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When 'Good Enough' Really Isn't

Our Enterprise Connect/No Jitter team was on a call with some folks from the UCStrategies group the other day, and the conversation turned to the victory of the "good enough" ethic. Cell phone quality stinks, but it's good enough, because mobile phones are awesome at so many other things. Conference calls range from annoying to rage-inducing, but in the end we throw up our hands and decide the bad audio quality and unproductive dynamics of these calls are kinda good enough, we guess. You've got a bunch of people spread out all over the place, they all need to talk to each other on a regular basis, and the lowest common denominator for communications is voice telephony of whatever origin.

The "good enough" ethic has a long and proud tradition in enterprise technology. Token ring was more elegant but Ethernet was good enough. Tightly managed quality of service is the gold standard, but every conversation about QoS comes around to someone's suggestion: "Wouldn't just throwing a lot of cheap bandwidth at the problem be good enough?"

Any good network professional will tell you unequivocally that the answer to that last question is a definite, "No." Running multiple media across an IP network using only high bandwidth as a QoS mechanism is usually a recipe for trouble. That's an empirical standard. You can measure how much the quality stinks -- in packet loss, in jitter, in mean opinion score -- and make the case that the service actually isn't good enough.

But you can't measure how much people hate almost all of the "good enough" collaboration technologies we use now. Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, has a great No Jitter post about how this plays out in office meeting/conference spaces, where enterprises have been trying to upgrade the meeting and collaboration experience with technologies ranging from huddle rooms to immersive telepresence. Many of these technologies -- starting with telepresence -- are way too expensive to ever be widespread team collaboration tools for blending the physical and virtual spaces. They way overshoot the "good enough" mark and sail off into the realm of "too much of a good thing."

But I don't think it's unreasonable for people to want to raise the bar on "good enough" for meetings that are supposed to be productive but basically rarely are. In this week's No Jitter post on Lync Room Systems and the Microsoft Surface Hub, Brian Riggs, an analyst with Ovum's Enterprise team, shows some options that -- while certainly pricier than, say, an old-school Polycom "flying saucer" speakerphone -- add elements to the meeting room experience that increase the chances of keeping people engaged.

And even that workhorse speakerphone would provide a better experience if the callers into a conference could be understood more easily. No Jitter contributor Tom Brannen, an independent consultant, has written about the prospects for HD voice across the cellular networks -- which, let's face it, are the source of the problems for most bad audio on conference calls. I have to wonder, though, whether the mobile carriers will ever expend any resources to improve voice quality on their networks, at a time when voice is becoming less and less important in the consumer mobile world.

For most users, I think an audio conference you could actually understand, supplemented by some level of collaboration tools on the Web or mobile device, would make for an experience that would be more than "good enough" by normal people's standards. The problem is, when we say "good enough" about a collaboration experience today, what we really mean is, "bad enough"-- not intolerable, but as close to intolerable as we can get away with.

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