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Implementing Real-Time Video Collaboration in the Enterprise
For many companies, the path is clear: understanding, championing, and leveraging video collaboration for more efficient business models.
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It’s apparent that more and more organizations are recognizing the dramatic improvement in collaboration and productivity that is facilitated by face-to-face interactions via real-time video communication,” says Ben Pinkerton, technical marketing manager at Vidyo.

Pinkerton says Vidyo, which makes the Vidyo Platform for enterprise-based video collaboration, sees several factors contributing to the rising use of video, via desktop and mobile clients, in the enterprise.

“Increasingly distributed work forces, the consumerization of IT—commonly known as bring-your-own-device (BYOD)—and the swelling demand for communications enabled business processes all contribute,” says Pinkerton.

Collaboration, content, conversations, cooperation, and even coopetition—collaboration between competitors—are just a few of the buzzwords surrounding the idea of enterprise video use. But what exactly do vendors mean by enterprise collaboration solutions?

That’s a tough one. Let’s start, though, with what enterprise collaboration is not, at least from a video standpoint. It’s not just a portal, a content management system, or even a social network. But it includes aspects of all three.

Most companies have portals and intranet platforms, and some are quite robust, but they are primarily designed to push information outward in a one-to-many broadcast approach. Think of them as the electronic equivalent of the human resources (HR) or occupational safety bulletin boards that are covered with work regulations and material safety data sheets (MSDS).

The concept of internal enterprise (interprise, for short) collaboration is on the rise, and interprise social networks are leading the charge. Though their popularity has waned in recent years, internal social networks provide a way for employees to post thoughts and action items for other employees to see. These were the “Facebook for Enterprise” solutions many vendors offered when Facebook was a new phenomenon among thirtysomethings.

Finally, a CMS isn’t inherently collaborative. From the classic CMS to corporate blogs to HubSpot or social media management tools, these tools are often about publishing content beyond the confines of the firewall. As such, they aren’t enterprise collaboration tools; they’re designed to be outward-facing ways to engage existing or potential customers.

Enterprise collaboration tools use bits and pieces of each of these categories to focus conversations and inward-facing cooperation for the benefit of the overall organization.

Why Collaborate?

Yet there might be an even more compelling reason to collaborate, at least for small businesses. A video network service provider called Blue Jeans Network (“because they’re comfortable”) rolled out a study last month that looked at how video-based collaboration is changing the way small and medium businesses compete. And it looks a lot like collaboration.

Blue Jeans Network has a large presence in the U.S., and it also has a growing presence in Australia. The company commissioned research to look at enterprise collaboration, from small businesses to larger ones, across the Australian continent.

Blue Jeans Network is a video conferencing solution with a large presence in both the U.S. and Australia. 

“Collaboration shouldn’t be reserved for those with expensive travel budgets,” says Kelly Seelig, senior director, marketing communications, at Blue Jeans Network. “Getting face-to-face access to customers, partners, and even competitors is essential for driving businesses innovation forward.”

Since the Blue Jeans Network premise is to sell video collaboration services, Seelig brought the findings—which stated that Australian innovation is driven, at least in some part, by small businesses collaborating with one another— back around to how video collaboration can help drive innovation.

“With the latest cloud-based video collaboration tools, everyone can adopt a more innovative working culture,” Seeling says.

Different Tools, Different Toolbox

Because enterprise video collaboration has such a wide-ranging set of use cases, it stands to reason that a number of types of tools are available for collaboration.

When it comes to industry types, though, it’s often not just the tools that are different but the toolbox itself. Even when we narrow the field to enterprise video collaboration tools, the proper bits and pieces can be a bit hard to pin down.

As an example of this, consider three use cases: the mobile sales warrior, the office employee, and a field supervisor in the trades.

The mobile sales warrior needs documents and data, with a limited need to see the collaborator, unless it’s part of a presentation that she can’t attend in person. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a field supervisor in the trades, such as plumbing, might have a much higher need to see both the collaborator and the problem a lesser-experienced collaborator is tasked with solving. In that case, the need for very good video connectivity in tight spaces could mean a difference between completing a task with the proper parts or being forced into a longer time frame of trial-and-error work.

In the middle use case sits the office employee, tasked with accessing both documents and data as well as audio (phone) and video collaboration.

For all three of these use cases, though, here are a few considerations to explore when comparing collaboration tools.

DATA OR VIDEO? OR BOTH?

One of the areas where collaboration gets rather muddy is the overall need for video versus data (e.g., screen sharing and document collaboration).

Does your team primarily need video or data collaboration? Or does it need the option to switch back and forth between both? If so, be careful to choose a tool that is flexible in both video and data collaboration. Also, be forewarned that not all data-centric tools have robust videoconferencing capabilities.

WHO CHOOSES THE COLLABORATION TOOL?

If you’ve worked around enterprise technology for any period of time, you know that the tools some executives are comfortable with are not the tools of choice for others. For screen-sharing or presentation-centric tools alone, some executives like join.me, others prefer WebEx, and others might like Microsoft’s SharePoint or Adobe’s Connect. The options can be overwhelming, but an uniformed choice can spell disaster for a rollout within the enterprise.

An example of this is found in an excellent article by Mark Kapko in CIO magazine called “Why CIOs Can’t Sell Enterprise Collaboration Tools.” It explores how chief information officers have to navigate not only between the functional needs but also between the generational differences.

While some executives prefer screen-sharing or presentation-centric tools such as WebEx, SharePoint, Connect, and join.me (right), those tools don’t place video at the center of their offerings.

“Millennials are more comfortable with video and short messaging, and have embraced newer collaboration tools like Slack and HipChat,” Kapko writes, summarizing a comment from Chris McKewon, who notes that “older execs are still trying to master WebEx and GoToMeeting, and unfortunately there’s no common ground.”

McKewon, founder and CEO of the managed services provider Xceptional Networks, adds that “CIOs must navigate and please the different age groups.”

In other words, differences in work style and comfort level with certain platforms can lead to stark differences in adoption of chosen technologies.

REAL-TIME OR “ALMOST” REAL-TIME?

This question goes to the technological heart of some of the generational differences mentioned above.

For instance, both the CIO article and the Blue Jeans Network study reveal that younger employees tend to want to collaborate via messaging—including video messages, which have taken hold thanks to several popular applications—than real-time collaboration. In the Blue Jeans underlying research, though, there was even a difference between Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials when it comes to the use of real-time collaboration.

Understanding that difference may be the key to selling the concept of video collaboration for business to the newest round of employees, since they’re already familiar with it for personal use.

“The Gen Y workforce, which expects real-time collaboration and face-to-face video as basic working tools, has been weaned on a diet of instant messenger apps, cloud-based social platforms and iPad video calls,” the Blue Jeans Network study states, adding that “43 percent of Gen Y entrepreneurs are attracted to external collaboration because it can accelerate the development of new products and service.”

INTEGRATED DEVICES VS. STANDALONE VIDEO APPS

Because most laptops and smartphones come with cameras, many assume that video collaboration tools from the consumer space fit well into enterprise environments that are already adopting the BYOD approach.

Yet the sheer number of low-cost or free video collaboration options can seem overwhelming: FaceTime for iOS smartphones and tablets and Mac OS X computers, Skype, Skype for Business, Microsoft Lync, ooVoo, Viber, WhatsApp, and a host of other options come built-in or are available for little or no cost.

Skype for Business is just one of many low-cost or free video collaboration options on the market; others include WhatsApp, ooVoo, Viber, and the consumer version of Skype.

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