Employee-owned tablets and smartphones may be the key to making videoconferencing pervasive and useful to business, says Avaya.
You know the pitch: video is a great way to foster collaboration, curb needless (and expensive) business travel and give people a more natural way to interact than through voice alone.
Sure. But the stubborn fact remains that video has remained the province of large enterprises that want to set aside dedicated conference rooms for fancy telepresence systems -- and the admin to make 'em useful. "These things never have the same calendar system as all the other devices you use, you need someone from IT to come down to just turn them on or unlock the door to the room. Just too fiddly," said Nigel Moulton, CTO for network equipment maker Avaya's Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) division.
At the same time, chances are quite high you have used Facetime on your iPhone to say goodnight to your loved ones while you were on a business trip, or said hi to grandma over Skype last holidays. In other words, we are happy to incorporate video in our personal communications, but less so in the office. What's going on here?
Moulton -- whose company, let's declare up front, sells videoconferencing technology -- said that could change if it were simpler to incorporate video capability on all the high-spec consumer devices entering the enterprise as part of BYOD (bring your own device). "Video, so far, hasn't been market-ready," he told InformationWeek. "But now, for free, HD cameras and great sound are in more and more endpoints. We need to start exploiting that power to add video into the mix for employees to communicate."
While he may be wrong in predicting a "significant ramping up in investment over the next six to 12 months" by companies to do that, there is an intriguing confluence of factors in the enterprise-consumer IT interface that is worth thinking about. And it may not be just Moulton and his ilk that's spotted them.
A new industry report by market watchers Canalys, whose results were made available exclusively for this story, predicts shipments of video collaboration technology in the U.K. will rise by more than 20% by 2016 from 2012 levels. That data also suggests the U.K. is set to leap from being a $153 million market for videoconferencing in 2013 to a $161 million one by 2016, while EMEA as a whole is set to go from a $778 million market to an $865 million one in the same timeframe. It also suggests that the U.K. has a greater appetite for video than Germany, Russia and France.
Back to the factors that may make video a real option for the rest of us. Moulton said that because people have become accustomed to using sophisticated devices and applications at home, they now expect to be able to do the same at work. "Many of these handsets are video-enabled and have front-facing cameras, which makes videoconferencing an attractive and realistic prospect for IT departments, especially as they seek to enhance mobile productivity."
Second, employees are continually sharing data and content, as well as communicating information with one another -- a process no longer confined to phones calls, email and follow-up chains. In their personal lives, employees are using desktop and mobile videoconferencing to chat, share Internet links and photos, and pull in other friends or family members as they see them come online. When at work, they expect this same immediacy and find "video is an ideal platform for this type of real-time collaboration," Moulton said.
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