comes from those interactions.

 

A recurring theme was that the idea of the “knowledge-driven organisation” reigning supreme is over.  “Knowledge” has become commoditised in so many ways:  information is easily researched online, both on intranets and the Internet.  Witness how the instant use of a Google search has stopped many a good discussion and disagreement on facts in its tracks! In some cases knowledge is now going further and moving beyond being a static collection of information, but instead becoming an adaptive, learning entity to assist human specialists - you need to look no further than IBM’s Watson and it’s ability to process massive amounts of data as well as learn from that data to see the direction “knowledge” is going.

 

The new focus for successful organisations is looking at human relationships - how to get the most out of people, encourage them, create interactions and ideas that might otherwise not happen.  Creating a high quality workspace culture helps encourage the best and brightest to join an organisation, but also helps encourage more productive conversations. One small example of this: Google is well known for offering staff free gourmet meals at their office locations.  But did you know that they proactively manage the queue length? Apparently three to four minutes’ waiting is optimal to ensure people are still encouraged to use the cafeteria, but generates enough time to talk and interact whilst in the queue - human nature suggests that people will chat whilst waiting; chats become ideas, and ideas become projects.

 

Nick.jpgIt might be easy to encourage human interaction when all your employees are in one location but how do you manage and encourage such activity in todays disparate work environments?  The workplace of the future has become significantly more diverse - work is an activity now, rather than a location; it’s what you do, instead of where you work.  Users may be hot-desking, temporarily resident in a project space, working offsite at a customer office, or working from home.  With workforces becoming increasingly distributed, there is a danger of them potentially being isolated rather than involved as an integral member of their teams.

 

The good news is that today’s collaboration tools make it easy for anyone to remain connected with team members, as well as customers, suppliers, and so on.  The range of tools and solutions are varied and continue to evolve,whether it is connecting to a collaboration session from a Web browser using Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS, connecting from a desktop or tablet using Polycom’s mobility solutions, or connecting from a meeting room - there is a solution to suit every need and budget.  

 

Whilst the tools are readily available many users still think of collaboration as a specific, scheduled event (a meeting), rather than an on-going activity(conversations), throughout the workday.  But with a little creativity it is possible to use collaboration tools to recreate a face-to-face team operation, but delivered in the virtual domain:

 

  • One approach is to have a permanent virtual meeting room for the team. Users can dial-in, drop off etc. as needed.  Participants can stay on mute unless they need something from one of the other team members.  This allows you to create a similar team spirit to an open office environment, where team members can see who is around, ask questions and get immediate answers.

  • Another approach is to create a virtual cube using a video endpoint. So for users who are sometimes working from home, but also have a space in the office, they can always be present when someone walks to their cube for a chat, even if they are not physically present.  Polycom’s R&D team in Austin, USA has used this to great effect, as you can see in the picture in this blog post.

 

This on-going evolution of what collaboration can deliver and where collaboration is used starts to create some interesting challenges.   At Polycom we pride ourselves on the quality of our user experience.   However as our technology gets used in an ever increasing variety of situations and environments we have needed to continually innovate to help ensure users get a best in class experience.  The best technology to support a high quality user experience should be transparent and require little to no user interaction. 

 

Whether it is doing smart video processing to account for poor lighting conditions, or intelligent audio processing to help screen out background noise, all the operations should be seamless for the end user.  In my next post, I will explore some of Polycom’s key innovations that we have recently introduced to the market and how they help power the workplace of the future.

 

 

 

Earlier this week, Polycom made some significant technology announcements that will help revolutionise the workplace of the future.  These technology innovations might not be immediately obvious to the non-technical user, but the overall collaboration experience will be positively impacted.  We want to ensure that we can maximise the end user experience whilst minimising the human intervention required - the less the user has to do to optimise their collaboration session, the better!

 

Let’s look at how these innovations benefit three distinct groups of users:

 

1) People in a conference room

2) Participants joining from outside the conference room

3) Anyone in a conference call

 

Conference Room Experience

 

A great example of how Polycom is optimising the conference room experience would be the introduction of our new EagleEye™ Producer solution.  If you have ever been in a videoconference before, you will surely have had one or more meetings where no one dares to touch the remote control to move the camera.  You might have a conference room designed for 10 or more participants with only two people present.  The camera is left alone and is set to its maximum, zoomed out wide-angle setting.  

 

The end result is that the participants are small specks in the large conference room void.  Many of the benefits that come with visual collaboration – such as seeing the body language, non-verbal facial cues etc. are lost.  The overall experience is effectively reduced to an audio plus content session.  This kind of behaviour results from the fact that there is still a bit of a fear factor about interacting with the technology.  Users are concerned they might damage something, or are just uncomfortable with taking control.  The end result is a less than satisfactory experience for all participants. 

 

Polycom EagleEye Producer solves this challenge by automatically creating an optimum video experience.  It will automatically detect the room participants and then control the camera to ensure that all conference participants are framed appropriately.  If more people enter the room, or if people leave the room, the camera will automatically reframe to the remaining participants.  This way the video experience is optimised, yet completely automated. 

 

You can see a video of EagleEye Producer in action here.

 

There is an added side benefit to the process because EagleEye Producer automatically detects faces and records the number of participants present in the meeting room.  From talking to customers it seems that the world lives in perpetual meetings, and meeting rooms are nearly always occupied.  The ability for an administrator to understand the usage patterns, occupancy levels of the room etc. can significantly help them with planning decisions.  For example if an organisation has large meeting rooms that are almost always occupied by only –two or three people, it might make more sense to change some of them to smaller rooms.  The usage data will help ensure the organisation can make informed decisions.

 

Innovations for the workplace of the future

 

While EagleEye Producer is focused on enhancing the conference room experience,other new solutions announced are focused on optimising the collaboration experience, recognising that today’s workspaces are evolving.  The Polycom innovations of automatic face brightening for RealPresence desktop (currently a test feature), Acoustic Bubble™ and Acoustic Fence are all designed to help make video collaboration from the workplace of the future a great experience for both the local participant and the other people on the call.  

 

An ever-increasing number of people are connecting and collaborating by video from environments that are not optimised for that kind of media – noisy open plan offices, for example.  It could even be a case of connecting from a location where the lighting or sound conditions are not ideal - such as a hotel lobby, a home office or other ad-hoc location.

 

Polycom’s automatic face brightening plays a key role in optimising the video experience in the workplace of the future from a user’s desktop.  Conference rooms are usually designed with video collaboration in mind - lighting levels, camera placement and so on are carefully considered early in the planning stage.  For desktop users they are usually limited to wherever their desk is and have no control over lighting levels.  The same might apply for a user connecting from home, or a remote location such as a hotel lobby.  Often in this case a user might have a bright area such as a window behind them, so their face ends up in permanent shadow.  In this scenario much of the value of video collaboration – the ‘ as good as being there’ experience –  is lost.  Automatic face brightening recognises this scenario and automatically adjusts the exposure level of the video stream in real time; the user’s face can be seen and hence all the benefits of a video collaboration session can be realised.

