Unified Communications Helps Bring Everyone Into The Conversation
“With the right UC solution, you stay connected anywhere, at any time, and on any device,” said Jeff Holton of SKC.
Unified communications (UC) means never having to say you’re too remote to join the conversation. Integrators and consultants who take advantage of the opportunities created by UC, not by selling product, but by serving the need for group communications, will see the benefit on their bottom lines.
“I don’t see AV dealers making money by selling software, headsets for laptops, or computer mics. The real money for integrators will come as more people adopt this technology for individual desktop use, which will in turn push the group meeting room tools side,” said Rob Sheeley, president and CEO of Vaddio. “Before UC debuted as a buzzword, desktop videoconferencing and group systems conferencing represented the first stages of what was to come.”
The idea is that tools change depending on the environment, he continued. “I have my laptop at my desk and it fits into this particular space because the tool matches the room, i.e., my office. UC is the way we talk about having the right tools for the right environment. If I’m doing more collaboration/ conferencing at my desktop, a laptop will work just fine. If we want to bring in more product managers, we need a bigger room, so we go to a bigger room with the same tools to support that medium.”
Customers who already have a few personal tools such as Google Chat or Google Video, but would like to collaborate as a group, need to call an integrator, Sheeley said. “It’s the UC on a personal level that is driving more use and more customers to seek group meeting room tools. That’s where the money is. Integrators should be learning how to take UC tools and use them in those group spaces.”
Video is becoming an integral part of a customer’s UC strategy, observed Paul Depperschmidt, manager, TelePresence Distribution Partners Cisco Systems. “In the past,” he said, “AV integrators have provided broad expertise in room integration, but as customer requirements evolve so should their business strategies. While we encourage integrators to focus on robust room integrations, we are also encouraging them to consider how video fits into their customers’ overall communications and collaboration strategies.”
Central points, Depperschmidt said, revolve around how customers will use video outside of the boardroom, how personal systems can be incorporated into boardroom-level conversations, and how more of the customer’s organization can become involved in collaboration.
Addressing these considerations and determining what UC means to a specific customer, is crucial, said Jeff Holton, director of technology for SK C, a national integrator with headquarters in Kansas City, KS . “Sometimes when we ask, we get the look back from them saying, ‘I thought you would tell me.’ Others have a detailed plan of what they want. We have to peel back the onion to see what they really need; UC is made of many different modalities from email to IM to videoconferencing and collaboration tools, making it all work together, but what does it mean for a particular customer?”
The assessment includes technology already in place, he said. “We don’t just want to rip and replace their existing technology. We ask them where they want to go in terms of goals for the next 24 months, but normally no further than that as technology and companies’ goals change too often. Many times, we start them with two new pieces of technology and add from there. Initially, it could be simply integrating voicemail to email. We have three areas based on those scenarios: solution planning and design, proof of concept, and full solution deployment.”
A key selling point of UC is how it makes conferencing, and communication in general, easy to do. To simplify operation, Polycom’s voice and video solutions are integrated with the leading UC platforms, including Microsoft Lync.
Despite a potential learning curve for integrators, a key selling point is how UC makes conferencing, and communication in general, easy to do, said Craig Richardson, vice president, general manager installed voice business of Polycom, whether it involves analog telephony interfaces, digital PBXs, VoIP , video collaboration, or as simple as accessing corporate directories so that end users can connect seamlessly.
“Integrators have long created solutions in environments ideal for conferencing and collaboration,” he said. “UC provides the opportunity to expand that circle of influence beyond designing and installing the room as a sophisticated end-point solution; it offers the chance to extend their AV influence beyond the room. It’s about communicating the way customers want when they want.”
“The smart integrator or consultant realizes that UC really is going to be driving core demand for group meeting room systems,” observed Rob Sheeley of Vaddio. “The sooner they look at how UC drives that activity the more they can take advantage of it. We’re in this world of technology and what it all really means is achieving harmony. Find a way to incorporate UC into the conference rooms and boardrooms. When you do that you can make a dollar.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.