UC EXPO REPORT: The future of video collaboration

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Chris Middleton reports from the first panel session of the day at UC EXPO 2015.

Until recently, organisations have tended to think of videoconferencing in terms of large, expensive, on-premise systems that require dedicated rooms and hardware – in order to replicate the experience of real-world meetings around the boardroom table. Those solutions still exist, and many are flexible, innovative, high-performance systems.

But increasingly, organisations have fewer such real-world meetings, and many enterprises are becoming less formal and more agile, as staff members are freed up to meet whenever and wherever they want to, based on business need rather than pre-arranged times and venues.

The enablers, of course, have been smartphones, tablets, convertibles, laptops, and the availability of free wifi and high-speed broadband networks, both in our burgeoning ‘cafe culture’ and in the wider built environment.

As a result, videoconferencing is increasingly shifting into the cloud and becoming another app-enabled option for mobile, flexible workers, who are already familiar with apps such as Skype and FaceTime from their informal communications.

These were the key issues debated at the first vendor panel session of the day at UC EXPO, at Olympia in London.

“Video is playing a key role in the enterprise. Gone are the days of a poor user experience. It’s now embedded in the organisation,” said Richard Middleton, Account Manager for videoconferencing vendor Lifesize, of the shift away from “big on-premise” to mobile.

But this shift is happening away from the IT department, he suggested. “We still have our traditional videoconference offering, but where we see our real growth is in the introduction of our cloud service. It’s all about connected devices. No more having to phone up the IT manager. Organisations want to move away from having to manage IT themselves. [Videoconferencing] shouldn’t be the ‘big event’ that is has been in the past.”

James Campanini, VP and General Sales Manager EMEA for Blue Jeans Network, agreed that the impetus behind enterprise video is now very much towards cloud-based, software-based systems. “We want more people to use video in their daily conversations,” he said. “We don’t care about the hardware. We just want to connect people on video. There is a massive move into mobile.”

The company claims it hosts 600 million minutes of video across the world every year.

John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries, said that video is increasingly being blended into the wider trend of social collaboration. In this environment, creating a sense of “room-scale collaboration” is the ambition, with multiple participants connecting via a “fluid UI that works across multiple screens,” giving them access to documents and other media.

“We want to bring the real world back into the digital world,” he said, but added that many organisations “face the mediocrity of ‘good enough’. We hope the market doesn’t believe it has to take tiny steps.”

Mark Summerson, VP Managed Services EMEA for Vidyo, returned to the rise of the information worker as the key theme, and said that this is democratising video collaboration. “We’re all about software and distributed architecture and less predictable networks. What we’re seeing big growth in right now is in [digital]workflows, and organisations that couldn’t afford video before.”

A major growth area is outside the enterprise, he suggested: many companies at the leading edge of a collaborative culture internally are now extending that environment out towards their customers, such as in healthcare and financial services. “B2C will see huge growth over the next 12 months,” he said.

Tim Stone, VP Marketing EMEA of conferencing giant Polycom, most famous for the desktop conference phones used in many enterprises over the past 25 years, said that this movement is being felt strongly within his company too – a significant trend for a vendor that has one-third of the video endpoint market and a quarter of the infrastructure market.

“We want to unleash the power of human communication,” he said. “The big challenge and opportunity is the rise in mobile, the huge growth in apps, away from hardware into software and virtualised and cloud-based environments.”

But Stone cautioned that the majority of the market remains on premise, despite the shift to “VMWare types of environments”, and the main challenges for industry are around security, fears about compliance and regulation, and integration with other systems.

“The conversation about cloud is now up to the regulator,” said Blue Jeans Networks’ Campanini , who warned that security is a major consideration when people “have meetings on their iPads in Costa”.

For Lifesize’s Middleton, the key challenge for those companies using cloud video and collaboration either internally or externally is creating “a common user experience and interface”, but he said that cloud services make video more viable for many more people.

About Author

Chris Middleton

Chris Middleton is a widely respected business and technology journalist, author, and magazine editor. In recent years he has been Editor of Computing (where he remains Consulting Editor); co-founder and Managing Editor of Professional Outsourcing – a magazine he developed from scratch and grew to be the leading magazine in its field; Editor of CBR in its most successful year; and co-founder and launch Editor of Sourcingfocus.com. Today, he is co-Director of EastwoodMiddleton Publishing, and founder, designer, and Editor in Chief of Strategist magazine (UK), the boardroom magazine that provides strategic insight for business leaders, and of its mobile-first digital edition at www.iamtheStrategist.com. He is also co-founding Editor of Child Internet Safety magazine, and a contributing Editor of Diginomica.com. Over the years Chris has also written for, among many others, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and Computer Weekly. He is the author of several successful books on digital media, and a commissioning editor of more than 50 books.