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From Corporate Tech Decision

With 2014 in the books and 2015 already off to a quick start (with shows like CES completed and ISE around the corner) it’s important that companies begin planning for the future.  Many companies are beginning to think about expenditures for the upcoming year. That means budgets for technology, among other things, are currently being finalized and approved, and tech decision makers are beginning to search for the right integrator and products to help add to their business practices.

A lot of you have recognized the rise in videoconferencing over the past decade. It stands to reason that the technology has taken off in the way that it has; Employees no longer need to travel to meet with clients, decision makers can take part in important meetings regardless of where they are, and top talent can move across the country and still remain employed by working remotely. The rise in videoconferencing has allowed businesses to work quicker and cheaper than ever before.

Manufacturers have noticed the same trend and are seeking to capitalize and expand upon the videoconferencing model. As we push into 2015 and beyond, it’s important for tech decision makers to keep up with trends so that their videoconferencing suite is not outdated before it’s even installed. Purchasing the right system with the right capabilities now will ensure that your system is futureproof and that the companies you do business with don’t pass you by. But what is the right system? What are the right capabilities?

Did You Come to Talk? Or Did You Come to Collaborate?

“I think the best message you should be thinking about is that ‘video conferencing’ is kind of on its way out, and this is going to sound like marketing mumbo jumbo, but ‘video collaboration’ is the future,” says John Antanaitis, Vice President of Product Marketing at Polycom.

Historically, a video conference is an event, often a planned meeting that takes place in a set amount of time (hopefully). In these video conferences, four out of seven may be in office, together, able to write on whiteboards, pass papers to one another, draw diagrams, etc. The remaining parties would watch, and add their two cents where possible. They couldn’t show the team a spreadsheet they recently printed out. They couldn’t add to the diagram on the whiteboard. They couldn’t point to specific data points and draw the attention of the room.

That’s not the case any longer. A number of companies offer solutions to tie media into traditional videoconferencing applications. With screen sharing, a remote or in-office employee can link their laptop, tablet, or smartphone to the system to show content from their screen. This information is streamed, live, to all parties, so that anyone participating can see and comment on what is being shown. Smart whiteboards and touchscreens can be linked to videoconferencing systems to allow remote workers to view notes and diagrams being drawn in the main conference room. Some applications even allow for remote employees to manipulate that content in real time, showing their work on the main screen and to all other remote attendees. Additionally, sessions can be recorded to be played back for any that missed the meeting, with content and any manipulations visible in the recording.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Nic Harris is the IT Operations Manager at Airwair International Ltd, a manufacturer/wholesaler/retailer that handles the supply chain for Dr. Martens. Airwair utilizes videoconferencing internally, mainly for organized meetings with fixed hardware endpoints between offices. They began utilizing videoconferencing about five years ago. With board members around the globe, from Hong Kong to Oregon, it was getting expensive to fly the team in to the UK offices for every necessary meeting. Conference calls were both expensive and impersonal. They needed a better solution.

“It’s been for the better, I haven’t seen any downside as of yet,” says Harris. “There are more frequent meetings, and that goes down from a board level to an executive team level. Whereas before it was purely board meetings over videoconferencing, it’s now reaching out to every member of the tier beneath. It’s allowed a more fluid level of communication between multiple teams.”

Airwair utilizes StarLeaf as their videoconferencing provider. The company has recently rolled out StarLeaf to every store in their business, allowing retail managers to communicate with multiple managers at one time. The company plans to expand their service soon to include mobile device functionality.

“What we currently have going on is what’s called a single version of truth. That’s our ethos,” says Harris. “We want to be able to offer accurate and timely decision making through the availability of accurate and timely information. To do that we need to be able to achieve any information or any application available at any time on any device anywhere.”

Airwair has incorporated a number of screen sharing and file sharing capabilities into their videoconferencing systems. They use these capabilities mainly for training purposes. As they have rolled out new retail stores, new employees can videoconference with their instructor, complete with documents and diagrams that show up on screen. Trainees can ask about and interact with information as the instructor answers in real time. It’s as informative as a live training session without the cost of flying employees to headquarters and paying for them to stay until fully trained.

“I think [videoconferencing] is going to change the way we do work,” says Harris. “We’re a global business on different time zones, so the ability to communicate and see whether people are available or not instantly saves time and effort. The second part is that we’re growing at an exponential rate; we’re currently a 250-million-pound turnover company, and we want to grow to a 400-million-pound turnover company in the next several years. To do that we need new employees, you can’t do it with the amount of staff we’ve got. Unfortunately the buildings that we own and occupy do not accommodate that sort of growth. The choices you have are to buy a new building or diversify how people communicate, and [the latter] is the process I think we’ll be taking. I think it gives people the freedom and opportunity to work where they feel most comfortable.

“Happy people work better.”

Into the Future

Many of the capabilities outlined so far are readily available to be incorporated into videoconferencing systems. While they haven’t been fully adopted across all markets, companies are utilizing these capabilities and quickly noticing a positive impact on their business. These collaboration systems will grow exponentially as more partners and clients are exposed to the technology, until the phrase videoconferencing adopts collaboration capabilities as a given. Don’t expect companies to stop innovating and introducing new and improved capabilities into videoconferencing systems.

“It’s going to keep increasing because, including myself, people like to work remotely,” says Sean Gunduz, Senior Product Manager for Projectors at Epson. “There’s a lot of disruption at the workplace. There’s also time, energy, money, and everything lost during the commute (I spend one hour each way). For higher productivity I would like to work from home once or twice a week. It’s quiet, I wake up at seven, and I’m at work at seven. It’s very productive.”

The disadvantage is that you aren’t in the office. Face to face interaction is still critical. Body language and facial expressions are still important to human interaction. Videoconferencing, however, oversteps these obstacles by putting people face to face.

Expect videoconferencing capabilities to expand where entire teams of employees can collaborate when each is in a separate home office with no hardware endpoint. Video collaboration capabilities will increasingly find ways to work from mobile devices in areas with lower and lower bandwidths. The millennial generation will continue to push for the ability to work from home with more flexible hours. Make sure that your business is ready to accommodate, or be left in the dust by those that have already begun to adopt video collaboration capabilities.

We don’t know what the future of videoconferencing will look like, but we know what it will do for people; bring them together, allow them to work more closely, allow them to communicate more efficiently, and give them the ability to do all of this from across the globe.