Accelerating your real-time collaboration capabilities
I was in Las Vegas for the InfoComm 2014 trade show in late June. InfoComm is traditionally an AV industry trade show, but just like all things technology, it has been changing to reflect the current tech trends. One of the biggest changes at InfoComm in the last couple of years has been to embrace and advance real-time collaboration. Their focus is primarily on the room systems that are a part of the overall collaborative ecosystem. They are starting to understand that room systems play an integral part in the UC collaborative technology ecosystem.
One of the under-current themes that came through for me at InfoComm, was the new technologies that could advance an organization’s collaborative capabilities. These are technologies for organizations that are already using room systems as part of their real-time collaboration ecosystem, but want to advance the experience.
Why would they want to do that? It’s because they see the payoff that they are getting from collaboration already and they want to continue cashing in.
How can they do that?
- By advancing the collaborative experience to make it more “like being there”
- By making it easier to collaborate
- By making the experience richer (sometimes better than being there)
These technologies are for the 28% of companies that are beyond the first 2 stages of real-time collaborative evolution. Reminder – most companies (72%) have a collaborative environment that is either ‘Unsupported’ or ‘Not Integrated’.
To continue your journey to becoming a more advanced collaborative organization, you need to move your real-time collaboration from being a 4-6, out of 10, to say a 7-8, out of 10. Here are a couple of technologies that can help you do that.
High End Telepresence rooms can cost in the range of $300K to $750K. Telepresence is the name used for the most life-like video conferencing implementations; the implementations that are closest to “being there” – see this blog for more info.
Array gives you a similar Telepresence experience for about $15K per room (to take full advantage of this technology it is ideal to have this system installed at both ends of the call).
One of the biggest problems with video conferencing implementations in typical corporate meeting rooms is what I call the “Boardroom Bowling Alley” effect. I wrote one of my first blogs on this topic, featuring a dual camera solution from Polycom that helped eliminate this effect. I think Array’s solution is more effective because it turns the “Boardroom Bowling Alley” into a Telepresence room vs the Polycom Eagle-Eye dual camera solution or Cisco’s Speaker track solution. With Array’s solution you get to see everyone in the room at anytime, close up – just like a Telepresence experience, while the Polycom or Cisco camera experience focuses the camera on the active speaker. By doing that it makes the active speaker a large image on your screen on the far end, but you can’t see the rest of the people and what they are doing or how they are reacting.
Ironically, 1) they are all camera solutions to the same Boardroom Bowling Alley problem, with different approaches, and; 2) the Array solution was developed by the same guys that built Polycom’s RealPresence, high-end Telepresence systems.
The same guys who built the $750K high-end experience, just shrunk their solution to $15K per room That is cool!
Here is an image from the Array website that shows how their camera technology can transform an ordinary boardroom.
The two key components of the solution are the camera and the Array Equal-i 2S Image Improvement Processor. You can see from the second image above that everyone in the room looks like they are sitting around a Telepresence table – but they are not, it is the same table from the first photo.
One of the big improvements in the two images is that the video is now displayed on both screens making everyone bigger. This uses one of my 5 Technology Deployment Principles (upcoming blog) – maximize screen real estate to make things bigger. In order to free up the second screen to be used as a part of the video image, Array has taken the content sharing feature and put it onto the boardroom tabletop, which is a principle used in high Telepresence rooms. There would be an extra cost (in addition to the $15K) to put a few small monitors on the table to see the content. With an Array Telepresence system installed in two separate rooms on a call, the experience would be that of a full immersive system where both rooms would be able to see a dual screen improved view of the far end. There is no additional codec purchase required for this system, it will work with existing Cisco, Polycom or Lifesize codec equipment. The Array box encodes and decodes the expanded view at either end of the call.
To summarize what Array’s technology does:
- Brings farthest participants up close and personal
- Improves eye line and meeting format
- Powers dual displays using a single video codec
- Conceals camera(s) and brings wide format display
Early indications are that the highest interest for this technology is coming from companies that have already deployed and are using video conferencing for day-to-day business. Companies who are making a marginal, additional investment in technology to upgrade the collaborative experience for their users go from say a 4 out of 10, to a 7 or 8, out of 10.
For those companies who have already made an investment in room systems throughout their organization and are making good use of these systems, an extra $15K per room is not a very big additional investment to amp up the experience by 30-100%. Considering all the investments in equipment, network and user adoption, another $15K to significantly enhance the experience will breath a longer life into many of these rooms versus doing a total technology refresh of some kind.
Note: “Companies that have already deployed and are using video conferencing.” This is a critical phrase. I would not recommend this technology for deployments that would ‘hope’ to drive adoption, simply by upgrading the technology.
