Video in the Cloud
Increasingly the Most Popular Way to Video Enable Your Organization
In my last blog, I talked about ways to start collaborating with customers or partners outside your organization, beyond making a phone call. I discussed four different categories of tools that allow you to do that:
- Free tools
- Meeting tools
- Unified Communications and Collaboration tools (UC&C)
- Managed Services tools (Outsourced tools)
Drilling Deeper into “Managed Service Offerings” for Advanced Collaboration
In this blog we will delve deeper into Managed Service tools. Very simply, a managed service offering outsources the collaboration tools and the day-to-day management of the technology platform. For a better overview I highly recommend that you review the white paper, “Everything You Wanted to Know about Video Conferencing as a Service but were Afraid to Ask”, by Wainhouse Research which outlines fundamentals of Video Conferencing as a Service, (VCaaS). Download the whitepaper for free here.
VCaaS uses collaboration tools that you can implement yourself. But when the VCaaS supplier implements them, there are some distinct advantages they offer over deploying these same tools yourself for either internal collaboration, or collaborating with customers and partners:
- It is Easy to Get Started: No capital investment required.
- It doesn’t matter what UC&C systems or tools are currently being used, a good VCaaS will enable different systems to interconnect.
- No need for UC&C federation, because the managed service itself becomes the enabler of connecting technologies between organizations.
- Any existing room systems can use the managed service to connect the room systems to:
- Other room systems (of any type – Cisco, Polycom, LifeSize, etc) or;
- To UC&C systems like Microsoft’s Lync
- To users on their PCs, tablets or mobiles from anywhere they can get an Internet connection
- A good VCaaS allows users to connect via their browsers (using WebRTC)
These are great advantages, but let’s make this more real by talking about VCaaS from a user’s perspective.
VCaaS From a User’s Perspective
Let’s look at three different types of users and discuss VCaaS from each perspective. This approach will show that VCaaS can work for just about any size organization, but for different reasons and with slightly different use cases.
- A 1-10 person consulting firm
- A small to medium sized company – say 10 to 2,000-3,000 people
- An enterprise – 3,000 to 300,000 people
If you are only interested in the scenario that applies to your situation, then skip to that section.
A One Person Consulting Firm
Most consultants I have worked with will use Skype to communicate on phone calls, video calls and to share content. Skype is free if you are only using the Internet connection to communicate and flexible enough to allow a connection to a landline or mobile phone at pretty good rates.
The Consultants will also use their client’s collaboration tools like WebEx for virtual meetings, which is easy to do and more importantly, fits into their client’s collaborative ecosystem.
These approaches keep their costs down and can be effective IF all the other technologies pieces are co-operating and not interfering with the meeting.
However when they need:
- A higher quality video call that is 100% secure
- A reliable connection with lots of people on the call
- To connect to a client’s existing video conferencing room systems – Cisco, Polycom, LifeSize, etc
- Have the power of a Virtual Meeting Room at their disposal which others can connect to via a video or audio call. A Virtual Meeting Room (VMR) is when you are having a video conference with more than one other person. When you are in a VMR you are seeing all the other people on your screen at once. Kind of like Hollywood Squares – if you are old enough to remember that show.
Then it’s time to make the move to a quality VCaaS platform. By doing so the Consultant now has a powerful communication tool with the quality, reliability and connectivity capability that was previously only available to large organizations.
Why? Because only a large organization could afford to invest in the infrastructure, networks and endpoints (purpose built video conferencing units) of an enterprise class video conferencing system.
How much does a service like this cost?
About the same as your basic monthly mobile phone service with the only variable being how many minutes of a Virtual Room are needed each month.
The consultant can access the VCaaS service from any of their devices – PC, tablet, mobile, from wherever they can get an Internet connection.
By moving to a high quality VCaaS the consultant:
- Increases the quality of his interactions with clients and colleagues – better communication always leads to better results.
- Gets rid of the “Hidden Cost of Free Technology” and shifts the focus from managing the technology to doing his job.