 

Acoustic Bubble (for Polycom RealPresence Desktop) and Acoustic Fence (for Polycom RealPresence Group Series) are both focused on optimising the audio experience in the workplace of the future.  They minimise the background noise and distractions from an open office environment when a user is collaborating over video.   As an ever-increasing number of people join a video collaboration session from their desk, or an open plan project space the greater the potential for background noise to interfere with the overall experience.  Polycom’s audio innovations use multiple microphones and sophisticated audio processing to ensure that the conference participants hear the speakers audio, and not that of others around them in the open plan office, coffee shop etc.

 

The short video below does a great job of highlighting what the Acoustic Bubble can deliver - the experience is automatic, and transparent to the users, but the end user experience is radically different when Acoustic Bubble is enabled.  We’ve gone even further to add a visual indicator that helps a user know if they are speaking to camera but are muted.  There is nothing worse than launching into a two minute monologue only to be cut off by seeing far end participants indicating that no one can hear you!

 

 

The meeting experience

 

Having your video system tell you are on mute when you are speaking, definitely enhances the overall collaboration experience. But what about the opposite situation?  I am sure many of you have been on a conference call (audio or video) when everything grinds to a halt due to someone else, a late joiner for example, not going on mute appropriately. Innovations in collaboration help make the experience natural and an extension of everyday business processes, however people sometimes forget they are connected on a collaboration call.  Background noise, keyboard typing, paper shuffling all can be very disruptive to the meeting.  They often then lead to that round robin shout of “who’s that?” “Not me!” “Please can everyone go on mute!” 

 

Polycom NoiseBlock is a new enhancement for our RealPresence Collaboration Server solution designed to address exactly this problem.  Polycom’s sophisticated audio processing can identify and detect distracting background noises and automatically mute the offending participant!  When that user starts speaking their line will then be automatically unmuted. This automatic enhancement of the conference experience ensures that collaboration sessions are natural, engaging and productive.  You can watch a video of Polycom NoiseBlock, and see how disruptive something as simple as a bag of crisps can be!

 

Summary

 

There is no longer any doubt that the workplace is changing and our working environments, tools and processes are changing.  Real-time collaboration, multi-media multi-channel engagement is now the normal model for most organisations.  These new innovations and existing solution enhancements from Polycom ensure that the user continues to have an optimal meeting experience, irrespective of their environment, automatically and transparently.  Welcome to the new world of collaboration!

 

 

In a previous post I talked about the importance of business continuity planning (BCP) for any organisation. In this article I would like to go one step further and look at specific actions that an organisation can take to ensure they have a suitably enabled flexible workforce that can be prepared to respond to any event.

 

That event could be a negative one such as an unforeseen office closure due to a natural disaster but it could also be something uncertain or even very positive. It might be a time of uncertainty for an organisation due to a takeover or merger, or a challenging time in a positive way due to unexpected early win of a major contract. All of these situations could put strain on an organisation and hence it makes sense to have continuity plans in place.

 

Business continuity planning extends beyond the topics covered in this article - any continuity plan needs to cover a multitude of areas including communications networks, back-office processing, data back up etc. But there is one thing that underpins all aspects of BCP and that is effective, reliable and readily available communications.

 

When a disruptive event happens the most crucial factor is having working communication lines. None of your other plans can be executed without someone providing clear direction. An effective suite of communication and collaboration tools will enable employees to defy distance and disregard the limitations of geography. They may need access to specialist resources or system experts who are located in different regions, or maybe have to have a flexible workforce due to seasonality requirements or market drivers. All of these needs come back to needing simple and effective communications in a challenging situation that maximise the knowledge base in an organisation.

 

A great example of this would be ProLogis – a global distribution and logistics organisation. Following a merger with AMB it found itself trying to knit two different corporate cultures together – Polycom video collaboration helped enable their successful integration as part of their continuity and integration plan – you can read more details about how they used video collaboration to defy distance here.

 

Here are some areas to consider when looking at the communications element of a continuity plan:

 

1) Have a unified communications (UC) strategy 

 

Ensuring that employees have mobile phones so that they can communicate if your VoIP solution goes down does not count as a strategy! Effective collaboration goes beyond simply having access to voice communications with a mobile phone. Having a wide ranging unified communications & collaboration implementation across the organisation will enable everyone to communicate in real time, synchronously and asynchronously. VoIP solutions, Video conferencing, instant messaging & presence are all essential elements of a UC strategy. Solutions such as Microsoft Lync can deliver many aspects of this, as can a combination such as Microsoft Lync at the desktop and Polycom solutions in the conference room and on smart devices. New delivery models such as Polycom RealPresence One subscriptions make it much easier for an organisation to implement a UC strategy and not have to commit large amounts of capital investment upfront.
 

Whatever solution combination your organisation chooses for UC, it is important to ensure that all elements can connect together - focusing on solutions built on open standards will help ensure this and enable effective employee communications.

 

2) Extend your communications and collaboration beyond your network 

 

Once your UC strategy is in place and elements of it are being implemented, focus on training your employees to make maximum use of it. This means helping them appreciate how it can be used from any location whenever they require it.   With the appropriate infrastructure in place as part of the UC deployment, users will be able to connect and collaborate from home, whilst on the road, from a Wi-Fi hotspot; in fact any where that a network connection can be obtained.   In addition if the UC solution includes web connectivity such as Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS then collaboration can easily be extended beyond employees to partners, customers and suppliers as well. These types of web UC solutions basically turn joining real-time collaboration meeting into something as simple as clicking on a hyperlink.

 

3) User-driven meetings 

 

Once you have all the elements of your UC solution in place then you can focus on taking IT out of the equation for day-to-day operations. There are multiple ways to enhance a UC solution by enabling end users to take control of the meeting process. This can touch every aspect of the meeting - from scheduling it, to joining it, recording it and reviewing it. Tight integration with Microsoft Outlook makes it easy for users to make any meeting a collaboration event instead of, or as well as, a face-to-face meeting.

 

Tools such as virtual meeting rooms (VMR) mean that each user can have their own personal meeting space with a dedicated access number that is available to them 24 x 7, instantly created on the UC infrastructure when the first user joins. This on-demand capability means the core infrastructure only needs to be sized for the maximum simultaneous number of users, yet all employees have the ability to host meetings when they need to. Joining the meeting then simply becomes a case of dialling the number of the VMR from any device on the company network - all users dial the same number. This simplicity, combined with the on-demand automated nature of meeting creation means that IT don’t have to be involved for every meeting. They can simply be involved for any issues or escalations, or to monitor important calls such as a CEO address. Other technologies, such as touch-tone conference controls means that the host of a meeting can also easily record the meeting for later review, or even have the meeting streamed live for others to watch on the web.

 

Making it easy for every user to have their own personal meeting space makes employees more likely to use collaboration as an everyday part of their workflow when they need to connect with people outside of the office.

 

4) Redundancy & Resiliency 

 

Some organisations will want to create a resilient collaboration structure within their own network. This will likely comprise infrastructure spread across multiple data centres, with an N+1 approach to the core call control and conference bridging elements. The upside of this approach means that your organisation has 100% control of all the conferencing items and all the associated security that goes with that.

 

But not all organisations will either want to, or necessarily have the budget to create a fully redundant infrastructure. For these types of organisations it might make sense to look at a hosted cloud collaboration solution from a service provider. This cloud capability could be used as overflow for a companies existing in-house infrastructure, or simply as a back up capacity in the event that the internal infrastructure is not available. Having access to a cloud service as an alternative could pay dividends if there is a major unforeseen event that affects a company’s core network.

