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Should You Keep Investing in Room Video?

Room video conferencing is clearly a technology and marketplace in transition. No Jitter Managing Editor Beth Schultz offered a terrific overview in this recent post about the conflicting forces at work -- the overarching trend being lower prices, which have led to flattening vendor revenues.

We explored this dynamic in our Enterprise Connect Orlando session, "The Rise and Fall of Conference Room Video" with Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research, and we'll be revisiting it at the Interop Las Vegas conference at the end of this month. In addition to my Enterprise Connect duties, I chair the Collaboration track for Interop Las Vegas, and I've got another great enterprise video expert, David Danto, principal consultant-collaboration at Dimension Data, leading the session in Vegas.

The most striking image in David's presentation is his depiction of the "Typical User" for room video:


This is not meant to depict an example of bad video performance. It's a depiction of the reality that your "typical" user is not, in fact, one user. It's several types of users in several types of roles, who thus have diverging needs in a room video system.

What that means, David will explain, is that you need to develop a matrix that segments users and use cases and matches these up with the appropriate video needs. That, in turn, means that, as David puts it, "Directly engaging representatives of the user community is critically important to satisfaction, adoption and ROI."

The era of the high-end, integrated A/V-driven conference room is waning, David maintains. In its place, he predicts there will be more rooms with fewer features each -- rooms tailored for 4-10 users. His list of what the enterprise will be looking for:

  • More rooms that are simple, repeatable, reliable, cost-effective
  • Less rooms that are complex, feature rich, over-engineered
  • All rooms with a standard, easy to operate user interface --think elevator

David calls these "off-the-shelf," as opposed to "custom" room systems. He pegs the up-front hardware cost for an "off-the-shelf" room at $30,000-$60,000, versus $80,000-$200,000 for a "custom" room.

Not surprisingly, just as the image of a "typical" user is a composite that shows there is no single coherent picture, the ultimate answer when it comes to the future of room systems is: It depends. The need for room video won't go away: People will always need to go into a room in large or small groups, close the door, and stage a meeting with some remote participants. Video will increasingly be a part of that collaboration as more people get more comfortable with video throughout their lives.

These smaller, "off the shelf" or, as Andrew Davis calls them, "huddle" areas, fit with other trends in office work: The move toward open offices with multiple gathering spaces that are smaller than a typical conference room. Equipping this kind of space with video can and should be less expensive than outfitting a large room with "immersive" technology.

I don't see any reason why desktop or smartphone-based video would eliminate the need for room systems. People frequently need to meet in clusters, and when they do, they tend to share a single device/interface for real-time connectivity to remote meeting participants. People don't gather in a conference room and then each get on their cell phones to do an audio conference with folks in another office. They use a conference phone in the middle of the table. It'd seem just as odd to imagine everyone peering into their own laptop or smartphone camera while sitting around a table together, each occupying his or her own square in a group video conference that blends individual streams.

So should you keep investing in room video? I think the answer clearly is yes. But how you go about making that investment will be more complicated -- but ultimately more productive for your enterprise -- than ever before.