- Projects a more professional image
- Connects seamlessly into large customer’s room systems and UC&C tools
A Small to Medium Sized Company
Now let’s shift to a company with about 100 people in it. The business is growing at about 15% year to year over the past few years and the company sees continued growth over the next couple of years. They are based in Toronto but have customer facing employees across the country and in a couple of US cities.
They need to communicate better between themselves and their customers and partners. They could accomplish this by having key personnel on the road supporting their representatives face-to-face in both internal meetings and with customer facing meetings. This approach not only puts a huge strain the key personnel, e.g. VP of Sales, but that model does not scale well (poor productivity) and is very costly to support both in terms of travel costs and timeliness of business execution.
- Phone calls and audio conference calls are not going to replace face-to-face interactions. The experience is just not rich enough.
- They could use a meeting tool like WebEx or GoToMeeting. This would definitely make the meeting experience richer, but it will only partly solve their problem because there is a lot more collaboration that happens in between meetings than in meetings.
- They could put in a UC&C platform with all the collaboration tools like Cisco’s BE6K or Microsoft’s Lync. This would definitely solve their problems with internal collaboration but:
- This requires a substantial investment, either a capital cost or longer term commitment to increased operational expense
- It will require a lot of time and effort to figure out which system best suits them
- It will not allow them to collaborate better with customers and partners
- They could try out a VCaaS service. VCaaS has the following advantages:
- No upfront capital costs – infrastructure
- No incemental operational costs – people, additional network connection
- Easy to test/trial the solution to ensure it meets requirements with no risk
- Works on most user devices – PC, laptops, tablets and mobiles
- High quality and reliable – critical from a technology adoption perspective
- It can play the role of a UC&C platform for a subset of company users, e.g. Sales team or Executive team
- It can connect to your UC&C platform – Lync or Jabber
- It can be the platform for richer communication with clients & partners, greatly reducing the high cost of travel increasing the speed of business execution
- It offers Virtual Meeting rooms which saves real estate costs and accelerates the velocity of collaboration in your organization
- It can be connected to your meeting rooms that have video conferencing systems installed
Again, comparing the price for VCaaS to the cost of having mobile phones continues to hold and the same kind of economies are available as you scale to a company wide implementation. But the start up and implementation costs are minimal and the risk of deployment is drastically reduced to only some time invested in evaluation.
An Enterprise Class Company
OK, let’s step up to an enterprise class company and see how VCaaS might suit their needs. I am defining an Enterprise as 3,000 to 300,000+ people.
Here are some of the typical characteristics of an Enterprise:
- Offices are geographically dispersed – locally, nationally and globally
- Security and regulation are paramount
- Typically have multiple UC&C systems – telephony based system(s) and Microsoft’s Lync or Cisco’s Jabber are both common.
- May already have infrastructure, if so, it is typically oriented for internal communication
- Already have room systems with video conferencing
- Scale – an Enterprise by definition has scale and once something is piloted successfully it needs to be scaled
Let’s explore these characteristics in more detail and see how VCaaS might work for an enterprise.
Geographically Dispersed Offices
In a large enterprise there is always a need for the dispersed parts of the organization to connect. The traditional ways of getting connected lie at the extreme ends of the possibilities:
- Make a phone call; or
- Travelling to the different office locations.
With video and other advanced collaboration tools, the richness of the communication using technology can come very close to being “as good as being there”. The benefits of using this technology are tremendous. The obvious benefit of travel cost reduction pales in comparison to the speed of execution and productivity gains that result from using these tools.
A company can either put it’s own infrastructure and WAN in place to enable the corporate offices around the globe to connect to each other in a rich, collaborative conference call or use a VCaaS service that already covers the globe and optimizes call paths around the world.
If you have not already invested in the infrastructure, a VCaaS is the approach that more and more large multi-national organizations are taking.
Infrastructure Considerations for Advanced Collaboration
Whether or not an enterprise has the equipment and network infrastructure to enable advanced real-time collaboration, here are the things that need to be in place and managed on an ongoing basis:
- Bridges for facilitating multi-party calls and other pieces of the infrastructure like call recording or the infrastructure management software.