 

5) Create a culture of “face-to-face” collaboration - not “in person” meetings 

 

The overriding objective for implementing the above elements of UC is to create a true collaboration culture.   When you get your employees to the level of understanding that face-to-face doesn’t necessarily mean “in person” then you will have succeeded.

 

  • Encourage people to connect and collaborate using the UC technology
  • Ensure users have adequate training and feel comfortable using the tools provided
  • Start to implement some level of flexible working / teleworking as appropriate for functions where it makes sense
  • Look at how you can roll out collaboration beyond your organisation to make interactions with suppliers, partners and customers more productive

 

Once your employees get to grips with unified communications, and the flexibility and power it delivers to them they will never want to give it up. All of these activities will help create a flexible, productive workforce that is adaptable, comfortable with collaboration and familiar with the concept that work is an activity, not a location. They will have a culture of visual collaboration irrespective of location - all they will need to be effective is a network connection and a smart device or laptop. This level of flexibility and responsiveness is what will be the core underpinning of any business continuity plan.

 

So when that multi-million dollar contract comes in and employees head out to another country at a moment’s notice to help “make it happen” then the team won’t think twice about collaborating remotely over video irrespective of location and will continue to deliver maximum productivity.

 

 

When using a video collaboration application the end user only cares about the quality of their experience. Part of that experience is determined by the audio and video quality people receive during a meeting. Network performance is a key component of that quality. In this article we will look at some of the things to consider when network planning to help ensure best performance.

 

 

 

1) Bandwidth

 

Bandwidth is definitely a friend when looking to deliver maximum audio and video quality. The more bandwidth you have the higher the video resolution and frame rate you can transmit and receive.   In the past that has typically meant requiring dedicated IP video networks, separate from a company’s traditional data network, so that the appropriate bandwidth and prioritisation could be applied to the video traffic. This separation would help ensure that the video traffic could be controlled and managed without affecting and being affected by other data traffic. It goes without saying that this separated approach would always add both to the cost and complexity of any video deployment.

 

The good news is that there have significant improvements in the underlying video technologies over the past few years that help reduce bandwidth requirements for video collaboration as well as making video traffic more robust in less than perfect network conditions.

 

Back in 2010 Polycom was one of the first organisations in the collaboration industry to start supporting H.264 high profile (H.264 HiP) video compression. This video compression standard enables organisations to reduce their bandwidth requirements for a video transmission by up to 50%. To put this in perspective a 720p resolution video connection at 30 frames per second (fps) would typically have required at least 1Mbps of bandwidth for a successful connection. With H.264 HiP the bandwidth requirement is now only 512Kbps. This means that organisations can now double the number of video connections across a network link without having to pay for extra bandwidth. In addition this has also opened the door to a significant improvement in the remote / teleworker experience. No longer does a remote user joining from a home office have to be the “poor cousin” of a video meeting with grainy resolution and low frame rate. H.264 HiP enables any user with a reasonable broadband connection to achieve high quality results.

 

In addition to reducing the bandwidth required for a video connection there have also been some significant improvements in the underlying transmission technologies to help try and maintain video quality even when the network conditions are less than perfect. One key development in this area is error correction. Robust correction algorithms have been developed which use methods such as forward error correction to help maintain quality of the video stream. What this means in practice is that if some video packets are lost during transmission due to network issues there is still sufficient redundant information available in the remaining packets for the video transmission to be reconstructed. As an example Polycom’s patented Lost Packet Recovery technology has been shown to create a ‘no loss’ experience for packet loss up to 2% and only a minor video quality impact with 5% packet loss. Even with 10% packet loss Polycom LPR was shown to provide an “acceptable user experience”. (For more information on Polycom LPR and independent test analysis please download the white paper from our web site: Lost Packet Recovery White Paper).

 

2) Data prioritisation across networks

 

Bandwidth efficiencies and packet recovery technologies have delivered great benefits to organisations and enabled them to run more video calls on their networks, as well as deliver video across networks that potentially could not have supported it in the past. However it is still important that corporate video networks are designed appropriately to cater for the high bandwidth, real time traffic that video collaboration generates.

 

Quality of service (QoS) markings are an obvious tool for helping ensure video networks handle video traffic appropriate. Just about every video collaboration manufacturer now ensures that both their endpoints and video infrastructure can support appropriate packet markings to allow a routing infrastructure to be able to apply appropriate prioritisation of traffic across a network. A holistic view of network design should be taken to ensure end-to-end quality preservation through the whole network path. Juniper Networks has some excellent resources on network design for conferencing and collaboration, including this comprehensive white paper: Simply Connected for Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) Reference Architecture

 

3) Intelligent network integration

 

It is now possible to go much further than simply an appropriate QoS design for a video network and look at an intelligent video network that can deliver quality assurance. QoS has typically been a static environment where a network designer assigns appropriate service levels to different traffic types and then the traffic is handled appropriately. This prioritisation was typically static and preconfigured and couldn’t account for network variations. Some routing & switch manufacturers have then taken this concept further and have developed more dynamic queuing mechanisms that can alter priorities based on network conditions and historical data. However these solutions often simply work by allowing a traffic type such as real time video to sporadically burst above a pre-defined level. This approach doesn’t guarantee quality and can put other application traffic at risk.

 

Polycom and Juniper Networks have partnered to go one step further to create a truly application aware network environment. Real-time video network infrastructure resource controls are enabled by the integration of the Polycom® Distributed Media Application (DMA) conference platform and Juniper Networks Session Resource Controller (SRC) Series. This allows the network to respond dynamically to the needs of the video service and makes network policy changes in real time to ensure that every communication session goes through the network with the expected level of quality. When a user places a video call from their desktop application, conference room, or immersive suite, the call is routed to the Polycom DMA platform supporting the video network. The DMA then interfaces with the Juniper SRC Series policy manager to correctly provision all the devices on the network for adequate bandwidth to accept the call and deliver it with assured quality. All this occurs BEFORE the call acknowledgement and authority to connect is granted by the call control function. This enables the joint Polycom / Juniper solution to deliver higher network scalability, service reliability, and reduced day-to-day network administrative requirements for video services. A more detailed description of the call assurance that this integration delivers can be found in this Juniper paper: Network Configuration Example Configuring Assured Forwarding for High-Definition Videoconferencing

 

4) Bandwidth performance & analysis services

 

Not all organisations may have the skills in house to create a detailed real time video network infrastructure. Other organisations may already have a network in place but be unsure of quite how the network will react to the load of real time video traffic.   To help in both these scenarios there are now a number of professional consulting services available from Polycom and others to help with the design and planning of video networks. As an example, Polycom has both video network readiness assessment services as well as video solution design services available to assist customers with planning and implementation. These types of services can help an organisation understand the current capability of their network environment, identify any solution interdependencies before a deployment starts as well as create a unique solution designed specifically to meet the customer requirements. Whilst these services do require upfront investment experience has shown that these professional services save time and money in the long run by reducing the solution implementation time and minimising the implementation risks, thus ensuring the operational benefits are realised earlier.

