Video Conferencing – The Right Tools
Published by UC Today, written by Chris Prowse
Why is VC (Video Conferencing) the poor relation when it comes to the efficient deployment of tools?
Have you ever watched a true artist or artisan at work? It doesn’t matter which field they operate in (painting, woodwork, weaving, sculpting, etc.), they seem to work with effortless fluidity, producing results which inspire and amaze. Of course, there is a huge element of skill in their work, but they are helped by having access to, and a working knowledge of, a range of task-specific tools and instruments, allowing them to choose the exact brush, pencil or chisel that they need at that precise moment for that particular action.
The same is true for working professionals: from car mechanics and chefs, to surgeons and dentists, they have an array of tools and instruments available to them to get the job done effectively and efficiently. The fact that these professionals have these tools, and the skills and knowledge to use them, not only allows them to work quickly and proficiently, it is also a comfort to their customers. Knowing that your dentist has the precise instruments and skills does (hopefully!) reduce any fear about that regular check-up. My great, great grandfather changed from being a blacksmith to a car mechanic – imagine him working on your car with nothing but a large hammer and an anvil…
We can therefore all agree that having access to the right tools for a particular task is the most efficient and productive way to carry out your work. So why is it then, that when it comes to Unified Communications, and video conferencing in particular, so many organisations have such a different mindset? Millions of people are employed in a variety of roles where meeting, presenting, teaching and collaborating are key tasks. For sure, they are not “making” anything (“Pretty Woman” with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, anyone?) but they are no less important to the success of the organisation. They still need tools to do their job. The IT department provides a good desk-phone (remember them?) and a decent laptop, upgraded every 3 years or so. If they are lucky, there is also a good call serving platform offering a variety of audio meeting capabilities. And more often than not, that is it. Users are then expected to re-purpose these two items into their video conferencing (VC) “solution”.
Make do and mend – in the 21st Century?
There are now a range of different VC solutions available and using the right one for a particular task remains as pertinent in this context as a chef using the right pot or pan, or a mechanic using the right spanner. One size does not fit all. To a certain extent, organisations have been blind-sided by the availability of free systems, such as Skype or FaceTime, or the inclusion of VC capability within a wider desktop strategy (e.g. Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams). Why invest in more tools, when you have some for free already? I guess we all get it, but can you imagine a dentist, or a woodworker, accepting such a proposition? So why do we?
It is not an accident that the likes of Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize etc., have a range of different VC products available. It is not just about catering for their customers’ different needs and wallet sizes; it is also a recognition that different types of meeting need different tools. Think about all the different types of meeting that we attend:
- One-to-one with a colleague
- One-to-one with a customer
- One-to-many with a customer
- Training sessions
- Town Hall meetings
- Team meetings
- Meetings from home
- Meetings in the office
- Meetings with content
- Clinical meetings
- Round-table discussions
And I could go on. The point is, that trying to do all these meetings using just a laptop and a webcam is not conducive to efficient operation. Nor is it professional. Using a large conference room, where there is just one or two of you in the meeting, and where you invariably sit at the end of the table furthest away from the camera and screen(s), is not an effective use of space, as well as an overall poor experience.
It is this final point that is the constant thorn in the side of effective video communication. Poor experience of a video conference leads people to think, to believe, that the technology either does not work, or is too complex. As a VC professional, how many times have you walked into a conference room to see the video codec turned off and covered in dust? Of course, this is a whole new topic, covered multiple times by many people, so I am not going to address it here. My point is that part of the issue comes down to the deployment, or non-deployment, of the right VC tools. Desktop systems are fine for one-to-one calls with colleagues and remote team meetings, but they are not appropriate for huddle rooms (think personal space) or conference rooms. Large room-based systems are great for presentations or training sessions, but not for focused, intensive round-table discussions and negotiations, where a centre-of-table solution makes much more sense.
Defining the types of meeting expected within an organisation is rarely a consideration when implementing a VC strategy. More often than not, the choice of deployed technology comes down to existing IT Infrastructure relationships. Yet, with the rise of codec-agnostic systems, this bias need not apply any more.
Technology providers have invested a lot in developing systems to enhance the remote meeting experience. The right tools are out there. It is time for organisations to provide their staff with the right tools to do their specific tasks productively and professionally. It is time to stop handicapping staff with makeshift communications strategies which do not address practical requirements. It is time to match the technology to the needs of the meeting, rather than adapt the meeting to the technology available. No-one wants a dentist using a Black and Decker…