We at ET Group are getting on board to offer and support this technology in the Canadian marketplace. If you are interested in exploring the possible deployment in your video conferencing room systems, send an email to us through our contact page and we will get back to you.
More from InfoComm on advancing collaboration in your organization in Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned!
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.
5 Myths of Telepresence and What They Mean to Your Business
If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you have more than a passing interest in collaboration, video conferencing or telepresence. Confused? You’re not the only one. You can’t use search terms like collaboration, or telepresence without coming up against different definitions, methodologies or applications. You walk away from a search like that inevitably asking: “What’s the right definition?”
That is the problem with terms like collaboration and telepresence. They are broad and sweeping and you will be hard pressed to find many people who have the same definition. But that isn’t a bad thing. Creating authentic communication and collaboration isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” industry.
5 Myths of Telepresence
Recently, Cisco published an article on their blog debunking five myths around telepresence. These myths are things that we, at ET Group, have come across time and time again when talking to clients. The Myths Cisco talks about are:
Myth #1. “It’s unaffordable and only for the enterprise”
Myth #2. “Web-based consumer services are good enough”
Myth #3. “Software vs. hardware”
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too complex to set up and use”
Myth #5. “The payback is limited to travel”
Debunking The Myths
Debunking the myths is important for three reasons:
- It gives existing telepresence users a way to gauge their investment.
- By putting the myths under the microscope readers can take stock of any preconceptions they might have.
- It helps people to make good decisions when developing a technology roadmap for the next five years.
Myth #1. “It’s Unaffordable and Only for the Enterprise”
I’m going to leave the telepresence ROI discussion to my peers. I’m going to focus on Myths 2-4 because they’re centered more on the technology involved behind the scenes and the user experience.
Myth #2. “Web-Based Consumer Services Are Good Enough”
In previous blog articles We’ve discussed the pros and cons of consumer grade services for your business Video Conference needs. Recently, Microsoft began folding its MSN messenger application and pushing those users towards their Skype platform. The only announcement which improves Skype’s business readiness as a result of this move is an improved mobile application. Mobility without security isn’t going to offer businesses a new experience with Skype. In fact, it would be my guess that the fanfare of the new Skype user base may impact performance with the sheer number of subscribers. Why do I say this? Skype and MSN have had high profile outages in the past due to congestion. It’s worth thinking about what would happen with their combined user bases.
Myth #3. “Software Vs. Hardware”
This question is at the heart of every video conferencing roadmap, and it feeds into three key questions:
- How do you want to collaborate? For an example read 3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption.
- Where do you want your teams to work? See a previous blog Do you Lack Meeting Room Space? Without Exception, Every Company or Agency I Speak with has This Problem.
- What can I leverage today, for tomorrow? Further discussed in the blog Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform.
People often ask, how do I ‘future proof’ my investment? Do I go with a desktop client like Jabber, Lync, or Vidyo; or invest in an integrated boardroom solution? After we start discussing the three questions above, we often find that clients want to do both.
The reasons clients may wish to do both vary, but it boils down to one thing: In many telepresence deployments there is tremendous investment overlap in the requirements for mobile versus office deployments. Understanding this allows clients to prevent the conversation from starting as a “this or that” discussion and making it about workflows and where collaborative technologies can enhance productivity.
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too Complex to Set Up and Use”
I think that it is important to recognize the difference between complex, and flexible. Yes, there are many different ways that you can deploy telepresence. But, that’s true of your Phone System or PBX, and it’s just as true of your computing environment whether its Windows, Mac or Linux based. Options don’t inherently mean complexity, and anyone that tells you differently is avoiding the question.
Options mean that you have to take a very sober look at where your company’s deployment is starting from, and where you want to develop your collaborative ecosystem too in the next five years. But building the ecosystem is only half of the battle.
The other half of this myth is using telepresence; the user adoption of the technology. User adoption is a microcosm of how companies adopt new technologies. Most, will have a few highly evangelical adopters who will win over the office over a period of time. A few will adopt a technology and have it sit unused while they try to figure out what its business application will be. Rarely will everyone see the need to make a change and jump in with both feet. At its heart, user adoption is a battle of perception. Developing adoption comes down to three things, dispelling fears and doubts, kicking the tires, and users finding what’s in it for them.
What Will Telepresence Mean for Your Business?
A lot of what I’ve talked about, and Cisco’s blog post can be summed up into one question: What will Telepresence mean for your business?
If anything, this blog has shown you that there isn’t one-way to answer this question to satisfy everyone. The next time you go to search for collaboration or telepresence, instead of asking “What’s the right definition?”, ask yourself “How will my business define it?”