 

5) Network to Network boundaries

 

Most video network designs focus on what happens to the traffic within an organisation. When that traffic leaves the network boundary to connect to an external third party, or if a remote user is connecting from home into a corporate conference then the section where the traffic is off-net has no quality control. QoS markings are not typically carried across from side of a network boundary to another so the quality of traffic from that home user looking to dial into the corporate network is usually in the hands of “the internet gods”.

 

The good news is that there are now initiatives under way to help create more coherence across the network boundary and help create a consistent assured video experience, even for traffic that might cross multiple network segments. One such independent organisation driving this initiative is the Open Visual Communication Consortium (OVCC). The OVCC was established to bring manufacturers and network providers together to help create a seamless video service delivery across multiple carriers and equipment providers.

 

From an end user perspective the key benefit that will arise from initiatives such as those being driven by OVCC others will be the confidence of an end-to-end quality video experience. The video call might start on a device from one manufacturer, cross multiple network boundaries via routers from different manufacturers and finally terminate on a video device from a different supplier. If all the solution components and network providers have built their solutions in line with the specifications being developed then that call will have been delivered securely over a known network with proven processes.

 

What this means from a real world experience is that you can take a tablet or smartphone, laptop or dedicated video device, connect to a 4G cellular or reasonable broadband connection, and have a good chance of success of an effective video conference.

 

The bottom line is that effective network design, suitable advance planning and application aware networks, along with global initiatives that involve the network service provider will lead to an outstanding user experience - each time, every time.

 

 

Read Nick's other blog posts here.

 

 

 

There is a lot of talk these days in the communications industry about how the days of hardware are finished and software is the only way to go. This seems to be a recurring topic of conversation no matter what the actual communications subject is. In this article we will look at the wider topic and how it relates to Unified Communications.

 

How has this potential shift to software come about?

 

In the past most telecommunications processing was done in dedicated hardware that was built using Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips. These DSPs were dedicated devices that were optimised for specific functions such as video encoding, audio mixing etc. This approach ensured that there was sufficient processing power available to perform these complex functions, as generic computing power (such as that provided by your PC or a server) was insufficient for the task. Over time the capability of this off-the-shelf computing power has improved in line with Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law) so that now software based solutions are viable for many functions.

 

You can see how this evolution has happened just by looking at the progress of software video clients running on a PC or laptop. First you had dedicated video boards (built on DSPs) that had to be installed inside a PC and worked in conjunction with a software program (anyone remember the PictureTel LiveLan?). Next step on from that was the Polycom ViaVideo solution – this used a dedicated hardware camera connected to the PC for video encoding and the software on the PC did the decoding (video encoding is about 10 X more processor intensive than decoding). Next evolution was the Polycom PVX software, which could run without dedicated hardware but delivered a limited resolution due to the available computing power. Finally we arrive at Polycom RealPresence Desktop that can deliver HD quality video using nothing but software (as long as your processor is powerful enough).

 

This is just one example of how we have seen the capability of software solutions advance, and deliver capabilities that could previously only be done in hardware. We’ve seen similar advances in all areas of technology. It’s happening at the heart of communications networks as core Telco class 4 & 5 switches are steadily being replaced with call processing software running on generic computing hardware. It’s happening even with the most basic of devices, as organisations look to potentially using soft phones and UC client software rather than a traditional hardware telephone for a user’s desk.

 

What does this mean from a Unified Communications perspective?

 

The flexibility of software solutions now opens up more options for both users and administrators of Unified Communications solutions.  From a user perspective they now have the option of a fully functional VoIP or UC client deployed on their desktop, or even their smartphone. This ensures they have full communications capability irrespective of location or device, thereby providing significant opportunities for productivity improvement. It is now possible to be a connected member of your organisation irrespective of where you are - no matter whether you are on the road, travelling to a foreign country or simply at home, you have the ability to have voice, video and instant messaging all from software clients running on your device of choice.

 

From an administration perspective, software solutions in the core of a UC solution now enables infrastructure to be deployed on top of generic computing power that is probably already running in an organisation’s data centre. This potentially provides a lower cost of entry for UC solutions, as well as enabling organisations to have a centralised, consolidated computing platform to power all their communications solutions. Software also enables organisations to scale up their core UC solutions much quicker, as they can use spare generic computing power and resources rather than having to order dedicated DSP-based hardware with the associated costs and lead times.

 

Software sounds like it offers many advantages over hardware. Does this mean that hardware solutions are “dead” and software is the way forward?

 

Software solutions certainly have advantages, some of which are described above. In addition some collaboration technologies such as Scalable Video Coding (SVC) are well suited to a software infrastructure. As video processing and mixing is done at the endpoint with SVC rather than in the core infrastructure, it is well suited to a less powerful software core rather than a dedicated DSP hardware one.

 

In addition a software core has much more deployment flexibility than hardware. For example if an organisation has purchased MCU ports they can potentially deploy those ports on software bridges “spun up” in data centres that are geographically appropriate to the users. Taking this to its logical extreme, you could for example deploy ports in an Asia Pacific data centre, and then as EMEA comes online for business hours, port licences could be deactivated in APAC and redeployed to other regions as required. A video collaboration management tool that integrates with the virtualisation platform management tools could even automate this process.

 

However before we get too carried away with the potential of software we should remember that hardware solutions still have a place and will do for many years to come.

 

For example with VoIP and UC clients, many companies initially looked to have a phone free desk deployment, but have since reconsidered and now deployed physical handsets. The vast majority of users are still conditioned to the physical handset experience when communicating by voice and find a pure software experience quite alien. Many analysts have predicted that the desktop phone faces extinction but the reality seems to be different. People still want the handset when they are sat at their desk. This is summarised extremely well by Robert Arnold on the Visionary IT blog

 

“Despite over-hyped industry perceptions about the imminent and swift death of the desktop phone, this tried and true technology remains a viable market today and one that will remain in play for years to come.”

 

Robert Arnold (http://visionary-it.gilcommunity.com/blog/polycom-sets-pace-competitive-ucc-market)

 

When we look at the core infrastructure there is still definitely a place for hardware as well as software. For organisations running multi-codec immersive telepresence solutions, or wanting to deploy full HD 1080p AVC solutions, then software simply cannot provide the necessary scale of infrastructure required. In many Asia Pacific markets there is still a requirement to create large-scale “town hall” type conferences with 100 or more endpoints all connected at 1080p into a single conference. The ONLY way to be able to achieve this in an effective and manageable manner is using dedicated hardware infrastructure. Also if you have a need to integrate H.320 ISDN into the call then hardware is pretty much your only option (yes - there are still areas of the world doing ISDN video conferencing!).

 

What would be your recommendation for a video network deployment? Hardware or software? Is there a cost difference?

 

Polycom’s perspective is that hybrid deployments will be the way to go for many organisations, certainly in APAC. It would make sense for organisations to deploy much of their conferencing infrastructure using software solutions, but they should still consider their specific requirements for the bridging component.

 

For greenfield customers looking to deploy a mainly software client video solution, connecting desktops and tablets then SVC and software bridging will most likely be the most cost-effective and flexible solution. Now with new solutions such as Polycom RealPresence One that customer now has the option of paying a subscription for their video collaboration infrastructure rather than having to purchase the relevant licences outright. Of course, purchasing perpetual software licences is still an option.

