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Telepresence and Visual Collaboration Trends 2011

June 5, 2011 | Howard Lichtman
We are continuing our series excerpting articles from Telepresence Options Magazine and the Telepresence Options 2011 Yearbook. In this article from the 2011 Yearbook, Human Productivity Lab President and Telepresence Options Publisher Howard S. Lichtman discusses telepresence and visual collaboration trends for 2011 including growing utility, interoperability, interconnectedness of networks, and others.  You can get a free subscription to Telepresence Options Magazine and instant access to the Telepresence Options 2011 Yearbook here:

and Visual Collaboration Trends 2011

By Howard S. Lichtman, President, Human Productivity Lab

For decades videoconferencing was essentially a stagnant technology. It enjoyed incremental improvements in quality and reliability, but except for small-scale experiments like Confravision (a telepresence environment circa 1970 built around 20-inch black and white television sets, broadcast cameras and ashtrays for every participant), it didn't change much. The format of camera, codec, and one or two screens remained the standard for decades.

In the past five years the change has been explosive. Multi-screen, multi-codec group systems have proliferated exponentially. From less than 50 rooms in 2005 to an estimated 11,600 in 2012. And the innovation just keeps coming: video walls, 100-inch screens, beam splitters, and transparent foils for life-size, on-stage telepresence experiences. Once limited to dedicated video appliances, video codecs now run on PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablets as downloadable software that is starting to be tightly integrated under the unified communication umbrella with voice telephony, presence, and data collaboration. Telepresence robotics has brought mobility to remote video (and a new way to fetch scones from the coffee shop as well). Corporate and carrier video networks that once only connected the headquarters with branch offices now use telepresence and video exchanges to link partners, vendors and customers.

As we move firmly into 2011, here's a look at some of the trends shaping telepresence and visual collaboration.

The Growing Utility of Visual Collaboration

The biggest and most important trend in telepresence and visual collaboration is the growing utility of video. Instantaneous, high-quality video connections have multiplied what you can do and who you can reach with a visual collaboration endpoint. Companies, schools, governments and people are able to connect with each other like never before.

Let's take a look at some of the specifics that are driving universal connectivity:

Interoperability of telepresence and videoconferencing systems

The following factors are driving the growing interoperability of video systems.

  • Merger and Acquisition: Cisco's acquisition of TANDBERG had a multi-faceted impact on interoperability:
- It brought together two of the largest players in visual collaboration who developed a shared interest in connecting their existing systems and legacy customers.
- The merger prompted the European Union to mandate opening interoperability under the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol. The EU even appointed a trustee to ensure compliance.
- It freed up former partner RADVISION to scramble for new business trading on one of its strongest features: The compatibility with Cisco developed during their partnership.

  • Standards Bodies - The founding of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum brought together some of the industry's largest players to focus on interoperability while the IMTC continues its important work of testing and certifying endpoints.
  • Customers - I have yet to meet one yet who doesn't want interoperability and isn't ticked when he or she doesn't get it.
  • Software based codecs - Interoperability in the future will be the instantaneous download of the codec and data collaboration software of your choice.

Effective Visual Collaboration

interact table computing platform.JPG
Effective Visual Collaboration - A Teliris mockup of a future version of their existing InterACT table computing platform where documents and video can accessed from the network, shared from participant to participant globally by "pushing" them across the table, while network intelligence provides automatic translation based on the language of the destination location.

We use the phrase "Effective Visual Collaboration" to denote a more sophisticated and natural way of working with data between remote locations. We believe this will be the next major evolution of telepresence group system environments as the incremental cost of the improved capabilities can be absorbed into the spend on the gear. We believe the ROI will come from a number of areas:

  • Capturing and immediately digitizing the creative process through the integration of tools like interactive whiteboards, table computing and digital flipcharts. Brainstorming, hand-generated graphics and annotation can be more seamlessly integrated into collaborative sessions where it is immediately digitized into a digital workflow.
  • Being able to more share information between remote locations visually improves comprehension for participants, especially visual learners. A number of effective visual collaboration tools have already come into the telepresence market mostly as optional add-ons. More and more of these tools will become standard and seamlessly integrated into the environments and workflow. 
Teliris InterACT Flipchart.JPG
The Teliris InterACT flipchart provides the digital functionality of a traditional flipchart with the ability to post and annotate on virtual pages "stuck" to the wall in every connected location.

Interconnectivity of Networks

To keep the participant immersed, telepresence needs flawless video. This requires private QoS networks that guarantee latency, packet loss and jitter. For a long time networks functioned like private islands of IP, with different QoS mechanisms and IP address plans. Over the last few years these islands have become archipelagos. By launching telepresence and video exchanges that connect different enterprise and carrier networks, a dozen different carriers and managed service providers have allowed video to flow freely between partners, vendors, and customers. These exchanges pop up at such major telecom hubs and meet-me facilities as Telx and IP-V Gateways at 60 Hudson in New York and Glowpoint plugged into the Equinix Ethernet Exchange.

