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Don’t be overwhelmed by the videoconferencing explosion

VQ’s CTO, Mike Horsley, looks at the recent explosion in corporate video usage and what large financial institutions need to do in order to ensure it’s a productivity tool rather a drain on resources.

Mike-HorsleyThe financial industry was one of the earliest adopters of video conferencing technology. The sector was sold on its power to reduce costly, time-consuming business trips while maintaining corporate connectedness and client relationships through regular ‘face-to-face’ contact.

Early on, however, video gained a bad reputation. I bet most of us can remember the first early-generation room-based system we saw or used – the equipment was expensive, the experience underwhelming and internal adoption low. Only those enterprises that placed expert operators into Video Network Operation Centres (VNOCs) to manage each call and intervene when problems arose enjoyed regular success.

Then, several years ago, high definition systems started to appear and, boosted by improvements in enterprise networks, video calls were no longer sub-standard; they became predictable and productive, user trust was established and call volume increased. Adoption has accelerated again recently with increased use of desktop video due to unified communications solutions like Microsoft Lync growing in popularity – Microsoft bought Skype for a reason!

However, this boom in video consumption has placed a growing burden on IT. This is a great problem to have as it means the systems are being used but, without tight management, the productivity benefits video affords risk being undermined by additional IT costs.

Man vs. machine
This poses several challenges to the decision makers at large financial institutions who are charged with ensuring video remains a productive tool for everyone – after all, it is commonly accepted that video enables an enterprise to realise higher levels of nimbleness and agility as dispersed teams can work more effectively together. So how is this best facilitated?

Spotting the weaknesses in the more power/more people model, forward-thinking companies have overlaid their video infrastructure with advanced management software (also known as service delivery software) to better scale video in line with demand.

It takes the legwork out of the videoconferencing process and allows a smaller number of specialist IT staff to manage call scheduling, management and reporting, resource utilisation, and multi-MCU support.

Call scheduling
Scheduling video calls can be complex or simple. Make sure your VC management software allows VC operators to assign the tasks of appropriate complexity to the staff who can handle them. There is no point in paying a VNOC operator to set up a basic call every time an employee needs to videoconference someone and a degree of ‘self service’ is now expected by employees used to unified communications systems like Lync. In this respect we’re entering an exciting period for video communications, because the transition from traditional video conferencing, which is heavily managed, to a self-service model, can only take place when people fully trust video’s quality (both audio and visual) and the solutions used build a reputation for reliability.

Call management
Every videoconferencing call involving more than two systems will use a multipoint control unit (MCU). This is a box which acts as a bridge connecting call participants. In a large financial organisation these need to be properly managed – users need to be easily added and removed from calls, for example. Detailed feedback on MCU use and call feedback should be available to your VC operators from a single page.

Call reporting
Data from every call should be analysed to allow VC operators to identify the endpoints that are underperforming and dropping data, adversely affecting call quality. It’s surprising how many organisations don’t know what their video systems are really doing. Without video network visibility provided by data collection you are flying blind. Video conferencing intelligence is essential to maintaining performance – you wouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on an employee and then fail to chart their progress, so why should your VC solutions be any different?

Genie out the bottle
The numbers speak for themselves: we have several customers in the finance industry, hosting in total over a million minutes of video calls per month (around 17,500 hours) and posting usage growth of around 35 per cent year-on-year.

The companies enjoying the best cost/benefit ratios with video are the ones that are providing a service level that promotes continuing usage growth, while managing that growth tightly with a service delivery tool. The more video/more manpower equation just doesn’t work.

Affordable HD VC solutions from traditional manufacturers like Cisco and Polycom and new video-enabled unified communications solutions like Lync all add to the video estate, and the pressure is quickly building on banks and other financial institutions with heavy video usage to reduce manual tasks by automating set-up, management and reporting of calls and conferences. More people are not the answer. Empowering the ones you have, is.