Video communications is a popular science-fiction trope: Video calls are creative shorthand for technologically advanced societies where you can see, and not just hear, the people on the line.
Welcome to the future, where tools, technologies, and services let any size company use videoconferencing to communicate, whether it's on a tablet, at an executive's desk, or in Conference Room 3B down the hall. The question is, just how much videoconferencing do businesses want? As the state of the technology stands now, the answer is "Not all that much."
Certainly, video is effective for real-time communications in part because conversations are richer when accompanied by visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. And there are business scenarios where video makes sense: for instance, conference-room video meetings and telepresence sessions, which provide higher-quality videoconferencing than conference room and desktop video, can save the time and expense of flying executives to distant locations.
However, there are still significant barriers to making video ubiquitous. Interoperability problems and competing standards make it difficult for businesses to connect different videoconferencing systems. In addition, bandwidth constraints, particularly on the WAN, have companies wary about widespread video adoption.
Beyond the tech issues, a bigger challenge for videoconferencing is crafting a business case. An effective one hinges on answers to several questions: Will your employees overuse video chat, launching it instead of picking up the phone or sending email? Will they shy away from being on candid camera all day long? And how exactly do you put a value on visual interaction, and how much are you willing to pay for it? The answers to these and other questions will help you assess how important videoconferencing could be to your business and whether you should consider doing more with it as solutions are found to the integration and bandwidth challenges. Just because video could be as ubiquitous as other communication media doesn't mean your employees want it to be or that it should be the next stop in your journey into the future.
The first question companies need to answer is whether videoconferencing should be used as a regular communications tools or only for specific situations. For most companies, given the current state of the technology, the answer is the latter.
Case in point: In InformationWeek's 2012 Unified Communications Survey, 91% of respondents say email is one of their top ways of communicating with customers and partners; 88% say phone; and only 16% say video. Forty-three percent have deployed VoIP to their full user base, but only 12% have deployed desktop videoconferencing to every user.
Taken together, we interpret these results to mean that videoconferencing is of limited business value in the enterprise, and isn't top of mind for IT and business leaders when it comes to communications.