Reflecting on Video Conferencing

Steve commented recently on desktop video conferencing and whether it is ready for prime time.  I regularly talk to enterprise customers about video conferencing.  One of the main issues I come across is everyone, almost without fail, has unused video conferencing equipment in the corner of a meeting room somewhere in their offices.  These folks embraced video conferencing but soon fell out of love. 

I now try to talk to these same people about the benefits of modern day desktop video solutions, room based high definition video solutions and even telepresence solutions.  Its always a difficult conversation to start but I try and reflect on those old implementations.  Normally we discuss how video was implemeted into existing meeting rooms, and normally the picture from those generation 1 implementations went like this:

  • we have a table with chairs on 2 or 3 sides
  • we then wheeled a screen and camera into the room and place it on the 4th side
  • normally the screen blocked the view to the projector or whiteboard we’d use in meetings
  • No-one is positioned to face the camera
  • no thought has gone into lighting
  • no consideration has been given into how the meeting will be effective. 

Effectiveness comes from combining video with the other media we used to make meetings effective:

  • whiteboarding
  • application sharing
  • co-editing content
  • discussions
  • presentations
  • etc

For me the use of video during meetings has meant that video does provide the primary focus for periods during the meeting.  However much of the meeting is actually spent with people concentrating on other collaboration media and the audio.   Given the choice would I use video = YES.  Given the choice would I use HD video = YES.  The reason is just as in a real meeting you need to focus on slides and information, you need to think but then when you talk you want eye contact and to see the body language.

I think we are about to see the emergence of video conferencing especially given the green agenda, organisations will be more and more keen to show their credentials – and the simplest way is to reduce travel.  I attended a live webcast from VoiceCon where CISCO hosted an event using their telepresence solution.  They made some substantial claims as to how telepresence had reduced their costs and carbon footprint:

“use of videoconferencing at 185 locations has saved the company about $100 million in travel expenses, eliminating about 15 million cubic tons of carbon emissions”, Sue Bostrom, CISCO

CISCO should be congratulated for this.  My hope is that I can influence the people I talk to in such a way that they can see the benefits and reap both the cost savings and CO2 savings that CISCO claim.

5 Comments

  1. Hey Stu – I’m not a big fan of video conferencing as I’ve never see it done well. But I would thoroughly agree with your point about preparation. I would add my view that little thought goes into the audio aspects – how many calls and conference calls have you been on where the main speaker sounds like they are in a tiled bathroom or cathedral? The echoes are overwhelming and utterly distracting. Or they are in an airport a train station or a car where you can hardly hear what they are saying for the background noise. It gets pointless.

    The problem with video is that often you either cannot see the important stuff (including body language) or the video is distracting in itself.

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  2. Overall its all win- win with video conferencing on the ground…We have http://www.gomeetnow.com software…and its too a great alternative for small business along with Cisco. A user could set up a skype and conferencing session to get around the audio and video sessions simultaneously. Ok, they are not integrated but not bad at all for free or a low monthly – especially when you compare it to the cost of a Webex and microsoft implementations.

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  3. @3. Vince, we’ve all sat there on audio calls where the quality is poor. I’d make sure we worked hard with anyone internally or from our customers who wanted to do either desktop video or room based video (and hence audio) to ensure this is also considered. And I agree with your point on distraction but this is where multiple screens on the desktop and HD screens in the rooms will help.

    @4. Matheu, Thanks for your comment. There are a few services I’ve used recently and including webex and adobe connect. My personal preference is to break the link between video and web meeting. In the circumstance you describe skype is an excellent video media, many of my customers would frown on its use. In those circumstances desktop H.323 clients and bridged services in tandem with web meetings are the way to go. So I agree with your approach and would modify the video/audio stream for some enterprise customers.

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