For decades, video conferencing has been offered as either an optional add-on to voice communications or a stand-alone service. Phone systems and phone services were often paired with separate conferencing solutions. Both the unified communications and conferencing industries went through a product-to-service transition. Simultaneously, audio, web, and video conferencing capabilities converged. But that's all old news. A more recent development is a reversal from video being an add-on to voice becoming the add-on.
Many people falsely assume video is a mature industry, but it's experiencing somewhat of a rebirth. The demand for video continues to grow as the cost of quality equipment and services drop, the quality and experience improves, and teams become more distributed. Now, we find ourselves in a video-first era of communications.
Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Google G Suite, and Zoom are video-first solutions that have all recently added an option for integrated voice, or, more specifically, UCaaS. At the same time, many UCaaS providers are rapidly promoting video within their portfolios. In 2018, Vonage acquired TokBox, 8x8 acquired Jitsi, and Avaya relaunced its Scopia solution as a video-enabled Equinox service. Also, it wasn’t long ago that Twilio acquired Kurento and Amazon picked up Biba. With the proliferation of broadband connectivity and cameras, video services provide a logical expansion of communications services.
Demand for Small-Room Solutions
Enterprise Connect is always filled with announcements, and this year I expect video-related news to be a major theme going in and coming out of the conference. Especially with regards to small, or huddle, room solutions. Simply stated, there is a lot more supply and demand for small meeting rooms than for large rooms. Several factors are driving video demand, including the democratization of video, digital transformation, and a healthy supply of technology innovation.
In the last six months, we’ve seen new products from established players like Microsoft, Cisco, Logitech, and Polycom, as well as from startups such as Solaborate, with more likely due to be announced at EC19. These aren’t just new cameras, but room solutions that simplify ad-hoc and scheduled visual interactions.
The days of the intimidating and esoteric remote controls are gone. These new solutions embrace mobile users and are so intuitive that formal training isn’t necessary. Huddle room video solutions include video phones, USB-attached solutions, and solutions for dedicated meeting rooms. The USB options are growing the quickest, and include all-in-one and distributed systems for tabletop or front-of-room configurations. Huddle room solutions can also include whiteboards, room status displays, and tabletop components.
Democratization of Video
Video has become democratized, meaning it’s no longer expensive or inaccessible. Costs are either zero (incorporated into enterprise licenses or available as freemium services) or consumed as inexpensive, pay-as-you-go services. Video is accessible on selected hard phones, most desktops, and nearly all laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Video has traded its Sunday suit for a T-shirt, and is blending into our daily workflow. The technology has never been more intuitive, natural, or accessible.
The conference experience is no longer painful, PIN codes should be a distant memory, reservations are as natural as sending a calendar invite, and the low cost has eliminated the need for special approval. The final barrier is just putting equipment in the rooms, which a company can easily accomplish for less than $2,000.
Fruits of Digital Transformation
Digital transformation initiatives have significantly reduced the amount of analog, paper, and mechanical processes in our workflows. While it’s obvious that distributed teams need to meet, less obvious is how digital transformation has increased the importance of content sharing in these meetings. More and more, whatever is being worked on or discussed can be shared digitally. Remote participants are now often on equal footing as a result of digital transformation initiatives.
Healthy Supply of Innovation
Tremendous innovation is improving the meeting experience. This includes simplified integrations with calendaring, more intuitive controls, mobile-pairing, easier content sharing, high-resolution cameras, and improved audio. Flexibility and simplicity have even made video conferencing solutions effective for content sharing even when all the participants are in the same room: one approach regardless where the participants are located.
Perhaps the most important ease-of-use improvement is auto-framing. Before, most users had to choose between the lesser of two distractions. Either be distracted with poor framing and awkward zooms, or by having to manually adjust the far-end camera throughout a meeting. Many of the newer solutions come with a virtual camera operator that frames the video perfectly without any manual effort.
Video is one of the most exciting areas of enterprise communications right now. Expect to “see” a lot of interesting new developments throughout the year, especially at EC19 (check out the Video Collaboration & AV track here).
Here’s what else you can expect in the video-first enterprise communications era:
- More browser-based solutions
- Video-enabled solutions for contact centers
- More enhancements that reduce or eliminate visual and audio background distractions
- More improvements in image, audio, and metadata
- Speech-enabled features, including command/control and transcription
- Video-enabled apps and workflow -- beyond the meeting metaphor
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Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.