 

For existing customers who have room systems deployed, or for a greenfield customer considering a mix of desktop and room systems, then a hybrid approach makes much more sense. They could deploy the entire infrastructure, except the bridge, as software only, and then use a hardware conference bridge for the video processing. Of course they could have a mix of bridging within the network, and have both hardware and software bridges. This is ideal if there is a wide mix of conference requirements, ranging from large volumes of small-scale conferences from software devices through to large town hall meetings connecting multiple conferences.

 

When you look at the overall total cost of ownership between a hardware and a software solution there is unlikely to be much difference once server costs, virtualisation software etc. are taken into consideration. An organisation with existing virtualisation infrastructure and spare hardware capacity might find cost benefits in a software approach as they would already have many key components. The key difference though with software is the flexibility it delivers in how licences and infrastructure components can be deployed.

 

Polycom’s perspective is that it is important that customers have all the options available to them when considering their video infrastructure. Hence we have ensured that all our infrastructure components are available as appliances for simple rack-&-stack deployment as well as software virtual machines. In addition by taking advantage of software and offering a subscription via Polycom RealPresence One customers now have the greatest range of options, not just from a deployment perspective but also from a purchasing perspective.

 

In a recent post I looked at how mass adoption of video collaboration might be enabled by emerging technologies such as WebRTC.  That article focused more on the technical aspects of WebRTC.  In this post I want to take a look at video collaboration from an end user perspective and offer real-world examples. How might “democratisation” of this technology empower the consumer and change the way they interact with organisations forever?

 

First lets consider the current status of “collaboration beyond borders” - by that I mean the ability of an organisation to effectively collaborate using audio, video and data beyond its own network and to more than just their own employees.

 

Video collaboration at a B2B level has always been possible using ISDN.  IP connectivity has also always been possible with any IP enabled endpoint but it typically required detailed firewall configurations for all involved parties, as well as complicated dialling schemes that looked like Egyptian Hieroglyphics to most people.  Dedicated video focused edge devices such as Polycom RealPresence Access Director have definitely improved the situation and make it much easier for an external device such as a tablet or smartphone to have a mobile video client installed, configured and connected into a corporate video network.  Standards such as H.323 Annex O and SIP URI have made dialling between companies much more recognisable and understandable as they package the required dialling information into a form similar to an email address.  Some solutions such as Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS have gone a step further and taken all the connectivity and embedded it into a web browser.  This allows the user experience to now be simplified to just a click of a hyperlink.

 

However all of these solutions still require some level of centralised infrastructure, configuration, provisioning and potentially a software install to help ensure a successful connection.  Many organisations, particularly service providers, have looked to help solve this by providing the centralised infrastructure that can enable this without an organisation having to invest in it themselves.  But even with this kind of scenario there are still issues to be solved such as global dial plans, network to network connectivity (with preservation of quality of service etc.).  Again, there have been developments in this area such as the ENUM standard that focuses on creating a global numbering scheme, and organisations such as the Open Visual Collaboration Consortium (OVCC), of which Polycom is a founding member, that help define connectivity between different network and conferencing service providers.

 

But we still have not yet achieved the vision of a true global connected environment that delivers for video what global roaming agreements and national numbering schemes did for the mobile phone.

 

WebRTC could help deliver on the vision of a truly connected video collaboration environment but not necessarily in the way you might expect.  Most of the efforts until now (including those described above) have looked to replicate the telephony model when wanting to expand video connectivity across networks i.e. I am registered with a unique identifier (think: mobile phone number), and there is a central registry of those identifiers (think: mobile service provider), and then a process for resolving those identifiers beyond my service provider (think: interconnect and roaming agreements). 

 

That works well for an always-on type such as voice, but I think we are still a fair distance away from the mass population wanting an always-on video telephony service.  At this point in time if users want the added value that a video interaction brings it is much more likely to be for a specific task or purpose rather than for general communications.  WebRTC and its ability to be easily and tightly integrated into web based application environments might just be the avenue to enable that.

 

Let’s consider a couple of specific scenarios where there is an immediate task to be completed and voice or email alone would be insufficient for the requirement and add delay, ambiguity or additional complications to the process.

 

As a first example let’s consider customer service. 

 

Maybe I want to take advantage of a special offer from my financial institution e.g. an advantageous savings rate, but I don’t have time to get to a local branch before the offer closes.  I might be able to do all the necessary transactions online but that usually provides little opportunity for resolution of any queries I might have other than secured messaging or web chat.  Technologies such as WebRTC could potentially enable a “click to conference with an advisor” button.  As I make my way through the online process I could establish a video collaboration session in my browser with a professional advisor, have all my questions answered face-to-face and complete the process in a matter of minutes.  The outcome would be more business for the bank and a happier customer.  

 

We are already seeing banks and other finance organisations use video to connect customers to a central pool of experts or advisors, but it is usually done today within the branch office back to headquarters i.e. all within the network and control of the organisation.  WebRTC allows for a similar experience but with the potential freedom of location that the web delivers. I believe that all the building blocks from a technology perspective are coming together.  It is now just a case of determining how best to use them.  This belief is also shared by others who follow this industry.  For an external perspective I asked for some thoughts from Craig Borowski from Software Advice, who focuses on telecom research and the Hello Operator VoIP blog.

 

“It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention, but I disagree. In the course of researching cutting-edge business telephony systems, we often find the technology preceding, albeit slightly, the best application or use-case of that technology. In other words, the invention comes along first and only later is its true necessity discovered.

 

WebRTC is a great example. The technology has been around for several years, but companies are still discovering the best ways to implement it, just like in that example of financial institutions. It takes time for businesses to figure out how to best integrate it, but when they do, the results can be revolutionary.”

                                       Craig Borowski

Telecom Researcher – Software Advice

http://hello-operator.softwareadvice.com

 

As a second example, imagine a user who may have been in a minor car accident with no injuries, but has the inconvenience of needing to get their vehicle repaired.

 

Obviously their most pressing item is to get the relevant insurance claim filed.  Normally this would require a trip to a local body shop, potentially co-ordinating with the insurance company for the visit of an assessor, filing of the claim paperwork and so on.  Anyone who has had the misfortune to have to complete an insurance claim form knows how complicated this process can be.  Lack of information provided to the insurance company, and lack of understanding of what is being asked for, all add delay and frustration to the process.

 

But now imagine being able to complete everything online, connecting live to a claim advisor by video if necessary - maybe even being able to walk out to the vehicle using a laptop and webcam, or a tablet or smartphone, to show the claims advisor exactly what damage you are talking about in real time.  Again - a scenario where real time video collaboration between a business and its customer will streamline a process, reduce frustration and improve communication (and ultimately customer satisfaction).

 

Interestingly as video moves to the consumer space for B2C interaction it does raise some other areas that need to be addressed - such as the back end call centre environment. 

 

Whilst the front end that a customer interacts with is almost certainly going to be web-based the business organisation will most likely want to utilise existing call centre technology (which is probably VoIP / SIP based).  Hence as referenced in my previous post WebRTC is unlikely to thrive and gain mass adoption if it exists only as an island.  The opportunity for organisations like Polycom, as well as traditional IP based call centre providers, is to expand their offerings to support emerging technologies such as WebRTC but ensure that they can be fully integrated into existing voice and video collaboration solutions.

