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Video-Enable Users, But What About the Conference Room?

Conference room video seems perpetually in a tight spot, stuck in a corporate niche between the high-end telepresence systems catering to the executive echelon and the quick-and-easy desktop or mobile video apps popular among so many others. But on it lives -- and adapts.

Video endpoint vendors haven't given up on the conference room, despite flat sales. Here's why: Employees are using room-based systems now perhaps more than ever, as we learned from Michael Frendo, executive vice president of worldwide engineering for Polycom, back in December (see 5 Trends to Watch in Video Collaboration). Some Polycom customers, he told us, report usage of their room systems at 80% to 90%.

To be sure, conference room video has its purpose. Reducing travel costs remains a big driver, and supporting ad hoc meetings among far-flung colleagues is another. And say a team needs to confer with an expert at another location and video conferencing is the preferred means of communications. Sitting around the big screen in a conference room tends to be much more conducive to communications and collaboration than huddling around one team member's desktop or tablet -- wouldn't you agree?

And with usage on the upswing, even if sales are flat, the video endpoint vendors keep the enhancements coming with the goal of optimizing the in-room experience. Just a few weeks ago, for example, Polycom introduced tracking technology, called EagleEye Producer, that automatically finds and tracks speakers as they move around a room (read Polycom Goes Further to Address Workplace of the Future). I got an EagleEye demo while visiting a Polycom Executive Experience Center recently, and have to say it definitely does beat out the typical "hey, where'd the speaker go?" fixed camera experience.

Technology improvements are definitely a highlight for conference room video, agreed Andrew Davis, senior partner and analyst at Wainhouse Research. "What we're finding today is that room systems deliver better quality than they ever have and they're less expensive then they ever have been," he told me in a phone interview.

That puts enterprise IT managers in an interesting position, he said. As vendors introduce inexpensive conference room systems, priced around $1,000 and meant to support up to four or so participants, they need to figure out which of two contradictory trends to follow. Do they outfit small "huddle" rooms with room video systems or do they video-enable users' end devices and let them bring the video capability into the room with them?

"You don't need to have a lot of video conferencing rooms if everybody has an iPad, iPhone or Windows machine and you've given them all video conferencing licenses -- which, by the way, are dirt cheap," Davis said. "To the extent that we're all on mobile devices, by and large the conference room is becoming more virtual than it is physical."

The decision may fall to whether or not an IT manager believes that "video is the new voice," and feels compelled to make sure meeting rooms are outfitted with video conferencing capabilities, said Davis, adding that he doesn't much buy into that slogan. As comfortable as people may be getting with video conferencing, especially on the device of their choice, the reasons to do video often aren't compelling enough." He referenced our conversation as a case in point -- "and here we are on an audio call."

For a better understanding of the diverging video trends -- beef up conferencing capabilities in huddle rooms or video-enable users directly -- join Davis at Enterprise Connect Orlando. He and a foursome of panelists will be discussing the changing landscape in his session, "The Rise and Fall of Conference Room Video," on Monday, March 16.

Andrew Davis also will be presenting two additional Enterprise Connect sessions, "Emerging Video Technologies" and "Video Everywhere: What Happens to Your Workflow?" Join him by registering today, and save $300 on your conference pass by using the code: NJSPEAKER.

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