Despite advances in technology often bringing business costs down, IT investment always requires justification. With communications in particular, the challenge is tougher as there are knock on costs, such as further investment being required in infrastructure to support the changes or significant impact on user behaviour that requires training and perhaps updated HR policies.
Video conferencing is a case in point. Businesses may well believe that the value not only from reducing travel or benefitting the environment, but also from improved productivity and responsiveness to customers, is worth it. But they will still need to be sure that they are taking the right investment decisions, especially when they start out on a new installation.
Quocirca's 2014 worldwideresearch project surveying over 800 current business video conferencing users, makes it clear that while most companies believe that they have been getting good value from their investment in video, it still has to be regularly justified. In an age where many believe consumer technology is 'good enough', making this justification at the start of the project is even harder.
I asked Roger Farnsworth, a senior director of services from Polycom, the sponsors of the research, what he hears about the value of video conferencing on a daily basis from talking to those who are starting out on the journey.
Rob:Video collaboration solutions are expensive compared to some well-known free tools - where does the extra value come from?
Roger: Generally it boils down to three things - quality, security and choice. Most organisations wouldn't consider free security tools or phone systems, and it's for the same reason that they should invest in a video conferencing system. The quality of free, web-based software is often inferior to the full HD video you get from a specialist like Polycom. Investment in a specialised, more comprehensive solution delivers better audio and video quality that enhances the host company's brand.
Compliance is also a major consideration for enterprises; many are legally obliged to conform to data protection and privacy regulations. Paid-for systems aid them in this.
A dedicated video collaboration solution also allows for better integration into your specific workflows. This is partly because of its integration with standard enterprise tools such asMicrosoft Lync and also because it can be customised to suit your specific needs.
According to the research, the quality of the overall experience is an important factor for boosting adoption of video, and thus gaining greater overall benefits. Some of this was expected to come from having a more reliable system and improving infrastructure such as network availability, but higher definition video was also seen as important. Video experiences do not all have to be high end immersive telepresence, but decent quality does play a significant part in making employees more comfortable with using video.
Many employees will have experienced some challenges using early video systems or will have heard stories about problems in the past from colleagues. In an organisation that is either installing video for the first time, or extending existing systems to be used more widely, this 'video folklore' or perception of problems will not help adoption.
When Quocirca dug deeper into the research and talked directly to installers of video systems, it became clear that many are not doing enough after making the purchase decision to get the best out of their installation. This is not helpful and can result in reinforcing negative perceptions about using video in the workplace, or denting the confidence of employees so that they only use video conferencing if there is someone on hand to provide assistance or set up the communications for them.
Rob: What can be done to ensure new video collaboration customers get off to an effective start?
Roger:There are several simple steps that an organisation can follow to ensure the smoothest possible roll out of video collaboration. The most important is thinking how video is actually going to address the business challenges and needs and then anticipating how it will fit in to the end users' daily routine. Video that is integrated into workflows will be much more rapidly adopted than a system that doesn't seem contextually relevant.
The second step is to prepare end users for what's coming to make sure they are comfortable with process and ready to engage. Think about the user profile and pick the methods best suited to them. For example, your digital natives and millennials will be happy to watch YouTube videos and tweet their questions to your support desk, but baby boomers might prefer a more personal and formal approach such as webinars, online tutorials and physical workshops. It's key that the users know what to expect and do not become concerned or nervous about this being a tool for them to use in the future.
Lastly; remember you only get one chance to make a first impression. Users should find collaboration tools easy to use wherever they are working. People who have an experience that is simple, with clear menu options and error codes, quick and reliable connections, and who get a satisfactory audio and video experience the first time they try are much more likely to become return users. Ensure that your users have a positive and quality experience first time and every time.
It is quite easy to look at consumer usage of video conferencing and think it will translate directly into straightforward use in the workplace, but this is rarely the case. While regular consumer usage builds awareness and familiarity, it is not sufficient for the rigorous challenges of the workplace. Things do not only need to be easy to use, they have to be reliable and build confidence that they will portray a professional image.
Partly this is down to the conferencing and collaboration tools and how well the infrastructure supports them as well as how conducive the overall workplace is for video use. Some of these factors are environmental and need to be put in place to provide the right settings, easy mechanisms for establishing calls and so on.
However, some factors are personal. Pro-active training and facilitation from the outset, will help establish confidence and this can be further developed with increasing awareness of the value and management commitment to video usage - fostering a positive culture of video adoption.
It is a significant investment, so it would seem foolish to do anything other than take it seriously and ensure that everybody in the organisation gets the best out of it.
Rob: Many employees feel that they have too many meetings already - isn't video collaboration just a way to hold meetings remotely?
Roger: "It's not that employees have too many meetings; that's a function of business culture. Organisations still have to be smart about time management; however; video collaboration can make necessary meetings more productive. In the UK alone time wasted being unproductive in meetings is estimated to cost the economy £26 billion every year. That's because of the 4 hours the average worker spends in meetings a week, 2 hours 39 minutes of this time is wasted. This is down to travel time, waiting for rooms when the previous meeting runs over, waiting for latecomers etc. Workers can be more productive when they don't have to physically go to a meeting room and wait for a meeting to start. When dialling into a meeting room from your desk you can continue to work right up until the moment the meeting starts.
Video as a medium also speeds up the meeting process. Essentially, meetings are a way to reach consensus on issues and make decisions. In our recent research, more than 80 percent of those using video collaboration said they experience faster decision making. The ability to launch a group video collaboration anytime, anywhere means no more long, convoluted email trails as a preamble to a lengthy meeting. And of course both remote and external participants can join easily, so that the group can be effective and efficient. Video collaboration promotes smarter and faster decision-making."
It is clear that for video to effectively change the way people work, share information and make decisions to be more efficient, more people, in fact pretty much all employees would need to be using it. The reality is that in many organisations, video conferencing usage exists only in pockets; either the walnut veneered boardroom, certain team meeting rooms or on privileged desktops. This seems oddly restrictive when so many have become so accustomed to advanced communications, including video, as consumers.
However, the research also indicated that some organisations had a much more progressive attitude than others. In these, video conferencing usage had become accepted, normalised like using the phone and very widely adopted. So what makes them different?
Rob: What do you think are the characteristics of an adoptive video culture?
Roger: "Organisations with a high percentage of digital natives and millennials will see a video culture develop rapidly. This is because these workers are more used to using video in their personal lives, with consumer solutions such as Skype and FaceTime.
However, there are other key factors. Organisations that are constantly revisiting process and policy in pursuit of improvement adapt and evolve more quickly. Those organisations where IT is a more active participant at C-level will see video collaboration integrated into business processes and therefore adopted quickly too. Having IT advise lines of business leaders on integration of video collaboration drives adoption from the top down.
In order to foster a bottom-up movement in terms of video adoption it's important to develop a more democratic work environment where employees feel empowered to run with the tools provided. This means making video for all, not just managers. Dissolving hierarchical access limitations is absolutely essential."
The research backs up these comments. The video conferencing industry has progressed through several stages of evolution, with the perceptions from some earlier hang-ups lingering a little longer than necessary. The technology needed to mature to become easier to use and more reliable, and networks needed to grow in capacity to support higher definition video. This has largely happened, with perhaps the odd rough edges in usability still needing some polish.
The next steps involve non-technical challenges such as social, psychological and political (the internal politics of management) acceptance. These influence the culture in the workplace and attitudes to how people communication. Getting them right will bring greater adoption and should lead to the intended goal - more effective communication. To read more about video adoption, download this free report.