- Ports on the bridges – as traffic increases more ports are required to enable more calls. Limiting ports bottlenecks your users’ ability to make calls
- Bandwidth requirements on both the LAN and WAN. Real-time calls, audio or video, do not tolerate packet loss well. If there is packet loss it will frustrate your users and they will shift back to traveling because a bad quality call is not at all “like being there”.
- Routing international calls in a manner that reduces costs. If all your calls are routed through only 1 point of presence (POP) globally you have a lot more you can do. Some VCaaS providers don’t have multiple POPs but the good ones have them all over the globe.
- Software update for the bridge and other pieces of infrastructure that are connected to the bridge (like call recording server).
From working with clients, I have seen over and over that even when they have their own infrastructure, it is typically behind in software releases and the clients are slow to grow their ports and video-supporting network.
Another interesting thing is that the industry is moving from hardware-based infrastructure to software-based infrastructure. VCaaS operators jump on these technology changes and take advantage of them because it helps them offer a better service that is more cost effective. Enterprise clients are much slower to adopt these technology enhancements into their infrastructure and sometimes are just not aware of them unless they come from the big IT suppliers.
Also of note,interoperability between collaborative UC&C tools like Lync and standard-based (h.323/SIP) video conferencing is becoming a base requirement.
Security and Regulation
For large enterprises, especially public, financial companies, IT security and regulatory compliance are paramount. This puts a heavy burden on these organizations that slows them down. They must make sure that they use technology tools from the larger vendors like Cisco and Microsoft, who have built security safeguards into their UC&C tools like Lync and Jabber. These tools work great within an organization.
But when corporate users want to reach outside the enterprise it is a different story. Either federation is required with another organization – not a simple process – or an outside service is required to bridge the disparate technologies between organizations.
Here is where a good VCaaS can really shine, allowing all the different system and tools to easily talk to one another. They even offer services that allow calling someone to be as easy as typing in their email address instead of an IP address.
Existing Unified Communications and Collaboration Systems
All enterprises have some type of UC&C environment. In fact most large enterprises that I have worked with have multiple UC&C platforms in different parts of their business. This has either evolved naturally over time, or in some cases from acquisitions of companies that all have their own unique communication systems.
There is nothing wrong with having different systems for different parts of the business as long as it doesn’t get in the way of an organization effectively collaborating. If it does, the organization will suffer relative to its peers in an industry. Companies that collaborate well outperform their peers by 3 to 6 times.
A good VCaaS can help bridge the different systems within an organization quickly and seamlessly. If it is no longer required as the organization’s communications framework is transformed from a patchwork to a tapestry, then the VCaaS can be discontinued.
Room Systems Already Outfitted with Video Conferencing
Many enterprises, if not most, have made some investment in video enabled room systems. These are the Tandberg, Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize and other H.323 based room systems. These rooms systems need to connect:
- To each other
- To the UC&C platforms like Lync or Jabber
- To software based meeting tools – like WebEx
- Both inside and outside the enterprise
A good VCaaS will enable most of these capabilities and some additional ones, like using WebRTC from a browser.
I see many enterprises that have video conferencing room systems and limited video conferencing usage with their UC&C product. But as the use of these two platforms working together becomes more common place, the enterprise will have to scale the video solution. This can have a very big impact on existing networks and infrastructure. A VCaaS implementation can ease the scaling significantly.
It also helps scale in that it allows an enterprise to shift from rigid processes requiring users to check room and bridge availability before booking their meetings to a self serve model where users are equipped with their own VMR’s and the ability to schedule and host their meetings whenever and wherever they want.
Ready to Try VCaaS?
Video Conferencing as a Service is becoming increasingly popular as not only the way to get started but as a viable long-term strategy to develop your corporate collaboration capabilities. By using a managed service you are moving many of the impediments to collaboration to the cloud and getting started right away.
It works for large organizations or small. If you are part of a bigger organization, you don’t have to wait for the ‘Master plan’, and if the master plan does arrive you can simply discontinue the cloud service.
The ET Group offers a world class VCaaS called ET Cloud. Click here to learn more about it and sign up for a FREE 30 day trial today!