BYOD May Put The Unified In Communications

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."

[ How can government tap tech to cut expenses? See Virtual Desktops Could Cut U.K. Government Costs. ]

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.

The third element: BYOD (and BYO application) mean a greater volume of multimedia content and mobile devices must be accommodated on the network. As a result, he said, many businesses are assessing their networks to ensure they have the network capacity to operate effectively. As they look to boost their network capacity, many are also attracted by the promise of high-quality videoconferencing.

Unified communications (UC) is the familiar name for this technology, but Moulton suggested "democratization of video" is a better way to describe the coming together of multiple communications media in one useful whole. "Businesses now require non-proprietary, truly open solutions so they can make the most of the systems they already have," he said. "So 2013 is the year where 'rip and replace' becomes 'enable and enhance,' and interoperability across multivendor UC and videoconferencing solutions and devices on the desktop and on mobile is set to take off."

Here's the product pitch bit. You can't hook up even your snazziest and jazziest 128-GB iPad straight to the enterprise network. Things like Facetime and Skype are great, he said, but aren't secure, don't offer easy ways to share content and documents and, most critically, are poor at recording interactions (a deal-killer for any kind of regulated or compliance-sensitive industry).

The solution, Moulton said, is to invest in a multimedia conference unit (MCU), install that in the network and then buy software to link it to your employee's desktops or laptops. That way, he promised, we finally would get some real UC, as a team member can choose to respond to an instant message with a video call, take part in an internal meeting with remote colleagues via smartphone, and share presentations on the run. In other words, all the benefits of video as a flavor of the desktop experience, not an extra or a toy for the executives.

And the real business reason to do all this? "Voice-driven teleconferences go on and on," he says. "When someone goes on mute, you have no idea what they are really up to. But with video ... everyone works and the conference gets done a whole lot quicker."

That could be the real reason 2013 does finally become "video year" for some teams.

The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. Hear case studies from senior enterprise executives, as well as from the leaders of major industry players like Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, Google and more. Register for Enterprise Connect 2013 today with code IWKPREM to save $200 off a conference pass or get a free Expo Pass. It happens March 12-21 in Orlando, Fla.

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