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Implementing Real-Time Video Collaboration in the Enterprise

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Some of these free options are also limited in what they can do, including several of the apps listed above that don’t allow for multiple collaborators to share a video session.

On the flip side, many hardware-based, integrated video collaboration tools can scale from just a few video collaborators to hundreds of collaborators, when the hardware unit is used as an encoder to send the signal to a large-scale webcasting service or in-house streaming server.

“The needs for enterprise video collaboration are distinct from the consumer-marketed video calling tools such has Skype and FaceTime,” Pinkerton says. “Specifically, enterprises require high reliability, conferencing scalability, interoperability with existing systems and infrastructure and stringent security.”

So there’s something to be said for standalone video collaboration, a realm that LifeSize, Polycom, and a few other companies have dominated at the high end. But even these video-centric devices need document and desktop collaboration tools, which led Polycom to acquire Accordent Technologies several years ago.

In the meantime, Vidyo and Vu Telepresence have begun to fill in the gaps between a smartphone or desktop on the low end versus a full-blown, expensive dedicated telepresence room on the high end.

Vidyo sells both traditional videoconferencing units and applications and software development kits (SDKs) that harness the power of video, along with more traditional document sharing.

“Our VidyoWorks platform delivers document sharing, annotation, and multiparty video conferencing both for room system and desktops to any size customer in the enterprise,” Pinkerton says.

In addition, Vidyo sells VidyoReplay, which offers the ability to record and webcast video meetings, the kind of product that ties nicely into a webcasting service to get the message out to a broader audience, while still maintaining the ability to do multidirectional video meetings for the core participants.

“While Vidyo’s platform is used to satisfy the needs of both consumer and enterprise markets, it’s VidyoConferencing product suite was built specifically to address the needs of enterprise,” Pinkerton says. “Personally, I do think consumer use of video chat tools have made the baby boomer generation more accepting of video technology over the last five years. Prior to that period they were very opposed to it.”

Vu Telepresence, the U.S. division of Zenith Computers Ltd., sells a single device. It is quite small, not much larger than a paperback novel, and retails for about $3,000. The unit also comes with an HD web camera, a standalone microphone/speaker combo that can be placed near the participant, and a combination keyboard and trackpad about the size of an early model BlackBerry phone.

Vu’s says it aims to make HD videoconferencing accessible to any sized business, anywhere.

“To make that possible we have designed a solution to meet these three key requirements,” the company’s marketing material states. “It must be easy to set up and operate, it must be functional in almost any environment, and it must be affordable.”

Which brings us to our next point about video collaboration tools: capital and operating costs for collaboration.

RENT VS. BUY?

While few companies actually offer the option to rent their equipment—Vu is one example, offering its $3,000 unit for a monthly rental fee of $200—the fact remains that video collaboration technology changes almost as rapidly as the yearly update of the newest “must-have” iPhone or iPad.

In addition, new video standards continue to emerge. For instance, Vidyo uses scalable video coding (SVC) as a large part of its technology, and it has recently married it—with Google’s help—to the emerging WebRTC standard. This real-time collaboration standard has been in the works for several years, but Vidyo’s integration of it and Vidyo’s chief scientist and co-founder Alex Eleftheriadis says that thought the company cannot commit to a release date, the effort is “reaching maturity.”

“In addition to the extensions to the VP9 codec itself, we have co-authored the specification that governs how VP9 is to be transported over the internet (the so-called RTP Payload Format) and written the associated code,” he adds.

Don’t Just Collaborate—Stream

While real-time collaboration between a few, or a few dozen, participants is easy with most video collaboration tools, what happens if you want to share the meeting with employees that aren’t participating?

Think of a question-and-answer session with a panel of industry experts, some of which are remotely located. Those experts would be connected via the video collaboration system, most likely a videoconferencing device. Then the audience would be connected via a traditional streaming approach. Webcasting company Onstream Media recently commissioned a survey on StreamingMedia.com in conjunction with my company, Transitions, Inc., and Streaming Media’s sister company, Unisphere Research. In the survey, we asked respondents to gauge commercial and technical challenges with using a large-scale webcasting service.

The first answer was pricing, which Onstream seems to be addressing with its recent announcement that it will do flat-rate pricing for events that had traditionally required perparticipant pricing just last year. The second limitation, though, was a lack of easy integration between vendors, and that’s precisely where integrations such as VidyoReplay and the WebRTC-browser-based SDKs come into play.

Conclusion

Earlier in the article, I touched on the need to “make the sale” within an organization. Every video collaboration installation needs a champion to ensure its proper introduction into the enterprise. But beyond the walls of the enterprise— whether it’s a small business or even a group of people with a like vision that happen to work in the same industry—it seems video collaboration is opening the doors to new types of innovation.

Mark Pesce, a futurist who spent 7 years as a judge on the Australian TV series The New Inventors, tries to explain how video collaboration fits into the broader scope of innovation and business.

“Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand,” Pesce says as part of the Blue Jeans Network survey. “While it may seem counterintuitive for competitors to work together, at a smaller scale establishing the industry and customer base is priority and these businesses are smart to consider doing so.”

Peace notes that one of the reasons for this collaborative approach may be the tools.

Vidyo’s Pinkerton agrees, to a point.

“The concept of co-opetition has grown across enterprises of all sizes,” Pinkerton says. “Collaboration tools enable an enterprise to extend the reach of its rich communications beyond its own borders via simple click-to-connect guest capability which facilitate partnerships and cooperation between the enterprise and its customers, vendors and when appropriate, competitors. Whether or not it is advantageous for the enterprise to collaborate with what has traditionally been their competitor has little to do with the enabling tools, however, and everything to do with the market opportunity that such cooperation presents both parties.”

Even one of the most well-known TEDx speakers, Howard Rheingold, points out that collaboration has reshaped both the business and political landscape.

“Around the world, citizens have self-organized political protests and get out the vote campaigns using mobile devices and SMS,” says Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs.

Speaking of the potential of what he calls “an Apollo Project of cooperation,” Rheingold broached the subject of remote collaboration, including video, almost a decade ago. Rheingold knows a thing or two about collaboration. As one of the early members of the Well, he was instrumental in early web communities before writing Smart Mobs, which called out the groundwork for social media, flash mobs, and other forms of group collaboration.

“I don’t think that this transdisciplinary discourse [on a study of collaboration] is automatically going to happen,” Rheingold says. “It’s going to require effort, but I believe that the payoff would be very big. I think we need to begin developing maps of this territory so that we can talk about it across disciplines. What forms of suffering could be alleviated, what forms of wealth could be created if we knew a little bit more about cooperation?”

This article appears in the September 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Real-Time Video Collaboration in the Enterprise.”

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