Video conferencing: Beyond the office

IN all aspects of business, employees are increasingly demanding greater freedom of choice as to how and where they work. And giving employees this freedom of choice makes sense for a business – if work can be carried out from any number of locations your company can be more efficient with lower overheads and so be more competitive. Figures suggest that extending unified communications and collaboration across an organisation can deliver up to two hours extra of productive work from employees every day. And as the take-up of video conferencing technology increases, it will need to be able to respond to these demands. According to a recent Cisco Connected World Technology report, by 2015 200m workers globally will take advantage of company-supplied video conferencing at their desktops.

In order to provide this flexibility in the workplace, IT systems managers need to be able to provide a secure platform that can handle a broad range of tools – whether meetings are taking place in dedicated video conferencing rooms or over a combination of PCs, Macs, tablets or smartphones. Today, video can be delivered in the office or from a park bench. For this to be possible, there needs to be a seamless transition from office environment to mobile device, with a consistent user experience including recording, transcribing, tagging and the functionality that would be expected in a modern teleconferencing suite.

Interestingly, there is a difference in attitudes towards video communication in the US and in the UK. According to a survey last month by IBOPE Zogby International, when it comes to weekly meetings and regular project meetings, the majority of business professionals in the US (60 per cent) would prefer not to be on camera for others to see. UK business professionals display slightly different attitudes towards video conferencing, with most favouring this type of technology for regular project meetings. However, this still leaves a large minority (43 per cent) who prefer not to be on camera for others to see in this situation. Business professionals in both countries are much more likely – 87 per cent in the US and 86 per cent in the UK – to agree that it is helpful to communicate via video in special situations such as interviewing or training.

But why does there remain some reticence in the uptake of video communication technology? For one, users still have in their heads the early days of video conferencing – lagging images and dropped calls and the feeling of talking at a television screen. Technology has advanced leaps and bounds since then, but to harness these developments, IT managers need to consider the mobile, visual, social and virtual requirements for users. Visually, you want your video to be rendered to the same quality for all the users on the system – both internally and with external clients. But the proprietary codecs of apps don’t always play ball with other equipment. As a result, you need a standards-based, HD video system available everywhere, whether accessed on a smart phone, laptop, tablet PC or in the conference room. The same applies for desktop virtualisation and collaboration of documents. A PC environment can allow adequate data access for business apps for those wishing to share across an office network, but does not allow for rich video apps or connection from a mobile environment. But by implementing an integrated unified communications system over a virtual desktop integration link (VXI) with optional mobility, this problem can be overcome. With advances in HD video conferencing, of telepresence and of collaboration technology, we have moved on from the old feeling of talking at a computer monitor in the boardroom. The technology is available to have a truly interactive video conferencing experience, with the feeling that the other users are sat in the same room as you. Files can be shared seamlessly and presentations can be viewed with equal ease across boardroom projectors, desktop PCs and tablet computers. But while this technology is available, the onus is on IT managers to adopt the systems and create an infrastructure that caters to the demands of the modern business.