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How Deep Is Your Video?

It used to be simple. For decades, there were two kinds of enterprises: those that realized the benefits of video conferencing and those that did not. An entire video strategy could be summarized in one word: either yes or no.

Today just about every organization has some video conferencing. That's because every laptop, tablet, and smartphone, as well as most desktops, is equipped with a camera. Quality freemium and premium applications make video pervasive in modern life. The question isn't if you do video or not, but how deeply?

Video engagement comes in layers, or degrees. This post outlines seven degrees of video.

First Degree: Video Among Soft Clients
It's pretty common for apps to leverage the many devices around us equipped with a video camera. Many of us made our first video call from our desktops using consumer Skype. There are now countless similar videoconferencing applications, from Facebook, Google, Apple, and many others. These applications generally don't offer the quality or features found in enterprise-oriented solutions. Most enterprise UC applications offer native point-to-point video between like-UC clients, including those from ShoreTel, NEC, and Mitel.

Second Degree: Video Within Business Applications
While the first degree uses communications apps, this level involves entirely separate business-related applications. Here the software maker integrates video capabilities directly into its otherwise non-video application, possibly communications-enabling other environments as well. Barclays Bank, for example, uses Vidyo technology to integrate video into its consumer-facing mobile application as well as its internal employee applications, conference rooms, and desktops. Video-enabling apps and websites to engage with contact centers is also a growing trend. Callaway Golf's mobile app offers video-enabled customer service with technology from Avaya, for example.

Third Degree: Soft Clients to Room Systems
Interconnecting apps to rooms has become much more common over the past few years. Doing so allows a group of people to easily meet with individuals who participate from their desktops or via mobile devices. UC and video mostly evolved along disparate trajectories, but through mergers and technology development cycles have finally intersected. Microsoft just this year released its latest Skype Room Systems (Project Rigel), which connect to desktop and mobile device clients. Room-based systems are not trivial as they involve solutions for acoustics, multiple cameras, and lighting. Both Cisco and Polycom have very strong room-based portfolios that include advanced camera capabilities such as automated zoom and switching to active speakers.

Fourth Degree: Room System Peripherals
The reluctant whiteboard is finally making its way into the age of video. The solution first got traction in vertical environments such as education and architecture, with technology from vendors such as Smart. Zoom has been offering finger-sensitive boards for its Zoom Room solution since last year. And earlier this year Microsoft released its Surface Hub as a general-purpose room and board system. This category is expected to explode in 2017 with new enterprise-grade options. (See my related post, "Collaboration Boardom.")

Fifth Degree: Custom Hardware
Industry-standard hardware has lowered overall costs, but it's not always feasible or appropriate. The most familiar example is Amazon Mayday, a visual customer service app for Kindle users. Amazon integrated WebRTC technology into its custom e-reader to enable a rich, differentiated support experience via one-way video and screen sharing. The new Google Pixel phone also includes built-in screen sharing for improved support. Both Microsoft and Nintendo enabled videoconferencing on their game consoles. Vidyo's SDKs are in use with hardware devices such as ATMs, hospital beds, and robots. This category is sure to grow with the shrinking costs of compute, bandwidth, and ubiquitous wireless services.

Sixth Degree: See-What-I-See
This is an emerging category that enables an expert to assist remote or field staff. Microsoft has promoted this with Skype for Business on a Windows 10 tablet in the field. ServiceNow offers its customers the ability to integrate this feature into remote mobile devices or smart glasses. This is an ideal solution for the remote MacGyver who is unsure of which wire to cut.

Seventh Degree: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
This nascent technology has great promise for field services and training. In a keynote at Salesforce's recent Dreamforce event, Schneider Electric used the Daqri AR helmet to demonstrate how visual cues such as callouts and documentation can assist a field technician. Unlike see-what-I-see, which sends images from the field to the expert, this sends relevant documentation as a direct overlay on the technician's field of vision.

Most businesses have built or evolved their communications practices over decades using constructs originally designed for traditional voice networks. For example, a call to the helpdesk is generally considered a voice interaction. As IP networks replace traditional analog lines, we are able to re-imagine interactions. Amazon reimagined support for consumer electronics with Mayday. That was in 2013. Today few of our interactions are actually over analog or TDM channels, and most can be done with video.

Re-imagination is easier said than done. If every desktop is video-enabled, then we can reimagine the contact center. Video doesn't have to be two-way, or even include anything more than screen sharing. We can use video in lots of ways to digitally transform communications.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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