 

As well as considering the technology required to support consumer based video interaction there are other topics to be considered such as the physical call centre environment itself.  Customers will expect to see a professional, attentive customer relationship advisor, and their physical surroundings also need to reflect this - if you were talking to your bank advisor you wouldn’t want to see dozens of people walking behind them in the passageways between call centre cubicles.  Hence organisations need to consider how to give the impression of privacy to individual conversations, removal of background distractions etc. within the call centre environment so that each interaction is of the highest quality experience.

 

In summary

 

I think it is quite clear that video collaboration will definitely make the leap “beyond borders” - it is already doing so at the B2B level and B2C interaction is only a matter of time.  WebRTC will definitely help as an enabling technology at the consumer end, but the back end (both from a technology and from a physical environment) also needs to be considered.  Video enabled communications and collaboration will start to become an accepted way for businesses and customers to interact - but it will be a task driven interaction for the foreseeable future.

 

 

Read Nick's other posts on 'The View from APAC' here.

 

Last Friday I appeared on Channel News Asia’s ‘Singapore Tonight’ business news show.  The subject of my discussion with the host was how businesses can ensure continuity of operations, particularly in the event of “the haze” returning this year.  The advantages of collaboration technology that I raised are applicable to any situation where business continuity is necessary.

 

Singapore is sometimes affected by smoke haze due to agricultural burning in neighbouring countries.  With the National Environment Agency predicting that this year's summer haze could be as bad or even worse than last year (2013 was the worst on record so far), business leaders need to start thinking about how to ensure their organisations continue to operate in such conditions.  Last year the Government issued a number of health advisories as the haze hit its peak, which recommended limited outdoor exposure, even for a healthy individual.  This led to some organisations having to close their offices for a few days, with the expected knock-on effect of reduced productivity. 

 

The strength of last year’s haze caught most people by surprise, so organisations were not necessarily prepared for the disruption it caused.  However this year, business leaders have had plenty of time to prepare - but where should they start if they haven’t yet got a plan in place?  The analyst firm Frost & Sullivan state that “any organisation that doesn’t have a business continuity plan in place is critically out of date”.

 

The key to continued operations for a business in such circumstances is business continuity planning (BCP).  This should not be confused with a disaster recovery (DR) plan.  A DR plan focuses on how to resume business after a specific disruptive event.  BCP is a much more comprehensive approach that looks at how an organisation can be flexible and cope with any unexpected event.  All organisations, large or small should take an extensive look at their business operations and plan for how to deal with issues outside of their control.  For many organisations in Singapore the absence of natural disaster threats has meant that BCP is often not considered, or only given the briefest of attention.  However the events that a business needs to plan for are not just earthquakes or typhoons.  As well as planning for the arrival of the haze, businesses could be affected by virus outbreaks such as Swine Flu or H1N1.  Also as the economy continues to be ever more global, organisations can be affected by factors outside of their country such as volcanic eruptions with their associated ash cloud.  Also we shouldn’t forget that BCP is not just about planning for the negative events and challenges that might occur.  BCP also helps ensure an organisation can adapt when faced with a positive challenge such as unexpectedly winning a large contract that wasn’t planned for. 

 

A critical aspect of BCP is deciding how employees will continue to communicate and collaborate when responding to an unforeseen event.  If they cannot travel to the office, how will they continue to operate if having to work at home?  If your business needs to send people abroad at short notice to respond to a customer situation, how will you ensure that decisions are taken quickly, with all the relevant information being available?  BCP should consider the long term and solutions put in place should not only be for short term gain. Having said that, companies can of course put in place short-gap solutions for an impending event such as the haze, but they will have to look at expanding that for future occurrences of disruptive events.

 

There are many technologies that can play an important role in BCP.  Having business applications delivered through a SaaS (Software as a Service) model makes it much easier for employees to operate from any location, providing they have suitable internet access.  However organisations using SaaS providers should also take time to ensure they understand the service level agreements and associated continuity planning from those providers.  After all, it is quite possible that they may also be affected by the very events you are planning for too.  My advice to any organisation looking at BCP, and particularly if they need to do something now in advance of the haze arriving in Singapore, is to make your communications framework a top priority.  An effective video collaboration solution ensures that employees can connect and communicate, have access to expert information and still receive management direction and guidance - all when they need it most, dealing with an unexpected event. 

 

In addition, video collaboration can add additional value when the unexpected event is a natural disaster and employee welfare is a key factor that needs to be considered.  We experienced this ourselves within Polycom after the tragic events of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.  Employee welfare was the management team’s first priority, and video collaboration ensured the local team received the appropriate support and reassurance as well as being an effective tool for the subsequent business planning that was required.

 

Of course within Polycom we were fortunate to have the complete range of collaboration tools available to us from our portfolio, but similar results are easily achieved by any business, large or small.  My primary recommendation for any organisation would be to pick simple, highly interoperable standards based software - such as Polycom RealPresence Mobile and RealPresence Desktop.  These software solutions make it easy to deploy video collaboration on just about any laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet.  The mobile solutions can be downloaded free from the relevant application stores and provide a baseline of collaboration functionality.  These solutions and the desktop solutions can be fully enabled with all the relevant business collaboration features such as content sharing, encryption etc. for a modest per-user fee.  When you consider that statistics show that 80% of SMEs hit by a disruptive event close within 18 months this seems like a small investment to make to ensure your business continues to operate.

 

In some countries the relevant government organisations have already identified how important continuity planning is and have taken proactive steps to ensure workers can connect and collaborate from anywhere.  The Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) for the South Korean Government is a great example of where BCP has been considered on a large scale, and is going beyond just preparing for unforeseen events.   With a key mandate to support the Korean Government’s ‘Smart Work Vitalisation Strategy’ the aim is to build 50 public SmartWork centres specifically for government officers’ use and 450 private SmartWork centres designed for wider enterprise use, all equipped with high- definition video collaboration solutions by 2015.  This will allow 30% of government officers to work remotely, any time, from any place - enabling quick information sharing and rapid response communications, thereby ensuring business continuity as well as reducing commuter downtime and cost.

 

In summary, organisations need to start planning now for business continuity if they don’t have a BCP plan in place already.  Key to any BCP is video collaboration, as these solutions allow employees to defy distance and disregard the limitations of geography. It also enables access to experts when they are needed most, during crisis situations.  In a sense, video solutions act as the platform that supports all other business continuity plans.

 

 

Nick Hawkins is Senior Director, Advanced Technology, Polycom Asia Pacific.

 

To read Nick’s other blog posts click here.

 

Nick Hawkins - Channel News Asia appearance.jpg

Discussing BCP on Channel News Asia's 'Singapore Tonight' show.

 

I recently had the opportunity to address a group of media in India together with my colleagues – Minhaj Zia, Managing Director, Polycom India & SAARC and Tony Sandberg, Director, Industry Solutions and Market Development, Polycom Asia Pacific.  I want to share with you the discussion that I had where I covered a solution and strategy update from Polycom, and in particular an update from an Asia Pacific perspective.

 

(view in My Videos)

 

At the heart of my discussion was that our innovation framework delivers differentiation with a focus on three core tenants: Best in Class User Experience; Multi-Vendor Integration, UC Ecosystem & Open Standard; and lastly, Greatest Return on Investment.