Even more exciting, these telepresence and videoconferencing exchanges are beginning to connect to each other, exponentially increasing the number of potential connections. Some of the exchanges include Teliris and Iformata; AT&T and BT; Telmex and AT&T; Glowpoint and Tata; Tata and BT; Tata and Telefonica and BCS and Iformata to name but a few.

Video Network Intelligence

Video Network Intelligence is a term I am using to refer to the ability of a network to understand/transcode/transcribe/classify/metatag/catalog/secure/manage/distribute and otherwise make video content from any source more findable, accessible and usable in enterprise and educational environments. Sources may include telepresence and visual collaboration environments, flip cameras, traditional videography,
broadcast/narrowcast capture and more. 

Cisco has been at the forefront of this idea with products that can take a live video stream, digitize it, transcribe the audio to text on the fly, add the appropriate lower thirds with a predefined logo and/or titles, meta-tag the video with key concepts mentioned in the audio, and then transcode the video for streaming delivery to multiple platforms ranging from Windows Media to the iPad.

The company has also developed Show and Share, best described as "Secure YouTube for the Enterprise with the ability to store and embed video content yet password protect to meet regulatory requirements as well. The application lets users can search a piece of video content for a specific soundbite by keyword and immediately view the section where it was discussed among other capabilities.

Cisco Pulse, another offering, scans content on a network to determine who the experts are in a particular topic and enable instant collaboration. The application can automatically notify an employee about new content matching his or her job or interests.

B2C Telepresence -- Retail and Call Center Applications

The leading wave of Business-to-Consumer Telepresence and Video is hitting the shore and arriving in two flavors.

Thumbnail image for TelePresence Tech HD 3-D Kiosk - 1.JPG
TelePresence Tech's 3D HD Kiosk

Retail: In-store retail telepresence kiosks and sit-down consultations with subject matter experts.

The problem here is that making specialized knowledge available in dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of retail locations, bank branches, insurance offices, or doctor's offices comes with a price and the subject matter expert's specialized knowledge may only be used a couple of times a day. One solution that is developing is concentrating subject matter experts in video call centers where they can support multiple retail locations yet still provide a personalized experience through a video kiosk or sit down consultative experience. AT&T has recently trialed high definition video kiosks in its retail locations and Bank of America has trialed using video to make financial advisors available in its branch locations are two high profile examples.

We believe the technology to evolve in a variety of ways:

  • Better Front Ends - Companies like DVE and TelePresence Tech offer beamsplitter display technology where remote agents seam to float in mid-air can double as an augmented reality display to showcase
  • Better Back Ends - Companies like Vyopta are developing back-end systems for retail video workflow. The systems provide the video equivalent of a PBX hunt group where calls can be routed to a pool of available agents with the ability to transfer to other subject matter experts and integrate with CRM software. The software can also leverage the capabilities of the display to play video content for a prospect or digital signage.
  • Shared Infrastructure - It doesn't make sense for 15 different manufactures to each have their own video kiosk in every Best Buy, but for each of them to share the costs of a video kiosk program probably does. We expect a shared model with 1-2 kiosks capable of reaching multiple vendors to win out.

Home Telepresence: As more and more consumers adopt high-quality video-calling capabilities through televisions, PCs, laptops, and tablets, expect more and more businesses to address the market. You'll initially see video call centers deployed to reach more affluent households for high-ticket items where perceived trust is a factor and the high cost of the product or service justifies the expense of setting up a call center. The early adopters will likely include insurance, real estate, private client wealth management, personal electronics and high-end retail.

Trends: Pro-sumer Gear, Home/Office Studios, Home Theatre Integration
Drivers: Integration of cameras/codecs into TVs/Set top boxes, video culture, novelty marketing and brand differentiation


Vyopta's Video Workflow

Community of Interest Networks (CoINs) Telepresence CoINs which join disparate organizations under common interests are forming. One example is ConnectFN (From the NetRoadshow team) which has launched a telepresence financial Community of Interest Network in Q2 that will connect companies with institutional investors, mutual funds and leading investment banks to improve the Investor Relations process. Right now it has been estimated that the average public company CFO spends 25%+ of their time on deal and/or non-deal roadshows and other IR activities. Reduce their personal burden in addition to all the other benefits that telepresence offers and we think more will buy... Expect to see more and more telepresence applications like this that will drive adoption.

Next Generation Codecs enable video over the Internet - The Rise of SVC

For the past 10 years H.264/MPEG 4 AVC has been the dominant standard in the telepresence and videoconferencing universe. That dominance has been slipping over the past three years as a previously unknown company called Layered Media emerged from stealth mode. Led by RADVISION veteran Ofer Shapiro, the company changed its name to Vidyo and brought a hitherto unknown annex called Scaled Video Coding (SVC) to the party. SVC splits a high-definition video stream into multiple streams that perform better over best-effort networks like the Internet. When the video stream runs into congestion, the codec can drop one or more "layers," which might scale back resolution or frame rate but will otherwise maintain fluid video and, in the process, the ongoing sense of immersion.

SVC uses 10 to 15 percent more bandwidth than H.264 AVC, but its stability and quality over best effort networks (like the Internet itself) more than compensates for the increased overhead. In fact, the cost savings are substantial because you can now run quality intra-company video over lower priority network connections. You can even use best-effort Internet connections (especially if all your intra-company sites are on the same network provider) and acceptable inter-company video (Some restrictions apply!)

