A few weeks ago we held our annual conference in Tel-Aviv. This year the headline was – surprise, surprise! – Unified Communications. During the day my division, the Networking Business Unit (NBU), focused on exposing the local crowd, executives and IT managers from leading enterprises and organizations, to the latest trends in IP communication and collaboration.
Other than some very interesting presentations given by my colleagues and myself about unified communications, desktop collaboration, video conferencing and video technologies, there were a few guest speakers who I found very interesting as well as thought provoking.
[If you are interested in my presentation at the conference, The Secrets of Scalable Video Coding (SVC), it is available online]
Real Problems, Real Benefits
The Conference kicked-off with two success stories of video conference implementations: Mr. Guilaume Boudin, VP Advanced Services at Orange (France), discussed Open Videopresence, an end-to-end, fully managed video meeting service “as simple as a phone call”; Mr. Roni Shlovsky, Head of Communication Infrastructure, in Bank Leumi, the biggest bank in Israel, discussed Leumi Digital, a project I already wrote about here. Both, of course, powered by RADVISION.
But the most interesting discussion on my part was a panel (see above) hosted by Moshe Machline, our VP Corporate Marketing, featuring IT managers from different organizations that implemented video conferencing infrastructure in the last few years. Panel members discussed freely the ins and outs of video conferencing deployment, including things they struggled with, things they are proud of and the big value it brings to their organizations.
The interesting thing about the panel was that, during the conference breaks, while mingling with the crowd, explaining about our technology and hearing the conversation around the demo floor, I basically heard the same things that were discussed in the panel.
To sum things up, I think that as the business arena gets more and more complex, with and without regard to the economical crisis, organizations and employees struggle with a few basic problems:
- How can you achieve “more” with “less”?
- How can you move faster?
- How can you handle the growing amounts of information?
- How can you balance work load and personal life?
- How can you work better with your customers?
- How can you work better with your partners and suppliers?
- How can you integrate new technologies and tools into the work place?
Of course, all of these have business and financial implications on the organizations and the economy in general:
- Budgets are being cut – we need to stretch them to the max
- Markets are moving fast – we need to keep with them
- There’s too much information – we can miss out on opportunities
- Employees worry about their personal life – we need to allow them to work more flexibly
- Customer satisfaction is extremely important – we need to care for our customers
- Partners and suppliers are important – we need to keep close relationships with them
- New technologies can offer great benefits – we need to utilize them as much as possible
The Collaboration Quadrant
There’s a quote I like, ever since I saw it in some Cisco brochure, taken from The McKinsey Quarterly Review, 2005 #4, titled “The Next Revolution in Interactions“:
“Raising the productivity of employees whose jobs can’t be automated is the next great performance challenge-and the stakes are high.”
In my view, this sums up beautifully all of the questions above and their implications. However, it seems that not too much has changed since 2005. In fact, while Tsahi Levent-Levi gave his keynote presentation on the communication continuum, which I briefly discussed here, I tried to think about the communication means that are common in the workplace vs. what is available, according to a similar paradigm:
As you can see, I’ve put on the horizontal axis the level of experience that these means offer – text-only on the left side, multimedia (voice, video) on the right. On the vertical axis I’ve put the reach of these means – from near (individuals, mostly fellow employees) to far (large target audience, both inside and outside the organization).
It is quite clear that we moved from a text-only, one-to-one, near communication – “call”, to a multi-media, many-to-many, far communication – “collaboration”, across what I can now call the Collaboration Quadrant.
The differences between “call” and “collaboration” are quite clear:
- A call has a single source and is usually synchronous. Collaboration can have multiple sources, and be both real-time and non real-time.
- A call usually connects parties from within the organization. Collaboration connects people from dispersed locations, but also organizations.
- A call is done within a static, pre-defined network. Collaboration is dynamic.
- A call allows you the option to find the information you need (via the people you need). Collaboration makes certain that the people and resources will be available.
Moving to a “Collaboration” Way of Thinking
Moving from a “call” way of thinking to a “collaboration” way of thinking is key for the success of the modern organization. To do so, one must go past the traditional means of communication, such as e-mail, telephone and IM, and open up to the means that occupy the top 2 quadrants: multimedia-based, social means, such as video conferencing, blogs, unified communication, etc.
These “new” technologies are “unpopular”. The reason for it is that as they are new, both to users and IT managers, it is unclear to both what their contribution is (ROI) and what it takes to deploy them properly in the organization. While IM and e-mail have become popular both inside and outside the organization, video-based and social-based services have yet to win both, and so are left out.
An example for that is a question asked during the panel from the audience: “why use video for calls that connect, for instance, two meeting rooms in different geographical locations”. For people from the industry, this is a trivial question: video makes these kinds of meetings work. For people in the audience, not using video, this is indeed a valid question – they don’t see the benefit, and so they don’t see why they should make the effort.
But what I liked was the answers given by the panel members themselves – users, IT managers, people who have deployed video conferencing within their organizations and can testify to the benefits it brings. Some of the answers given were:
- “Seeing is believing. You build trust much quicker and much easier using video”.
- “With video you know who’s talking” (as meeting rooms hold more than one participant)
- “Video makes the meeting effective. People stay focused”
- “Video makes everyone feel connected”
And there you have it – with a few real answers to a serious question, you can easily see how a “new” technology can make an existing work process much more productive, if you just jump into the water and try.
To take from McKinsey, the next revolution in communications is collaboration. The stakes are high, and you better be ready.