Monday February 17, 2020

Conversation starters

Róisín Kiberd takes a look what’s happening in the growing market for video-conferencing tech

3rd November, 2019

At work and at home, we’re getting used to talking to people on screens. We’ve all had those glitchy video calls with friends and family, the kind with audio lag and blurred images, and up to a point we’ve probably learned to tolerate them.

Business, however, requires something more reliable, and a range of high-quality video conferencing and collaboration tools have appeared on the market in recent years to meet this demand.

The way the average Irish business operates has changed dramatically in recent years, and a large part of this change has been fuelled by the technology they run on.

More people work remotely, and for better or worse, in some small way most of us carry our job around with us in our pockets. In this evolving landscape, video conferencing plays a significant role as a facilitator and productivity enhancer.

Communication platforms need to be secure and safe from hackers, reliable, sophisticated and scalable; it’s worth investing time and care in choosing the one for your business.

Jason Quinn is strategic business manager at the Irish branch of Ricoh. Its UCS Advanced video-conferencing system provides virtual meeting rooms available via mobile, web browser, interactive whiteboard, end point or dial-in using local phone numbers. The system runs across 14 data centres to avoid bottlenecking, and it’s compatible with most common endpoints, including Microsoft Lync and Skype for Business.

“We’ve noticed a real demand for solutions that are compatible with other devices and deliver a high-quality collaborative experience,” Quinn said.

Shane Humston, sales and marketing manager, Videnda, sees big changes

“As a premier partner of Cisco, we implement the Cisco WebEx Room Kit. This particular solution, which can be used alongside the Ricoh Unified Communication System and combined with other platforms, is a prime example of how intuitive video-conferencing systems have become.

“It supports smart meetings and presentations with the ability to detect participants and track active speakers. It also automatically suppresses background noises, and delivers an outstanding audio experience, while enabling wireless sharing and cloud-based functionalities which improve workflow and enhance the user experience.”

Premium features, which were not always available to the average business in the past, are now accessible and easy to use.

“Not only are they easy to deploy and operate, they can be scaled to small spaces and groups of seven or less with the camera, speakers and microphones incorporated into a single device,” Quinn said.

“These solutions can also be easily tailored for teams and individuals, from high-quality ceiling microphones for large conference rooms and touchscreens on height-adjustable lifts for disabled user access.”

Video conference makes sense as an investment; it increases productivity efficiency and builds connections between international customers and partners. It also increases agility, according to Quinn.

“Overall, there’s a lot more that organisations can do with video conferencing and unified communications systems, and it’s not just larger organisations with offices spread across various locations and time zones. SMBs in Ireland have people that work remotely or are constantly on the move,” he said.

“There are even companies nowadays that don’t have physical office spaces. But they all still need to be able to connect and collaborate in real-time from wherever they are working. Video-conferencing systems give them the ability to do this securely, enabling multi-site, real-time collaboration and supporting flexible work styles.”

Shane Humston, sales and marketing manager of Videnda Distribution, said we’ve seen a change in the role of video conferencing.

“In the past, the cost and complexity of video conferencing meant it was mainly limited to large boardrooms,” he said.

“When a client asks for advice on a new video-conferencing project, the first questions are always about which platform they’re currently using (Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, Bluejeans, Google Hangouts, etc) and what size the rooms are. The answers to those questions will very quickly help to narrow down the hardware options. The biggest change we’ve seen in the market recently is the exponential growth of VC in smaller huddle rooms.”

A ‘huddle room’ is both a real and virtual space; it’s a private meeting area for a small number of people, usually fewer than six, equipped with video conferencing and collaboration technology. Smaller than traditional conference rooms, and cheaper to outfit, huddle rooms often make use of spaces in an office that otherwise go unused.

Research indicates that in coming years, use of huddle rooms and the technologies which support them will increase; the global huddle-room video-conferencing device market is projected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2023, and huddle-room meetings will represent 77 per cent of all room-based video conferences.

Given these projections for the future, and the benefits it can bring to your business today, it might be time to upgrade your video-conferencing software. Choose a vendor carefully, however, and keep your business’s specific needs in mind.

“As with any technology product or service,” said Quinn, “it’s important for businesses to find a video-conferencing service that meets the individual needs of their organisation and workforce. The workspace as we know it has changed, with multiple offices, field-based employees, hot-desking and irregular hours becoming commonplace. This means companies need to be more people-centric and led by what their teams want and need to work more effectively.”

Convenience and usability are also important factors: the aim is to provide a tool everyone can use, and benefit from, rather than one that leaves employees confused or at risk of a data breach.

Quinn said: “Employers need to be mindful of the fact they are having to cater for four different generations in the workplace, all of whom have different expectations in terms of how and, more prominently, where and when they work.”

The aim, after all, is not tech for the sake of it, but to facilitate conversations: “The bottom line is that people still need to communicate, in a simple and secure way.”

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