 

Polycom Innovation Framework.JPG

 

One key factor can be the varied bandwidth availability that the user experiences across the region. We have Polycom® Constant Clarity™ which provides incredible audio and video resiliency with Lost Packet Recovery.  The Best User Experience encompasses a number of key aspects from a Polycom perspective – the network performance is a critical factor.  H.264 high profile allows for High Definition at lower call speeds, delivering 720p60 from 832Kbps and 1080p30 from 1Mbps.  This is the same base line technology that Blu-ray and other HD broadcasts use.  When you consider that across Asia Pacific we are at differing stages of high speed broadband deployment this can be fundamental to the user experience.

 

A fundamental aspect of what we are delivering in all our solutions at Polycom is Ease of Use – automatic camera control through Polycom EagleEye Director and simplified touch screen controls  that allow all users to simply start a call, share content and control the overall collaboration and engagement.  This simplicity and ease of use is now standard across all our room based systems such as the Group Series and content is king, so again, sharing of content from any participant is an easy step during any call.

 

Polycom through innovations such as SmartPairing enables you with the swipe of your screen to move a call from your tablet to be part of a room based system, with your tablet then used as a touch pad to manage and control the call.

 

New innovations from Polycom will definitely deliver on content being key – the next generation of immersive telepresence has the best in class audio and video experience.

 

Second tenant is the Multi-Vendor Integration focus that we have at Polycom – with extended API’s for 3rd Party.  Polycom now has more than 40 Polycom UC solutions for Microsoft.  The CX8000 for Microsoft Lync, Polycom’s Lync Room System is now part of Polycom’s extensive and broad Microsoft solution set and is being rolled out across Asia Pacific.  Polycom continues to develop our relationships with our UC Ecosystem partners such as HP, IBM, Juniper and Microsoft whom I just mentioned.

 

Finally I touched on Greatest Return on Investment – and Polycom has multiple deployment options for supporting infrastructure that supports this:

 

  1. Appliances (Physical Device)
  2. Software (Perpetual Licence)
  3. Software as a Service (Subscription)

 

These options allow you to collaborate the way you want to over voice, video and web, allowing you to choose the device that is right for you, and allowing you to connect anywhere, anytime across a diverse region like Asia Pacific with a consistent user experience.

 

What about the future?  I do touch on this at the end of my discussion and I will go into more detail on this in future blog posts over the coming months...it will centre though on the user experience.

 

WebRTC is certainly a current hot topic for discussion in any video conferencing related conversation. It seems to promise the nirvana of video conferencing to any browser, with no additional software to be downloaded and installed. In this post and in the video below, I will offer some detail about what WebRTC is, where it stands from a development perspective, why it might be disruptive and what impact this might have for companies such as Polycom.

 

 

What is WebRTC?

 

WebRTC (stands for Web Real Time Communications) is a definition being drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to easily enable peer-to-peer applications for voice calling, video chat, and point-to-point file sharing. This will make it easy for real time communications to be embedded in a web-browser based application. These applications can be developed using standard environments such as JavaScript APIs and HTML5 and the application runs directly in the browser - no need for download and installation of plug-ins or other dedicated software. There has been significant contribution and push from Google, Mozilla and a plethora of browser application developers to support WebRTC. Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers already support WebRTC. However there are still some ongoing debates as to how elements such as video encoding should be done - so WebRTC should be seen as an evolving set of specifications.

 

Why could it be important, even disruptive?

 

Several factors make the technology very important, not just for Polycom, but for the industry in general: the free, open source nature of the project along with the ease of development lowers the entry barrier for millions of web developers to easily create applications providing voice calling, video chatting and file sharing capabilities. The browsers used by more than 2B global users across many different devices will natively support these capabilities - hence adoption of real-time communications is poised to increase. 

 

This ease of development will also allow application developers to focus on the business logic of their application and easily integrate real time communications into the workflow where there is true value that can be gained. This should drive higher adoption of collaboration in general and be a key enabler of communication enabled business processes.  An example of such business workflow integration could be the use of WebRTC to provide video based outreach from a business to key clients for improved customer support.

 

Polycom has been at the forefront of enabling standards based video collaboration in a web browser with our RealPresence CloudAXIS solution. This currently enables a standard SIP video environment within a browser.  Integration of WebRTC to the RealPresence CloudAXIS solution would be a natural evolution of the environment, as it would then remove the need for a one-time plug installation if the user connects via a WebRTC compliant browser.

 

WebRTC sounds an ideal solution for video. Where is the catch?

 

WebRTC is based on a different architecture to existing traditional video technology. Instead of having a conferencing bridge at the centre of the network to manage all the connections, WebRTC is a mesh-based technology. Each user sends and receives streams from every other user in the call. This creates challenges when scaling up due to complexities of connection and bandwidth inefficiencies.

 

Also WebRTC is unlikely to thrive and gain mass adoption if it exists only as an island. It is virtually important that WebRTC users are able to connect and collaboration with other video environments such as traditional videoconference rooms, UC solutions such as Microsoft Lync etc. For example in a video based call centre it is much more likely that the agents systems would be on a more traditional video or UC based environment. Therefore the core infrastructure would still need to somehow bridge the gap between protocols and architecture to connect the video call centre agents to WebRTC based consumers.

 

Where are the opportunities for Polycom and its partners?

 

With the stated vision “To unleash the power of human collaboration”, Polycom is excited about the opportunity WebRTC creates to enable billions of web users with our enterprise-grade voice, video and content sharing capabilities. In addition, Polycom is uniquely positioned to help customers overcome some of the limitations associated with WebRTC:

 

As a leader in the video collaboration space, Polycom has a strong track record in and large installed base of server based solutions, which naturally lend well to addressing the performance degradation issues with WebRTC’s mesh architecture. Polycom has already been enabling these same 2B+ Web users, through our CloudAXIS and RealPresence Platform offerings, enriching business applications in the Healthcare and Education verticals by embedding real-time communications and collaboration capabilities. We are excited at the momentum WebRTC can bring to further our vision.

 

There are multiple opportunities that WebRTC may enable for Polycom based solutions. These include:

 

  • Extension of our existing RealPresence CloudAXIS capability to support WebRTC connections as well as standard SIP connections
  • Creating multipoint calls that bring together WebRTC and non-WebRTC users and doing it in a more bandwidth efficient manner than WebRTC alone
  • Collaborative calls that allow users to share content and applications dynamically
  • Integration with Recording and Data/Analytics that speed review of recorded meetings based on locating keywords throughout the collaborative session

 

Polycom is very excited about the potential that WebRTC can unlock for mass adoption of video collaboration. As the standards evolve and implementations start to become mainstream Polycom intends to be at the forefront of WebRTC deployments and ensure easy integration of these environments with existing video collaboration infrastructures.

 

In my last post I outlined why you should care about video mobility and some initial areas to think about when considering a video collaboration solution that included mobile users. 

 

In this post I want to dive a bit deeper and look at the next steps for actually implementing video collaboration across your network. I touched on a couple of topics in the previous post but I felt it was appropriate to expand and add to the topics in this post so you have more details on how to go about implementing a solution. 

 

These are the top five questions I would recommend asking yourself before you start to implement video collaboration.  If you have the information to answer to these questions then you are very well placed to have a successful solution rollout.

