What Is WebEx Telepresence? How do WebEx and Telepresence come together?
WebEx is a program that runs on your browser allowing you to collaborate on-demand with other people. The original WebEx program consisted of voice capabilities and content sharing. It allowed users to have a voice conversation while simultaneously sharing whatever was on their PC screen with the other users on the WebEx call. You can incorporate Webex into many different workplace designs if you plan accordingly and have the right partner to install them.
Cisco bought WebEx in 2007 and has continued to enhance its capabilities, by adding key features, such as video, and by developing a whole suite of WebEx products. These products take the same basic capability of WebEx and specialize it for different kinds of online meetings – Webinars, Support, Training, etc. Each of these meeting environments is a little different and works best with a customized set of tools to manage the online meeting.
Telepresence is the name given to the most life-like video conferencing implementation, which is the closest video conferencing implementation to “being there”. The size of the video images are life-like and the audio quality is superb making it seem like you are sitting across the table from the people you are meeting with, even though they are in a different part of the world.
With two great products – WebEx and Telepresence, it was natural that people would soon ask for the two to be able to connect to each other. Last year, Cisco introduced an update to their Telepresence solutions called WebEx Telepresence.
So now callers in a video conferencing enabled room can connect via video with remote participants who are using WebEx video.
WebEx Telepresence allows participants in WebEx meetings to connect via video with participants using Telepresence video conferencing endpoints (traditional H.323 and SIP videoconferencing). Standard room based videoconferencing systems use H.323 or SIP as the protocol to connect rooms and control the call. Traditional manufacturers, like Cisco and Polycom, use these protocols. WebEx on the other hand, uses a proprietary protocol that is unable to directly communicate with traditional room systems.
What is the big deal with integrating one video technology with another?
Many videoconferencing industry insiders envision a future where video conferencing is ubiquitous. They believe that it will replace voice as the main real-time communications tool in the not too distant future. However, one of the main roadblocks preventing this is interconnectivity between video systems. The interconnectivity problem is that different technologies are using different protocols (languages) and until they either all speak the same language or translate the protocols between them seamlessly they can’t talk to each other. I doubt that cell phones would have ever exploded 20 years ago, if users on the AT&T network couldn’t call Verizon customers or if Android phones could only call other Android phones.
To your average user, particularly those who use consumer video conferencing technologies like FaceTime and Skype, this seems like a straightforward task to accomplish.
“If I can FaceTime with Mom to wish her a Merry Christmas from the beach in Costa Rica, surely an enterprise boardroom should be able to make a video call to a PC based video desktop, particularly if they are both using Cisco products”
But we also know that Skype users can’t connect with FaceTime users – different protocols. Those of us in the business know that getting all the video technologies to work together is easier said than done. It took Cisco almost four years since the acquisition of Tandberg in 2010 to get WebEx to talk to their Telepresence systems, resulting in the launch of WebEx Telepresence.
Why is it important?
I have many different clients who have been eagerly waiting for this capability. Some are educational institutions who want to leverage existing rooms, equipped with HD cameras, codecs and audio systems, to collaborate with research partners who could be located anywhere in the world and equipped only with a laptop.
Others are large enterprises that want to connect individual employees in remote locations with groups in central locations, who have access to video conferencing enabled boardrooms.
Sure there are many ways to tackle these requirements with different technologies, but when you have already made an investment in videoconferencing enabled rooms, infrastructure and WebEx, it makes a lot of sense to be able to connect them together.
WebEx has an excellent reputation for providing desktop web conferencing and superior audio conferencing capabilities. The addition of WebEx Telepresence means that these features can now be added to the high end video call experience. Unlimited audio users can also join a video call from anywhere in the world, be it from a phone or desktop computer. This new capability also means that iPad users can now join a video call on a Cisco system with high resolution video.
What is required?
In order to implement WebEx Telepresence you will need to have the following infrastructure, at the right release levels:
- Cisco TMS Scheduler: This component schedules the required resources, users can schedule a meeting, invite other users and select the required resources (like a videoconferencing room).
- Cisco MCU: This is the bridge, it connects the different endpoints together (room systems, WebEx desktops)
- VCS Control/Expressway: This provides firewall traversal, so users can make calls outside of their network and translates between different protocols, like H.323 and SIP
WebEx Telepresence offers a great way to connect two powerful collaboration worlds – WebEx and Telepresence. WebEx Telepresence solves one particular problem; connecting remote WebEx based videoconferencing participants with Telepresence room based systems.
Whether or not WebEx Telepresence makes sense for your organization will largely depend on what you are starting with or your current infrastructure. If you already have Cisco video infrastructure and are using WebEx then it’s definitely worth looking at combining the two together to create an even more powerful collaboration environment.
Allowing different videoconferencing systems to communicate is a positive step towards ubiquitous videoconferencing.
Why the Old Office Cubicle Just Doesn’t Cut it Anymore
Increasingly, organizations are asking ET Group about the importance of designing office space solutions that incorporates both the workspace and technology connection requirements of workers to accommodate personal and group meeting spaces in a variety of situations. More and more organizations are commenting that the old office cubicle farms just don’t cut it anymore. People need to be freed up to be able to work as easily in the cafeteria, a formal meeting space, their personal work space, or anywhere.
