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When to Use Video Instead of Voice?

Fred Knight had an august panel of industry mavens discussing what is next with UC at Enterprise Connect on Monday morning. Part of the discussion went to the use case for video, whether video will replace voice and what will be the role of voice going forward. One of the panelists said that young people entering the workforce either use IM or video, but don’t have a use for voice calls.

Phil Edholm from Avaya said he thought video was important in "sales" calls, any call where someone is trying to convince someone else of the value of their proposition, whether that be a true sales environment or an internal discussion on direction, design, positioning or whatever. Phil thought that the vast majority of calls were not sales calls, but were instead workers trying to get work done with folks they know well. These calls, which are more about getting to a plan and agreeing on who is doing what do not need video and would never use it, he said.

John DelPizzo of IBM disagreed. First he felt that many more conversations could be classed as "selling", as we often want to know the reaction of the other party and can learn much about that from the visual information. Furthermore he felt that video allowed group meetings to be more focused, as folks cannot multitask (or it is obvious if you are multitasking), and thus a manager could hold the team to task and get the job done much sooner.

I think to understand these use cases we need to go back to the basic social instincts of humans and how we were designed to communicate. We do best in small communities where we know the people and we can judge how they will react to what we say. We get a lot of that information visually. I think what video conferencing does for us is allow us to more quickly form those small communities even though we are not co-located. Once we have been able to form the social connections to the group, the group can then be much more productive in its work because we know how to communicate.

I see this effect in my work because I do relatively short consulting engagements. It is necessary for me to explicitly spend time with the networking, voice and video teams of my new customer so I can learn their styles, and so they can learn mine. Once we establish those understandings we can focus on the technical work at hand and get it done quickly. We don't end up second guessing each other or misunderstanding the communications nearly as much. This is even more important, as Case Murphy from AOL pointed out in an afternoon video panel, when our teams include members who have different cultural backgrounds and different languages.

You know how it is when you call an old friend you have not seen in years, but you can pick up the conversation just where you left off? That is about having a common understanding of each other and the communications styles that will work.