Cisco has done an excellent job of trying to dispel fears and doubts. If you’re still stuck on the definition we at ET Group can help you with the rest.
3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption
I was really disheartened the other day when I heard an IT Director at a major consulting company say that they have video conferencing equipment deployed across the country but they don’t use it much. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard this before, it takes much more than equipment deployment to make collaboration technology (in this case video conferencing) catch on.
Being an avid user of video conferencing, I am always baffled about why people don’t use their video conference solution. But I realize that it’s a little like John McEnroe asking why everyone doesn’t play tennis. As a seasoned pro, I always want to get to the bottom of what hampers adoption.
So I asked, “Why don’t people use it?”
His reply: “I blame myself for not really understanding the deployment. We wanted to bring 3 locations into a single video call and each location has dual screens. So if I am in Toronto and want to have a call with our New York and San Francisco offices, I want to be able to see New York on one screen and San Francisco on the other screen, but I can’t. I have to look at them both crammed into one screen. So we don’t use the equipment much.”
Unfortunately for this IT director and many like him, that is a lot of money spent on a wasted video conferencing implementation. This is a very real problem and probably a lot more prevalent than you might think.
And he was right. There wasn’t much he could do to get the results he was looking for from his video conferencing deployment (technology design & technology strategy are key for adoption). But that doesn’t mean you have to repeat the mistake he made. You can achieve exactly what the consulting company wanted to with multiple locations on separate screens in the same call.
In fact there is more than one solution but the price difference between them is very different.
First, let’s define the problem.
• Most phone calls are between two people and likewise so are most video calls. The tech speak for a video call between two people is a “point-to-point” call. And if you continue the tech speak analogy, a video call with more than two people is a multi-point call.
• Most of the traditional video conferencing vendors – Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize, Radvision, Sony, etc., use a communication protocol called H.323 and when a multi-point call is made using H.323, what happens is that the video streams from each location are “combined” and sent to the other locations as a single stream.
• So in the example above, the Toronto location would get a single video stream sent to it which has the people from New York and San Francisco “combined” into a single video stream. This single video stream can only be viewed on a single screen – it can’t be split up over two screens. This practice causes the video images of the remote locations to shrink on the display, dramatically diminishing the value of the video images.
In other words, the screen real estate which the people in the other locations occupy on the screens is drastically reduced. Screen real estate was critical to the Consulting Company and real estate is critical to a good video conferencing experience – see these blogs for more…
So what can you do to achieve video conference adoption?
Option 1: Have More than One Codec
With all the traditional video conferencing vendors, if you set up each location with 2 codecs and 2 cameras, you then have each codec in the office call one of the other 2 offices. Then all the participants will be full screen on one of the 2 screens in the room.
Problems with Option 1
Twice as expensive; clumsy call operation; this solution will not scale. Besides the obvious cost differential of adding a second codec and camera at each location, trying to integrate and operate two separate calls simultaneously is very difficult and most end users will never pull it off. The scaling problem comes into play if you try to use this solution when adding in a 4th or 5th location into the call.
Option 2: Go Telepresence
This is similar to Option 1 in that there are either multiple cameras or codecs deployed in the Telepresence rooms but the images are stitched together and combined and sent to other locations as a single image to be displayed on a set up that is exactly the same (physical mirror images of each other) at the other locations.
Problems with Option 2
There are no problems with this type of deployment, however they are very expensive. It takes a lot of technology, network and integration to elegantly pull off the high end Telepresence solutions. But they are elegant and they work beautifully. These rooms also tend to become dedicated “Video Conferencing Rooms” and not multi-purpose. This is not good or bad, just a fact.
Option 3: Use a Different Video Technology
If you move out of the H.323 world and move to a newer video technology, you can deploy room systems that will allow you to use a single processor (codec equivalent) to put full screen images on both of the screens in the Toronto – New York – San Francisco example. These commercial video solutions will allow for support for two screens with active presence or video on each screen. The video architectures will let you move beyond 2 screens and go up to 20 screens – Hollywood Squares Plus!!!
Note: This solution would not only have provided the Consulting Company with exactly what they were looking for but it would have cost them less than the video solution they deployed.
Problems with Option 3
There are no problems with this approach except that if you have an existing video deployment like the Consulting Company mentioned above, you have to basically replace the core of the old solution with the new (except for the screens), plus, if you do go beyond a 2 screen system you will need to invest in additional decoders for each of the extra screens beyond the initial two.
There are very good solutions out there to make your video collaboration experiences as good, or better, than actually being there! Doing it right will increase the velocity of collaboration in your organization.
Stay tuned to the blog for some of the upcoming topics including best options for sharing content and video in a collaborative call.