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Group Collaboration, Lync Video Style

In my No Jitter post yesterday, I outlined the dilemma facing enterprise communications managers who must choose between video-enabling users or outfitting conference rooms with video systems. Today I'll take a narrower view, exploring the issue from a Microsoft Lync perspective.

No Jitter readers don't need to be told that Lync is a go-to enterprise tool for unified communications, but some do need a nudge on the video conferencing capability that comes along with it. They'll also need reminding that this goes for the group and not just the individual. With the proper setup in place, enterprise communications managers can look to Lync as a way of video-enabling users at their desktops and facilitating room-based collaborative video sessions.

The strength of the Lync group video conferencing experience depends in large part on what technology sits in the room. You could kludge a Lync group system together, connecting one team member's laptop to a visual display and sharing the desktop Lync video conference in that way, for example. But as I learned from Brent Kelly, president of KelCor and regular No Jitter contributor, such "home-crafted" approaches are only OK, not great. Better in a Lync environment would be to use a room system expressly meant to deliver Lync video conferencing in a group setting, Kelly told attendees of yesterday's Enterprise Connect/No Jitter webinar, "Lync Room System: Make it a Tool for Collaboration, Not Just Communication" (register now and view on demand).

Such a room system should come with four components: high-definition (HD) displays, typically with an integrated PC appliance; a front-facing HD camera; wideband audio; and a tabletop touch screen control console. Tabletop mics, for high-fidelity sound, are often included, as well, Kelly said. As you can see below, a Lync room system differs in a variety of ways from a traditional conference room video system and, as such, can help turn a conference into a collaborative session rather than a one-way flow of communications.


A Lync room system's software-centricity is a key differentiator in enabling full engagement for individual participants, said Nick Benoit, business development manager at SMART Technologies. Lync room systems, including SMART's own, opens up the collaborative opportunity not just point to point but point to multipoint. And with the content-sharing capabilities of Lync, these meetings end up being more productive as well--with participants focused on data being presented and not just the video or audio components, he added.

The thing is, users expect to be able to do things in familiar fashion and interact with content in a certain way--and the fact that they're going to be collaborating with colleagues via video shouldn't matter. "As an end user, I want to be able to do my pre-work on my personal device, then take that into the conference room and continue. Then, once the conference is finished, do more work," Benoit said. "We have to be able to create a seamless experience."

If a user schedules a Lync video call, the Lync video-outfitted room is smart enough to know that it's scheduled for that call. The user walks into the room, and launching the video call is simply a matter of tapping the screen -- same as if that user were sitting at his or her desk. In its latest iteration, the SMART Lync room system lets participants interact with any content, write onto any application, and save and distribute files in native format, Benoit said.

Remote participants can be as involved as any other. As a case in point, Benoit shared a video case study that SMART did with Lync room system customer Plantronics. You can watch the short video below, but here's what one employee said of his experience:

"As a mobile professional, I'm what I'll call 'conference room challenged,' and being able to call into conference rooms and actually be a participant and collaborate makes a huge difference vs. just calling into a call and listening."

That employee, Boris Seibert, senior director of strategic alliances at Plantronics, added: "I was just recently in this meeting, and somebody said, 'Man, I wish we had a whiteboard. So I started a whiteboarding session and started drawing while everyone continued to talk ....

As Benoit described during the webinar, which SMART sponsored, the company has evolved its Lync room system "from a place where work is being discussed to a place where work is truly getting done." Seibert, it seems, would have to agree. In the video, he said, " I think it's changed the speed at which we execute."

With a Lync room system perhaps you don't necessarily need to be asking whether you video-enable users or video-enable conference rooms. Maybe instead what you need to be asking is: Do we want this to be about communication or collaboration?

But don't worry if you can't figure out the answer. It's a trick question, Kelly said. Sometimes you only need to be informed while other times you need to collaborate--you just need to make sure you can do the latter and not only the former.

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