The ET Group and partner Mayhew & Associates, had the opportunity to demonstrate this new reality recently when we participated in Cisco’s annual customer event and showcase at the Toronto Congress Centre on May 16, 2012. The Toronto event is the largest of the Cisco Plus Canada Roadshow and attracted over 2000 technical and business decision-makers and influencers along with Cisco channel partners.
ET Group and Mayhew featured a booth in the Technology Showcase which combined purpose built, technology-enabled furniture along with video conferencing and white-boarding technology to simulate today’s office collaboration enhancing environments.
Why Cubicles Just Don’t Cut It.
- Furniture needs to be practical & functional for formal meetings as well as inviting and comfortable for impromptu gatherings.
- Space needs to be technology enabled to integrate naturally and quickly with technology solutions that connect users to their device of choice and then to connect over the internet with other workers wherever they are…seamlessly and quickly as a natural extension of the workers collaboration toolset.
- Collaboration technologies integrated into the space design and furniture need to provide an active workspace that immediately enables users to access their information, share it easily and robustly with others, whether they share the physical space or are connected virtually.
The resulting conversations of visitors at the show included concerns about the old style cube farms. People were enlightened to see that there are options out there for organizations who want to use space, furniture and technology to enhance the collaboration and productivity of the workforce.
One CEO at the show concurred with the negative impact of the “cube farm” and noted his particular challenge as a government funded organization, is that he can’t provide financial incentives to his staff, so providing an environment that is unique and the opposite of cubicle drudgery is what will attract and retain employees.
Other attendees noted that when you have the responsibility for representing many offices nationally, the need for creating collaborative environments cannot simply be addressed by adding technology or by re-configuring the office cubicle. Many companies struggle to understand the future of workspace in a holistic way.
Closing Thoughts on Cubicle Farms…
Many companies think that moving past the cube farm is expensive, time consuming and disruptive to their business but they are not seeing the big picture. Employees are not only asking for integrated design space, furniture and technology, but it is a key driver of change management strategies required to assist people in their transition to working in different, collaborative ways. Companies need to invest beyond the cube farm and provide integrated workspaces that allow all types of workers to connect and enjoy their work environments.
The world is rapidly changing and we have to adapt just as quickly. Our customers are looking for leadership in helping them think about and design the collaboration ecosystems that will take them successfully into the future. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the traditional office cubicle, will likely only be found in a museum, if you have any questions about our mission or our team feel free to contact us.
New Collaboration Tools That Fit Your Strategy
Collaboration is a hot word amongst the leading IT companies like CISCO, IBM and SAP. They are all using ‘collaboration’ as a catch all word to describe the new ways that staff and customers can interact with each other. The word means slightly different things to each of these companies, but they all describe two key components.
Two Main Collaboration Components
- The physical aspect of collaboration, meaning the surroundings in which we find ourselves to collaborate.
- The Virtual aspect of collaboration, meaning the tools we use to communicate.
A more traditional interpretation of collaboration includes web conferencing – screen sharing, audio conferencing and video conferencing and not necessarily Unified Communications.
Roughly 25% of small businesses will have a social media presence in upcoming years. As businesses look for new ways to remain competitive online, a social media strategy will become a more attractive option for businesses of all sizes.
A new breed of collaborative tools embraces traditional and new ways to participate in collective thoughts, ideas and project/people development. CISCO and IBM for example both feel that social networking in the business is a significant way to collaborate – think of it as Facebook for your business, a place to share thoughts and ideas, share files (images, videos etc.) to find people in your organization, to save a profile about yourself and others, to message board or chat. CISCO Quad and IBM Connections both offer these sorts of features, as well as others such as SpeechBobble.
The good thing about social media is that it’s possible for businesses of all sizes to do something – even if it’s small. From company blogs to collaboration in online communities, there are lots of ways for businesses to make this leap.
- Another separate yet relevant web collaboration approach is more directly related to projects and sharing the goals and objectives online in a community, Microsoft Team Foundation Server is an example of this type of tool, with deep integration with IT software project development it caters to a slightly different collaborative mode of working, yet has social network features built in
- Basecamp is another example of an ‘online project collaboration tool’, with a very large user community it is focused on the project approach to collaboration.
- It also has many of the social networking tool features that are found in the products from IBM, CISCO and others mentioned above, such as message boards, ideas forums, file sharing and more.
So when we talk of collaboration, it is important to distinguish if the tools and technologies are live (or real time) or passive (non-real time). Most of the tools above would be considered as passive tools, and don’t require all parties to be on a call together, communicating with each other at the same time. ET Group has focused our attention on the active collaboration tools allow conferencing via interactive whiteboards, the web, video and audio. These are all considered real time collaboration technologies and are part of every company’s collaborative ecosystem.
Most companies have an informal collaborative ecosystem. But more and more this needs to be formalized and managed to capture the benefits that collaboration has to offer. Contact us if you want to learn more about collaboration technology.