Ten Hands is a web-conference platform with native WebRTC support.Recently, Amazon announced the Kindle Fire Mayday Button (www.amazon.com), ushering in a new standard for customer support — Live Video. This service represents the first major deployment of what will be the new standard for online experiences — face-to-face video chat. We’ve already seen live chat-enabled help desk support applications from a number of vendors, like LivePerson, who are building a business by integrating web conferencing capabilities into the customer support experience. In just the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of video-enabled applications and services delivered to user’s devices with tremendous ease via the public internet.
However, with Amazon’s release of the Mayday support application, we are seeing the first broad-based consumer device rollout of a video-enabled support application and it’s not merely ‘very exciting’ it’s revealing of what the future holds for all of us; simply, video will soon be everywhere, in everything, and even for remote employees who never leave their homes, PJ’s at work will no longer be an option.
When we stop and think about it, it’s just not that long ago that live video feeds and web conferencing were solely the provenance of SiFi Star Ship captains and, more recently, the executive elite. But today, with broadband connections available to well over 90% of Americans, according to the FCC’s Eight Broadband Progress Report, anyone with a Facetime account or Skype can make it so.
The Major Players
Legitimately, these are recent developments: what has the video and web conferencing landscape looked like to this point? For the most part, the industry has been dominated by proprietary vendors each providing a unique solution with a variety of prepackaged options. We think about Cisco’s WebEx, Jabber, Citrix’s GoToMeeting, MSFT’s failed standalone product, LiveMeeting, which is now Lync, part of the Unified Communications product set, and Adobe’s Connect, and others. Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages, but what they all have in common is licensing cost and infrastructure requirements. If you don’t have a budget — and in some cases a substantial budget — some of these solutions are beyond your reach. Today, the big boys are facing challenges from an ever-fracturing market place and new, lower-cost solutions.
Mr. Davis’ guests were a distinguished panel of industry leaders including Mahal Mohan of Cisco, John Anatanaitis of Polycom, and Michael Helmbrecht of LifeSize, among others. The panel was asked if they felt under siege from the emergent solutions. They agreed that the future has never been brighter, the opportunities more expansive and the customer base larger (remember that shareholders may have been watching). The industry knows that there will always be a market for high-definition, outof- the-box solutions. Mahal Mohan talked about the need in certain scenarios to be able to see the beads of sweat and the telltale signs of stress on the other end of the videophone. Though most of us don’t need that level of service delivery, for those that can pay, it is available today. And we don’t need the old-school endpoint hardware VC system to achieve it.
Forging the Path Ahead
So what about the rest of us? In this rapidly evolving landscape, what challenges are we facing and how shall we address them?
Suppose you’re the network administrator or the AV technology manager (roles that are increasing converging as the delivery of traditional analog services evolve into the digital age) of a mid-sized school, several thousand students, a couple thousand faculty and staff. It may seem as though almost every day — through colleagues, friends, the media, and the Internet — we are introduced to some new ‘breakthrough’ technology that promises to revolutionize the way we do business/shop/live. And, in fact, for those of us paying attention, our lives have been revolutionized in the last 20 years.
Students want to know why their classes aren’t simulcast online, so if they are sick they can stay home and respectfully attend class without exposing their fellows to the risk of spreading hangovers. The foreign studies/language/world economics department has an innovative concept for partnering with a European sister school and co teaching simultaneously in Europe and North America. The theater group wants to video conference with a Comedia dell’Arte School in Rome to collaborate on pieces of ‘cross cultural significance and universal appeal” — mostly involving devious servants, foolish masters, nubile innamorati, and a lot of cool masks.
And you know what? They should all have it. We can make all this happen today for little to nothing. New browser-based web conferencing options offers tiers of credit-style “buy as you need” type of fee structures. With the positive reception of WebRTC, if you have a team of Java developers, would custom application solutions, perhaps built on WebRTC, meet your needs?
There are three things we should all be thinking about as we architect our web conferencing solutions. Firstly, if you’re not already feeling the pressure, within 24 months it will be required that all your service solutions, including your web conferencing, should work on iOS, Android WinRT, and the traditional Windows and MAC platforms. The reality is that we are living in the post-PC age; device proliferation is inevitable, we need to ensure the greatest ease of service delivery to the most diverse client base we can.
It’s one thing when you are Amazon and your solution only has to work on the Fire. It’s another thing when you administer the solution — but perhaps not the clients that consume it, which could be any of a double dozen different OS platforms. All the major vendors say they support a broad array of devices — but don’t buy into the hype — often features are limited on certain devices. We are living in a BYOD world, and further device proliferation is inevitable; we need to ensure the greatest ease of safe service delivery to the most diverse client base we can. Here are a few basics to help think about the road ahead in web conferencing:
• Test your solution before deployment. Many vendors offer a free two-week or fourweek trial. Get as many of your end-users on the beta as possible.
• Read the fine print on any third-party solution.
• In order to ensure the greatest number of clients are supported, focus on solutions that use standard cross platform protocols to deliver their experience: Java, HTTPS, and RDP seem to be leading the pack for a wide array of SaaS offerings.
• I wouldn’t be in a hurry to do anything; you don’t want to embrace a solution, like Microsoft LiveMeeting, only to have it discontinued. The current evolution will yield some incredible results in the next few years, we are likely to see a number of new collaboration products hit the market designed for a BYOD world. In the meantime, for one off web conferencing suggest Blue Jeans or OneCall, that you can purchase as needed.
• If someone in your organization really wants to web conference, but has absolutely no budget, refer them to AnyMeeting (anymeeting.com).
• If you need to provide a more high-end managed service, look at the options from the major vendors to see who best meets your needs. Determine (or revise) your supported mobile device and fixed hardware policy, compliance, and begin the planning stages of rolling it out.
Regardless of what any of us do right now, or don’t do, 10 years from now HD, on-demand global video communications will simply be one more miracle of the digital age that we expect built-in and integrated in everything we do.
Michael Murphy joined the team at Skillsoft after six years as an IT Pro Evangelist on Microsoft’s TechNet team, and nearly three decades in the technology space. His classroom experiences are driven by a combined passion for the technology and desire to see people succeed. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FCC Broadband Report
Young Executives Favor Business Video
The 2013 Cisco Global Young Executives’ Video Attitudes Survey tapped more than 1,300 executives aged 34 years or younger. The report found that 87% of respondents believe video has a significant and positive impact on an organization, enhancing business culture, breaking down language barriers, and attracting new talent. These findings dovetail with the rapid adoption of enterprise-grade browser-based videoconferences. With the notable exception of Yahoo, global companies are increasingly utilizing video to expedite decision-making and augment the impact of discussions, a 2013 Wainhouse Research and Polycom study showed. This survey also portends that the video-savvy Gen Y leaders will take more active roles as videos ambassadors. And they are clear about where they will take their talent; 87% of respondents said that they would rather work for a video-enabled organization over a company that does not support business-class video communications. Source: Cisco