By now, the potential benefits of visual communications are familiar to most large organisations. Many have already invested in the required hardware and infrastructure and, like some before them, have struggled with initially low utilisation rates.
But these teething problems are gradually being solved by successful video adoption programmes, to such an extent that the opposite challenge is now beginning to rear its head. In some cases, there’s a sudden, explosive demand for video, which causes its own set of headaches. The answer lies in the cloud.
Even in the early days of convergence, it wasn’t hard to understand why visual communications had so much to offer. Attractive benefits such as enormous savings on airfares, lowered travel risk, a smaller carbon footprint, greater productivity and a better work-life balance soon turned videoconferencing into an organisational must-have, rather than a nice-to-have. Dispersed investments in videoconferencing end points and meeting rooms were the first step towards visual nirvana.
But the initial mistake that many organisations made, and still make today, was to believe the old adage, ‘Build it and they will come’. In most cases, employees didn’t just come, and after an initial buzz of excitement, the expensive video equipment soon began gathering dust, showing little return on investment and leaving the decision-makers to scratch their heads. It was time to call in the experts.
Human beings are fickle. Nowhere is this more evident than in the list of contributing factors causing the tardy adoption of video. Top of that list is ease of use. If it’s not immediately obvious how to use the equipment, the user experiences it as difficult, temperamental and frustrating, and avoids it as a matter of course. A key ease-of-use success factor we’ve identified is standardised meeting room hardware catalogues.
This ensures that the equipment, the user interface and, by extension, the user experience is the same no matter in which room in the world the video call is made. Contact directories also play a key role. If these aren’t up to date and consistent among locations within the organisation, the placement of a video call to the right people is difficult for the user.
Usability also has to do with where the equipment is kept and how it’s booked and managed. Research usually reveals that most face-to-face meetings take place between two to three people, not large groups, which makes the booking of an entire boardroom for a video call seem excessive. Employees would rather opt for teleconferencing. And, in addition to a centralised booking facility, even factors such as distance from the user’s desk may influence the use decision.
The next step in the progress of this technology is the deep integration offered by enterprise-grade convergence. Visual communications is no longer confined to meeting rooms, or even offices, with clients now using video on a variety of mobile end points, including laptops or tablets. This advanced level of integration should also allow for immediate information sharing and collaboration regardless of the device used, so that meeting attendees can share presentations or files of any type or format, no matter where in the world they may be calling from.
However, it is important for an organisation currently experiencing a low return on investment in video to conduct a thorough assessment of how its employees prefer to meet and collaborate. These factors may differ vastly from business to business, and will determine the specific steps to be taken in a successful user adoption programme aimed at driving greater use. The problem is, what if the eventual user adoption programme is too successful?
We’re increasingly coming across this situation in the market, and organisations are just as unprepared for this challenge as they were for low adoption rates. Quite recently, after a highly successful usage and adoption programme, one client experienced an incredible 600% increase in the use of its video facilities, which created an entirely new set of problems.
The danger is that, should the business not be able to scale its visual communications infrastructure and management over a short period, the user experience deteriorates and the associated frustrations may undo all the good that was done by the adoption programme.
Slow scalability may put the organisation back to square one. What usually happens is that the infrastructure can’t handle the increased traffic, nor are the internal procurement processes agile enough to cater for the immediate up-scaling. We’re finding that the operations budget, which takes care of the management and the network infrastructure driving video, is static and inflexible, or in many cases even declining thanks to the global economic slump. So, new implementations simply can’t keep up with demand.
We’re working with clients to solve this problem by creating private clouds that make up-scaling easier and faster. Private clouds don’t need the change control and management procedures as required when building the expanded facility into the client’s existing network.
This means IT operations can scale the back-end infrastructure in line with the rising demand for end points. Connected to this is the up-scaling of the management of the video estate, which is why there’s such a fast-growing demand in the market for remote managed services.
It’s important that organisations partner with service providers who have experience in, and can offer, the full spectrum of visual communications services: from initial assessment, consulting and professional services, through to outsourcing and cloud. Niche players can’t always cope with the international scale and delivery demanded by multinationals.
The ideal is that service providers should be able to offer ‘as-a-service’ bundling. This should include the provision and implementation of as many end points as needed, the management of the entire video estate to ensure maximum use at minimum effort, and all of the cloud services that will help ensure scalability, either up or down, as and when the business needs dictate.