Emerging industry standards and platform and partner integrations make mobile video conferencing across heterogeneous networks a distinct possibility in 2012.
The promise of unified communications has been omnipresent for many years, but the missing piece to make it tantalizing to the masses and push its appeal into the category of a "must have" for smaller companies has been video between different organizations. Today, the video element is being tested for prime time, and companies likely will begin rolling out secure inter-enterprise video communication services sometime in 2012.
What apparently has held up the delivery of secure inter-enterprise video—apart from a shortage of bandwidth—has been a lack of interoperability standards. As a group of 14 major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, now work out the kinks in the protocols that everyone wants to overcome in order to do just a little bit more than their competitors, corporate employees from New York to Mumbai can hardly wait to both see and speak with their colleagues on the other side of the planet at company expense!
While IBM and others have been offering intra-enterprise video services to companies for awhile now, the bandwidth requirements within the corporate network have not made them a big seller. However, with new compression algorithms, more-robust network infrastructures, and less expensive WANs, video is as certain to invade the corporate desktop—and now, tablet—as fax machines were 30 years ago.
Last October, Polycom Inc. unveiled Polycom RealPresence Mobile, the first enterprise HD video software solution for tablets. The platform currently supports the iPad 2, Motorola XOOM, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, with more devices to follow. Polycom says its RealPresence Mobile platform extends the company's HD video collaboration technology to tablets that workers had been used to in the office and conference room. It's high-quality, secure, and reliable. Mobile users can use it on tablets to collaborate with other colleagues face to face, whether they join from a desktop, immersive video room system, another tablet, or a laptop. The RealPresence Mobile client application is available as a free download from the Apple App Store and Android market, but companies pay a per-user license fee for the server software.
"RealPresence Mobile is a significant step toward achieving our vision to make it possible for millions of people to use video collaboration as their preferred method of communicating—easily, reliably, and securely—no matter what network, carrier, protocol, application, or device they use," says Andy Miller, president and CEO of Polycom Inc. in a statement. "I met with 100 customers the past few months, and nearly every executive I talk with is looking to embrace mobility and tablets to improve business productivity," he says. "Customers who have seen our mobile applications running on Apple, Motorola, and Samsung tablets are truly inspired by the possibilities. Polycom is enabling by extending video collaboration beyond the traditional boundaries of the conference on the desktop."
With more than 1 billion teleworkers globally, organizations with geographically dispersed work forces will look toward mobile videoconferencing as a way to improve communications and collaboration through features of the new camera-equipped mobile tablets and smartphones, according to Polycom.
Meanwhile, Gartner is forecasting that more than 320 million tablets will be sold in 2015 alone for a cumulative total of more than 900 million units by the end of that year, while the number of people participating in video chats is forecast to grow by a factor of 14 to more than 140 million. Polycom sees its RealPresence Mobile platform bringing a new level of portability, usability and scalability to a number of vertical industries, including healthcare, education, government, and manufacturing.
Polycom's mobile platform is based on another it introduced earlier this fall called the Polycom RealPresence Platform. Formerly the Polycom UC Intelligent Core, the RealPresence Platform is a comprehensive software infrastructure for universal video collaboration. It powers Polycom's HD telepresence and video solutions and supports integration with hundreds of unified communications and social networking applications, including IBM's Sametime, Microsoft's Lync 2010, and the Jive social business platform. The new Polycom platform integrates with core networking and security infrastructures to deliver secure collaboration across heterogeneous networks with less bandwidth consumption than many other solutions. It supports massive scalability and can support video as a cloud-based service to enterprises, SMBs, and consumers.
According to Rich Costello, senior research analyst at IDC, it's Polycom's software, rather than its ubiquitous hardware, that is appealing to customers interested in video collaboration. "Together, the Polycom RealPresence Platform and the broad partner ecosystem around it [will] help…CIOs protect their existing investments in UC and prepare them for future technologies and solutions with a high level of assurance that everything will work together," says Costello.
Polycom is partnering with telecommunications providers to deliver video a video cloud service. Last June, the company along with 14 global service providers including AT&T, Verizon, and Global Crossing, among others, announced the formation of the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC) organization. The group's mission is to provide high-quality connectivity across service provider networks to make video collaboration as simple and reliable as a mobile call or text message. Member companies are already in the process of establishing a global standards-based multi-vendor, multi-network visual communication exchange and plan to support the full spectrum of video systems for B2B and B2C video communications.
Polycom technology is underlying key portions of IBM's Sametime, which provides IBM shops with their unified user experience across a broad range of integrated real-time communication services such as voice, data, and video. Sametime provides a unified communications and collaboration platform that integrates collaborative applications, giving developers a way to provide Sametime services and business processes. The platform offers text chats, rich presence awareness information, collaborative online meetings, smart phone integration with BlackBerry devices, integrated telephony infrastructure, desktop voice and video, community collaboration tools, integration with IBM Lotus Notes and other IBM software applications, as well as a robust software developer kit.
