Video: as simple as a phone call?

Video continues to rise in popularity, but will it ever achieve the ubiquity of the traditional voice call?

Simon Culmer May 2012.JPGVideo continues to rise in popularity, but will it ever achieve the ubiquity of the traditional voice call? As Avaya closes its acquisition of Radvision, Simon Culmer looks at the opportunities that video affords business and the hurdles that need to be overcome before its benefits are fully realised.

When Alexander Graham Bell said, "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you" into the liquid transmitter of the first telephone, he did not of course have a visionary moment, and attached no literal significance to "see you". Yet, here we are today: just over 100 years on visual communications technology abounds. 

Video has long been touted as the new voice. There is no doubt that it is a high growth market and customers are adopting quickly, but will the simplicity of other modes of communication such as voice and Instant Messaging prevent its true potential ever being fully realised?

If video is ever to steal the crown to become the preferred method of business communication, the problems customers have in implementing it, and the opportunities they can seize once it has been installed correctly, must be looked at, by both technology vendors and resellers, more vigorously.

Today, video is still seen by many organisations as a useful but non-essential part of day-to-day working life. Yet, when you consider that video is really voice communications enhanced with pictures there is no reason why video conferencing and video-driven collaboration shouldn't move from a 'nice-to-have' to a mainstream business tool.

This is especially true when you consider the ROI and business benefits that can be realised. A recent study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, looking at remote and collaborative product development, found that the time needed to bring products to market was reduced by 16% through video collaboration. This is an impressive benefit in an R&D setting and an indication of the type of competitive advantage and time savings that can be delivered in more common day-to-day working practises. 

A reduction in travel expenditure has been at the forefront of video vendors' marketing efforts over the last decade and this benefit still holds true. For example, Ituran, a Radvision customer, recouped the cost of its video system almost instantly due to reduced employee travel.

Yet, if William Glasser's theory remains true - that people remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and about 50% of what they see and hear - it is clear that current and future customers can also benefit from video by boosting employee teamwork and productivity on an everyday basis.

However, before customers can fully realise these benefits they must first deliver the same levels of ubiquitous access and reliability for video that end users expect from voice. James J. "Jim" Horning, an American computer scientist said, "Nothing is as simple as we hope it will be". Yet, what could be simpler than picking up the phone? If video is to gain a loyal following in enterprise communications the user experience must be just as simple and hassle free. Helping customers achieve this is a clear integration and consultancy opportunity for the channel.

The consumerisation of IT in the enterprise has largely been driven by the need for simplicity. It is one reason that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is gaining such ground swell. People want the ease of the iPad, the iPhone or an Android device to help them do their job quickly and efficiently. They want simplicity of use but without any limits on functionality.

Resellers are well-placed to help organisations keen to realise the benefits of video address this. Video must deliver the same kinds of features that you have when making or receiving regular phone calls: access to your global dial plan, ad hoc conferencing, easy call transfer, and the same quality of experience regardless of location or device. It is only then, once a 'no drama' experience can be guaranteed, each and every time, that ends-users will consider using video in the way that the business can truly benefit.

The key to such simple usability is, of course, to keep the complexity hidden! Interoperability and open standards, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) are critical to the implementation of a robust, future proofed video strategy. As convergence continues between Voice over IP (VoIP) and video, SIP will allow organisations to realise the benefits of out-of-the box integration and interoperability across traditionally disparate devices and systems. SIP can help deliver an increased level of personalisation to video communication and ensure it can be easily integrated with other communications tools.

The inherent value of video solutions can be further increased as end-users start to leverage video-enabled devices, like iPads, from a variety of vendors. Thanks to SIP, they will be able to integrate and collaborate on these newer video devices without having to step out of their company's existing video set-up, be it room based or desktop: different access methods will all work together. 

As video user adoption spreads to the desktop, shifting to the more efficient model of running and managing video traffic over the same converged network is an obvious choice. Moving away from a dedicated video overlay network allows organisations to gain a level of simplicity, allowing improved network and bandwidth management. It also enables video to be more easily embedded into line of business applications alongside other communication capabilities such as instant messaging, presence, voice, and audio and web conferencing.

Once video is available to all, another key consideration for both the channel and its customer is the management of this new technology. While many businesses will feel comfortable delivering this in-house, others will benefit from a managed services approach, often via a hybrid model that incorporates in-house and third party expertise, to create the right mix of skills. Regardless of approach the end goal of the channel partner should be the same: to ensure video within the customer's business is fully functioning at all times, just as the phone would be.

Other 'softer' considerations centred round how the cultural shift to video is managed within the organisation should also be considered. There is a tendency to underestimate employees' fear of change and the extent to which limited past experiences may have negatively influenced users. Reseller or supplier led training workshops and on-going education of users can be important in countering misconceptions and driving the adoption of video. Executive sponsors who are passionate about video and happy to be advocates can also help drive support at a senior and middle management level, while setting local targets on video usage, and travel cost reductions can focus teams.

If the adoption of video in the enterprise is to truly become pervasive and if customers are to really reap the benefits it can deliver, then simplicity, ubiquitous access and reliability must remain watchwords for the channel at any and every stage of the deployment. It is only then that video will become the new voice and that video as simple as a phone call will reign supreme.

Simon Culmer is UK and Ireland managing director at Avaya.

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