When people talk about saving money, they usually mean that they want to drop the dollar cost. But that’s a fool’s errand. Dropping dollars that way can make bean counters tip their visors in your direction. But at the same time, you might wind up with users going around you and signing up for the services they want. They might even be suggesting to the CEO that they sunset the IT department.
The key to effective business is a view that accounts for productivity. And that’s a harder thesis to validate. That’s why senior managers rely upon gut instinct more than they rely on data.
The “Must” Age of Video Conferencing
Clearly, we are in the broad adoption phase of video conferencing and IP Telephony. No one is asking if they should. They know they should. Michael Dortch and Steve Church reported that 80% of telephony installations in 2008 were IP Telephony and not landlines. The game is over and the Internet won.
If you are still using deeply proprietary hardware/software video conferencing (Cisco Telepresence excepted), my advice is to open the dumpster and listen as they thud to the bottom. You probably can’t sell old-style videoconference solutions even on eBay. Robust, internet-based conferencing solutions are here and real. There are no good reasons not to do it.
We tend to speak in acronyms in technology and video conferencing is no exception. Most video conferencing relies upon IP telephony standards of one stripe or another. People short hand this to say “voyp”, for Voice over IP (VoIP). But what they really mean is IP telephony. Within that rubric are solid open standards and excellent proprietary ones like Skype Telephony. All of them are “good enough” for most settings. In total, there exist upwards of ten IP Telephony standards all providing a component of the IP Telephony stack.
A Thousand Words is Worth a Picture.
I looked around the Internet for academic papers on information transfer during video conferencing. While I am sure they exist, I could not find any. Maybe someone will send me one. Seeing people right in front of you in HD allows you to sense content that is otherwise not visible.
A friend, Bob Davis, now of Kaseya, once told me about research into video conferencing that yielded some surprising results: improvements in the quality of the audio led users to conclude that the image quality was better. That’s right, the better the audio, the less important the picture is. So the first thing to think about would be paying more attention to audio transmission quality than video refresh rates. That’s the kind of research I like: the kind that overturns assumptions.
But “Open” Sounds Friendlier.
Ask yourself: “Can I afford a glitch or two and go open source?” If you can, there are a few inexpensive services that rely on open source standards. They will save you money. If you have a bulge in your purse and want to be able to complain when things are not right, then you might try fancier services, but in reality you don’t need to. IP Telephony is beginning to hit the competitive part of the price curve and the eldest establishment videoconference players should be scrambling hard now. They’ll need to completely overhaul their cost structure and embrace federated solutions. I’m not a big Google fan, but their federated telephony is a genius move. Just like we need android to free us from phones that pretend you live in a company town, federated telephony is the kind of open standard that will complete the transformation of company towns into thriving open metropolii.
How do we Work?
The next item to investigate is your firm’s activity. What kind of meetings do you have? How many people do you have to include? The answer drastically changes the cost picture for IP Telephony and Video Conferencing. Analyze your activity and envision the service before you look. Eyes larger than your stomach will cost you. Good marketing folks will tempt you with great copy, but do you really need what they are selling? Knowing beforehand will keep you in charge.
Take a look at well-researched reviews.
I particularly liked http://voip-service-review.toptenreviews.com/ There are others, but this site is particularly complete. Read through all of them. One of the coolest is ITN. It’s low cost, highly scalable, and feature rich, even if users sometimes complain that the interface is less than intuitive. Another good article (which brushes against the cost issue) is here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/networking/skype-jumps-the-shark-seven-alternative-voip-services/2488.
Integration with Other Applications.
Another item to evaluate is the interface to your office and network applications. While it’s often easier to just pick any service and go, for serious IT folks, it’s important to find a service that links to your other methods and datatypes that you use every day. I predict that Office in 2014 will include Skype controls and features. Why? Because it is a no brainer. Microsoft’s purchase of Skype will enable it to grow the installed base for Office and keep the upgrade stream going, like the Ann Margaret baked bean scene in the movie, Tommy. It might not seem obvious, but the productivity gained from tight integration between business apps and video/IP Telephony is awe-inspiring to contemplate. It outweighs perceived dollar costs by a mile.
Your time is more important and expensive than then your video conferencing system. Run pilots. I’ve found it harder to test applications in the era of SaaS platforms and the cloud, but running these pilots will keep the yolks from drying on your cheeks. It might sound trite, but it seems that because the ease of adoption of SaaS services is so good, one can find herself using one and get locked in before she knows it. Measure the time and effort required and analyze where the value is, or isn’t.
In sum, I got us to six ways to approach low cost IP Telephony and Video conferencing. I really tried to get all the way to ten. Perhaps in your efforts to bring these services to your users, you’ll be able to supply the rest.
Kelly scribbles incoherently in Portland, OR on science, technology and culture. She doesn’t use Facebook, but can be found occasionally posting on Twitter @KellyMckn.