 

  • Can you identify your use cases and user base?  Learn who or which processes in your organisation will benefit the most from having access to video collaboration.  Where will they require video collaboration?  Is it on the production line?  Is it teleworkers, or remote sales people?  Are they connecting back to single users at a desk or to a group of experts in a meeting room? These kind of questions help identify what the most productive and cost-effective collaboration solutions will be for your organisation. Find out which employees are involved in these processes and need to communicate with, from where, and how often, to establish the basic framework for collaboration within your workforce.

 

  • Have you identified the most suitable types of solutions for your users?  A one-size fits all strategy for video collaboration is not usually the most successful.  Once you have identified the most productive use cases for video collaboration you can then identify the appropriate solution sets.  As well as traditional video enabled conference rooms there will likely be requirements beyond that for different business functions.  For instance, a teleworker may require a high quality desktop solution, such as a video-enabled phone or laptop whereas for a salesperson who is constantly on the move, a mobile or tablet device with a video application may be the right way. Business functions that need to connect to third parties such as suppliers or customers may want the ability to bring in users via a web browser into a conference call.  It is also important to analyse what additional solution integration may be required.  Do you need to connect to your IP-PBX over a SIP trunk?  Are there other UC ecosystem partner solutions such as Microsoft Lync already in place within elements of your organisation that need to be integrated?  Answers to these questions will help determine the most appropriate back end infrastructure that is required to support the deployed devices and connect them to the wider world.

 

  • Do you know what the impact will be on your core network architecture?  Which locations will users be connecting from and on what devices?   What will be the core video conferencing technology implemented?  Will it be Scalable Video Coding (SVC) or Advanced Video Coding (AVC)?  AVC is a more centralised technology, relying on core network infrastructure to process and mix multiple video streams for a multi-party call.  SVC is a distributed technology that places more requirements on the endpoint for video processing and mixing.  What video resolutions will be used for the majority of users?  Are you using Polycom High Profile Video compression?  All of these factors have an impact on the amount of bandwidth required for a video call, and the overall traffic flow across the network.

 

  • Do you need to analyse your edge network architecture?  Will users be on-net or off-net?  Will they be coming in over a VPN or in the clear across the internet?  Are you integrating third party UC partners such as Microsoft Lync?  Are you planning to implement web based connectivity such as Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS?  Do you have existing HTTP reverse proxy capability in place?  Do you have appropriate SSL Certificates?  Answers to these kinds of questions will help determine the firewall strategy to implement video collaboration, along with any associated security requirements such as encryption.

 

  • Have you considered third-party professional network assessment services? An independent network analysis can help profile network performance and identify potential bottlenecks before video collaboration is rolled out.  A Network Readiness assessment can help refine the architecture of your video environment to ensure it is meeting your needs, assist with the design of a QoS strategy and ensure it is being implemented across the whole network path as well as analyse call data records once the solution is implemented to validate the quality of experience that users are receiving.

 

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of questions, and more specific information would be required for a detailed implementation plan.  But asking questions internally so you have the information needed to respond to the above will really help you understand the best type of solution for your network and how to successfully implement it.

 

We’ve considered before what we might mean by video mobility but a supplementary question might be why should people care about it?

 

The reality is that mobile collaboration tools are already in the workplace.  That ever-present smartphone pinging you with new email and text message alerts is already enabling you to operate and collaborate no matter what your location.  The current generation of people entering the workplace for the first time have spent the last few years of their education with access to all types of smart devices.  In fact, in a recent report by Ericsson (www.ericsson.com/ericsson-mobility-report) they identified that video traffic in 2013 accounted for around 35% of total mobile data traffic, but this number is expected to grow to more than 50% by 2019.  Whilst this statistic covers all types of video (real time and streaming) it highlights that users are extremely comfortable with accessing and viewing video on mobile devices.  Add in the familiarity of users today with consumer based video chat tools and it is natural that they will expect the same kind of instantly available, rich media collaboration tools in the workplace.   

 

This comfort factor with video collaboration and the ability to liberate it from being confined to a conference room is also reflected in the benefits that people are seeing from it.  In the past people would talk specifically about having a video conference - the use of the word “conference” automatically gets you thinking about a formal meeting, internal to an organisation, between traditional boardrooms and conference rooms.  That was how video communications was originally implemented, and the vast majority of benefits focused on cost savings, typically through a reduction in travel expenditure.  But now the ability to deliver video to just about any device (IP phone, desktop, smart device) means that people are now collaborating rather than conferencing, and the benefits being seen are evolving in a similar way.  Customers are now using video collaboration in business for topics as wide ranging as online buying, disaster recovery / business continuity and even remote inspection.  A recent survey conducted by Polycom and the industry analyst Wainhouse Research (www.polycom.asia/video-collaboration/benefits.html) showed that 94% of respondents were using collaboration for productivity and efficiency gains.

 

The wide ranging benefits that video collaboration delivers, plus the almost mandatory demand for these tools across all devices by the latest generation of workers, means that organisations need to be considering how they implement this within their organisation if they haven’t already.  The top three things I would recommend any organisation to do as they start on this journey of mobile collaboration would be as follows:

 

  • Identify your use cases and user base: Learn who or which processes in your organisation will benefit from video collaboration the most. This will help identify what the most productive and cost-effective collaboration solutions will be. Find out which employees are involved in these processes and need to communicate with, from where, and how often, to establish the basic framework for collaboration within your workforce.

 

  • Identify the most suitable types of mobile devices: A one-size fits all strategy for devices outside the conference room may not be suitable across all business functions. For instance, a teleworker may require a higher quality desktop solution, such as a video-enabled desk phone or laptop, whereas for a salesperson who is constantly on the move, a mobile or tablet device with a video application may be the right way.

 

  • Analyse network requirements: Will users be on-net or off-net?  Will they be coming in over a VPN or in the clear across the internet?  Answers to these kinds of questions will help determine the firewall strategy to implement video collaboration, along with any associated security requirements such as encryption.

 

Video collaboration, both fixed and mobile, delivers real benefits to all types of organisations and is rapidly becoming a “must have” for any workforce.  A little bit of forethought and initial planning can go a long way to help ensure that a video roll out is smooth, and delivers immediate benefits.

 

What do you first think of when you hear the words video mobility?  Is it someone on a smartphone having a video chat?  Is it someone sat at a computer with a video session occurring within a web browser? 

 

At Polycom we believe that video mobility applies to both these situations and more.  To us, video mobility is all about leveraging the power of life-like visual collaboration and extending the experience to all aspects of a business or organisation.  

 

Whether it is enabling a manufacturer to bring a remote expert directly to the production line over video, or providing tools to HR to enable simple & secure recruitment interviews to be done in a web browser Polycom is committed to enabling video collaboration across all networks and devices.  

 

In this series of articles we will explore the different technologies that are available today, emerging technologies such as WebRTC as well as look at best practices for an organisation that is looking to implement a mobile video strategy.  The intention is to help provide you with insights and tips to help your organisation operate more efficiently and effectively and truly leverage the power that video collaboration can enable.  Also if there are specific topics or areas you would like to see discussed please let us know.

 

Come with us on this journey and take a step into the future a future that that delivers video anywhere to any device on any network.

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