IBM and Polycom have teamed to deliver Polycom Unified Collaboration Solutions for not only Sametime, but Lotus Notes and IBM Connections. The joint solution maintains Sametime's flexibility and multiple platform support while delivering all the benefits of Polycom voice and video.
Caleb Barlow, director of Social Collaboration for IBM, says that the inherent benefit of unified communications is greater speed. "It's about getting answers in seconds rather than days or weeks," says Barlow. "Companies span the globe, yet employees can chat as if in the same room. Workers do business on smartphones, participate in videoconferences, and send instant messages. People travel with tablets, take sales calls from smartphones, and tweet with colleagues and friends."
There are several game changers in the world of UC, but it's the rise of "social" that will truly catapult organizations into the next level of business, says Barlow. "Social media is a powerful collaboration tool. Through enterprise social networking, forward-thinking businesses are finding that they can interact more efficiently. The new form of 'social UC' offers a slew benefits."
Among these, Barlow enumerated speed and efficiency, cost-savings, and new ways of engaging with consumers as the leading ones from unified communications. "Employees can take immediate action by tapping into their personal and professional networks and speeding decisions by reducing back-and-forth exchanges," says Barlow. "Since a social UC strategy leverages social collaboration within the context of everyday work, savings can come from lowered travel, telephony, and other business expenses." Barlow says that social networking sites and communities are a "huge draw for consumers," who use them to obtain valuable information. Such sites are "integral to the ways employees and customers interact, form relationships, make decisions, manage workloads, and purchase goods," notes Barlow.
Zane Gramenidis, owner of East Coast Computer Inc., says he believes larger organizations are more likely to benefit from an in-house unified communications system than the average SMB. Smaller organizations likely could benefit from the features that UC solutions offer but might do better outsourcing them at first on a pay-as-you-go basis. "UC can be implemented by anybody, but more complicated UC--like meetings and conferences--may be best outsourced at first to companies like Cisco and Citrix," says Gramenidis.
He notes that the corporate move from PBX to IP communications systems occurred years ago for most companies, but there still are a few firms that just want a simple telephone system that does a good job of handling only voice.
The most notable trend over the past few years, says Gramenidis, is simply that UC systems today work better than they ever did before. Refinements in software and more bandwidth in networks—at a lower cost—have made the delivery of long-promised services a reality.
The challenge for Business Partners today, he says, is determining which players in the market will prevail over the long haul so technicians and sales professionals don't have to learn an innumerable number of new technologies. The bankruptcy of Nortel and the purchase of 3Com by HP eventually caused IBM to drop its efforts to integrate VOIP onto the Power platform.
Gramenidis says the initiative to run VOIP on the System i with Nortel and 3Com solutions was probably akin to cramming two different technologies together that didn't belong side by side. On the one hand, there is the proprietary IBM i operating system, and on the other hand, there is an open-source telephone system with a proprietary middleware interface. In order to maintain it, you have to have a technician who is familiar with several different proprietary technologies and possesses both computer and telephony skills. It was simply a marriage of unique and dissimilar technologies that was bound to be a challenge to support.
Gramenidis nevertheless sees much potential for application developers building apps that interface between voice and data, such as one that might automatically log time and billing codes for attorney calls rather than having to manually copy down such information by hand.
A spokesman for Polycom says the main trends coming down the road in 2012 for unified communications include incorporating mobile devices into the spectrum of unified communications delivery channels, agreeing upon interoperability standards, particularly for video, and incorporating video into social networks.
Warren Sonnen, director of product management and marketing for Epygi Technologies Ltd., says that 2012 will be an exciting year for unified communications. Whereas large organizations already have adopted many of the service modules offered in UC solutions, smaller SMBs have approached the efficiencies with less enthusiasm because the savings per employee may take too long for a quick return on their investment in hardware and software infrastructure. However, the advent of lower-cost hardware, integration with mobile devices, and subscription services over the cloud are expected to provide a compelling justification for SMBs to enter the market. In the meantime, companies such as Epygi have been concentrating on training their employees and enhancing partner relationships to take advantage of upcoming opportunities when SMBs do come on board the UC express.
It's clear that unified communications can do a lot for companies faced with having to attain more with less. Reducing costs, increasing productivity, and improving customer satisfaction all have been enhanced through having a single outbound identity with such features as one-number-for-all voicemail, fax, and text messaging—not to mention having emails read back to you with text-to-speech. Using click-to-call, click-to-conference, conference call-out (automatic notifications), and device independence can make work simpler, customers happier, and business processes more streamlined.
With the advent of collaborative video services in the cloud, viewing a person on the screen of your smartphone while speaking to them will soon become as commonplace as recognizing their number with caller ID as you decide whether or not to take their call.