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Protecting Video Conferencing User Experiences

April 29, 2013 | Telepresence Options

vidyo videoconferencing

Story and Images by Marty Parker (Principal, UniComm Consulting) (Co-founder UC Strategies)

As many have predicted, video usage is growing for real-time communications. For some users and use cases it is even the norm, rather than the exception, replacing voice calls.

But this growth market for video introduces a major challenge - a confusing diversity of user experiences. It seems to me that all of us in the UC&C industry should do our best to keep things simple and effective for the users, rather than bombarding the users with a dizzying array of non-compatible user experiences and software clients.

Sure, we could ignore the users' time and productivity and just put all the video client apps on the users' devices and let them choose. This approach is often advocated by the multitude of video vendors who are trying to get a slice of the video pie. This is often even advocated by the silos within the Telecom, AV and IT departments within large enterprises, who want to protect their roles and decisions. But, using this approach of "every client, everywhere" will just fragment the usage patterns and can very much complicate the enterprise's costs for support.

Here are two common situations, with discussion of solution options for each case:

1. UC Personal Device Enterprise Video vs. Conference Room System Video

Almost every enterprise now has both UC personal device-based video clients (desktop PC/Mac, laptop PC/Mac, tablets, smartphones, video end-points, even fancy telephones) associated with their main communications platform (such as Lync; UCM; Aura; Sametime; OpenScape, Univerge 3C, et al.) as well as conference room-based video systems, often with their own versions of software clients for remote users (such as�Cisco�{acquired Tandberg} with Jabber or Movi clients;�Avaya�{acquired Radvision} with their Flare and Scopia clients;�Polycom�also with their video client; Logitech {acquired Lifesize} with their video client; Vidyo with their video client; et al.).

There may be minimal user experience problem for users who do their conferencing entirely within the UC system (such as field sales, collaborative workgroups, video-assisted task users, etc.) but never use the conference room systems; nor is there a problem for those users who do their video work entirely on the conference room systems (such as executives with telepresence systems, retail and transaction-oriented field personnel for video-based training, etc.). But for those who cross between the two worlds, it will be important to have a plan.�

One option is to integrate the desktop UC system with the conference room system by enabling the users of UC desktop clients to connect into the video room systems from their UC client; the UC client then looks like a SIP-based video device to the room system. One client, happy users. Increasingly, this option is a proven documented solution between most pairs of desktop and room system vendors, albeit often with some vendor reluctance based on control and revenue.

This approach of integrating the UC desktop systems with the conference room systems seems to be worth the effort, as that will pay off both by improving the users' experiences and by lowering the ongoing help desk and support workloads.�

Another option is to put both the UC system client and the video room client software apps on the users' devices and the user will choose which app to use at the time. If both the UC systems and the conference room systems are well-integrated with the users' calendar systems, this may be less of a problem as the user can simply 'click-to-join' meetings from their calendar appointments and the correct client will launch. However, there will still be two clients to support on the PC/Mac system images, the standard enterprise mobile devices, and, most annoyingly, on all the BYODs that show up.

2.�Video Interaction Outside the Enterprise

Increasingly, various enterprise roles such as in sales, service, logistics, customer/patient care, development, and management, want or need to communicate via video with users outside the enterprise, whether those are customers, prospects, suppliers or partners. Three main options are showing up in the marketplace:

a.�Invite the external party to a video-enabled meeting that is hosted on the enterprise UC system. The user can use the same device and UC client they are using for internal meetings; the external party can click in the meeting invitation to join the meeting via wide range of devices and using either a browser (increasingly available as a video client) or a downloadable UC client specifically for meeting participation. The browser option will likely become even more common with the emergence of WebRTC functions in all the leading browser products.

b.�Offer a web portal which the outside party can access to initiate or to join a video call with the enterprise employee. In this case, a video UC client is built-in as a widget on the enterprise's web sites and even employee web pages, preferably showing the employee's current presence status. The outside party just clicks on this widget from a video-enabled device and the video session is opened up. Often the widget is provided as part of the CEBP (communications-enabled business process) SDK (software development kit) available with the enterprise's chosen UC system. This approach is very practical for consumer services, for established clients, and for known supplier and partners. Again, WebRTC will increase the use of this option.

c.�Connect to the external party's UC system or Video Conferencing system. If this connection is between the same two system brands on compatible software release levels, this is usually pretty simple; the two UC systems can federate with each other or one of the two conference room systems can call the other system. However, if there are multiple system types and brands, a multipoint control unit (MCU) will likely be required. Increasingly, there are services such as BlueJeans, VidTel, Vidyo, and others that provide connections to a diverse set of video conferencing brands and join them all into one video conference.

Thus, it is increasingly practical to support video conferencing with parties outside the enterprise. For practical reasons of both user experience and enterprise total cost of ownership (TCO), the use of options 2.a. and 2.b. are favored, since they will not require introduction of a third party and third brand into the video communications solution set for the enterprise and the users.

Either of the two common situations described above can be further complicated if there are multiple brands of UC personal device-based video systems in the enterprise or if there are multiple brands of conference room video systems in the enterprise. In such cases, we strongly recommend doing the detailed work to identify the Usage Profiles (or use cases) within your enterprise to determine the communications requirements of each profile. Unless there is a clear and compelling reason to have more than one UC personal device-based solution or more than one conference room video solution, pick the one solution which best matches your enterprise's requirements and deploy only that one UC personal device system and that one conference room video system. Almost certainly some of your incumbent vendors will be unhappy, but they aren't compensating your organization for the lost productivity or extra help desk costs which result from diverse video client deployments.

Cloud-based video providers can also complicate the situation, since they are essentially another version of either UC personal device video providers or, more often, another version of the conference room video systems. Be especially careful of those who say that they will bridge multiple brands of video users together into one conference, since this means that the users will have to install yet another client or use yet another browser-based interface to do their job.

So, bottom line, focus on the user experiences you are delivering and on how those user experiences will serve the business needs of the Usage Profiles and the workflows of the enterprise. Then match the solutions, for video or any other communication media type, to those needs.

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