The Coming Proliferation of Video Network Operations Centers (VNOC)

A Video Network Operations Center is a dedicated team that monitors and manages telepresence and videoconferencing calls for a given company or many companies as an outsourced managed service provider. A VNOC handles all aspects of reliable video operations for a company: first line support for end-users having trouble, room reservations, equipment, network, exchange troubleshooting, and security procedures for opening up inter-company connections with partners. 

The cost and complexities of managing video network infrastructure has fueled the growth of managed VNOC providers over the past decade. Outsourcing seems like the only viable option when faced with multi-screen, multi-codec environments; new hardware vendors; inter-company exchange; inter-operability issues; and developing standards. Many security-conscious enterprises have been torn. They want the capabilities that telepresence and visual collaboration offers, but they're reluctant to give up control over key communications infrastructure. The cost, complexity and technology risk of building their own VNOC capabilities have kept them and many systems integrators and resellers out of the game.

We see a number of converging trends that are bringing the cost, complexity and technology risk of building and operating a VNOC down. This will lead more companies, systems integrators, network carriers and managed service providers to get into the VNO business.

1. Standards, consolidation and inter-operability reduce complexity -- The industry made some of the complexity go away when Cisco acquired TANDBERG, marrying two competing technology platforms. Additionally, interoperability is improving through developing and existing standards bodies.

2. Big deployments and inter-company business -- In the early days of telepresence, companies were sticking their toes in the water with five to ten systems. Now the success of the early adopters, the obvious ROI, the growing utility of inter-company business and the approaching wave of business-to-consumer video has led to jack-knives and cannon balls. As companies begin to deploy dozens and hundreds of systems, the growing cost of ongoing managed services will lead many to build their own capabilities.

3. VNOC Automation -- Part of the reason telepresence and video networks are so hard to manage is because of the specialized software toolsets that handle reservations, monitor the health of end points, frame multi-site meetings, and give detailed reports. This is the secret sauce of the VNOC managed service providers, and it's starting to appear on the shelf. 

Iformata Communications, the first telepresence VNOC provider on the planet, manages hundreds of systems in 22 countries and private labels their services for some of the best-known names in telecommunications. The company recently began offering their software toolkit: VNOC Symphony, in a package that includes all the software and hardware required to build and manage a VNOC at an estimated one third the cost of starting from scratch without the technology risk. We think others will ultimately follow their lead and we see VNOCs (enterprise, carrier, and MSP) growing from the low hundreds to the thousands in the coming years.

Unified Communications

Unified Communications (UC) has become a catch-all term for a variety of technologies improving business communications. Telepresence and visual collaboration are being integrated into UC offerings so it is important to understand how this intergration is coming about and what it will look like in the coming years. We believe there are a number of key technologies that make up a UC capability:

Presence: The ability to understand when a colleague is "on-line" and available for a conversation, whether that conversation takes place using instant messaging, voice, video, or telepresence.

Data Collaboration: The ability to immediately escalate an IM or voice call into a visual collaboration session. This session can connect employees working at desktops, laptops, tablets, or smart phones and let them do both video and data collaboration.

Single Number Reach: The ability to be reached using a single number, whether that contact is a landline, mobile or hoteling location and whether the communication ultimately includes voice, video and/or data.

Ever since the inception of the Human Productivity Lab I have believed there are two key technologies to dramatically improving organizational productivity: Telepresence and Unified Communications. Telepresence for the reasons discussed in this publication and unified communications for a similar ability to both improve and accelerate business communications in an organization. On the video side there are big returns by bringing more and better information through body language and nonverbal cues. Data collaboration offers a similar return with the ability to improve comprehension and retention especially for the 65 percent of the population who are visual learners.
Drivers: Customer demand, employee preference, emerging standards bodies like the UCIF, productivity improvements.

About the Author
Howard Lichtman is the President of the Human Productivity Lab, an independent consultancy focused on telepresence and effective visual collaboration for organizations looking to improve productivity and reduce costs.  The Lab provides corporate clients with acquisition consulting, RFI/RFP creation, and ROI/TCO financial modeling on telepresence systems, telepresence managed services, and inter-networking telepresence. The Lab also provides investors with prescient insight into the rapidly growing telepresence industry.  Mr. Lichtman is also the publisher of Telepresence Options, the #1 website on the internet covering telepresence technologies and the editor of Telepresence Options Magazine and the Telepresence Options Telegraph.

2011_TPO_Yearbook.jpgYou can subscribe to Telepresence Options Magazine @ to get a hard copy and get instant access to the digital edition of the Telepresence Options 2011 Yearbook to read the rest of the issue which features articles on: What is Telepresence?, Understanding the Telepresence Marketplace,  The ROI of Telepresence and Visual Collaboration in a World of Economic and Geopolitical Uncertainty and Creating Telepresence Environments: A Design Guide

The next issue of Telepresence Options Magazine will be published in Fall 2011 and feature: Video Network Infrastructure, Managed Services, Inter-networking, Security, and Exchange.

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