What Good Is The Information Age
Without Effective Communications?
BY DAVID BUTT
[Go right to Visual Communications:
Beyond The Stigma Of Video Conferencing]
Several years ago, a lot was made of the coming Information Age. Articles
were written, and pundits spoke of the move from a world driven by
manufacturing to one where information reigned as king. Since then, we have
seen the explosion of the Internet and the advent of high-performance
personal computers for the home that cost under $1,000. With access to so
much data, have we finally entered the Information Age?
The idea of information, and the Information Age, is predicated on the
ability to effectively communicate what the data means, and how to use it.
As a result, access to data is insufficient; users must also have the tools
to share their understanding and knowledge, opinions, and decisions. They
must also be able to pick and choose the most effective method of
communicating amongst the variety of media types that are available today.
Some ideas are better communicated through pictures, when reading a personï¿½s
facial expressions is critical to the negotiation process. An integrated
communications platform that offers the user a wide choice of communications
methods will result in better understanding, faster decision-making and
execution, and a more competitive organization.
Consider the potential of an integrated communications platform -- it
represents an approaching trend and a paradigm-shift for IP-communications
professionals that will enhance business processes. Corporate IT circles
should embrace the notion of providing such a platform to end users because
of the productivity advantages it offers. Emerging technologies, such as the
swelling popularity of IP-centric networking and the growing abundance of
bandwidth, will also help make this concept a reality in the near future.
But the success of this integrated communications platform demands a
cultural metamorphosis and a commitment from IP-communications professionals
to educate end users in the best way to use this dynamic, new platform.
THE INTEGRATED COMMUNICATIONS CONCEPT
Integrated communications provides a single way in which the end user can
focus on what they want to do, rather than how to do it. This new platform
will unify various communications media through a common usage method, be it
voice telephony, e-mail, fax, "whiteboarding," graphical presentation,
video conferencing, live streamed video, and video-on-demand (VOD). Also, it
will facilitate integration of multiple methods, allowing a video conference
call to share streamed video, for example. Finally, it will broker
multimedia interactions between dissimilar end devices, which will allow
users with differing capabilities to participate in the same discussion,
with each receiving whatever information is capable of being received by
their communications device.
Why is this unity needed? Until recently, one of the barriers that
limited the widespread adoption of video conferencing services has been the
lack of a standard integration methodology. If a different access point is
required to make a telephony call versus a video call, most end users will
select the simplest, most familiar option -- the phone. If an end-point
appliance was capable of integrating both the telephony call and the video,
inevitably end users would begin using the video call more often.
Today, however, end users and IT professionals are faced with complicated
interfaces and an array of communications media that are all designed to
The opportunity to make optimal use of the full array of media is just
around the corner. Already, vendors are pitching Web access on cell phones
and blending audio calls with online slide presentations. PC endpoints are
already able to handle graphics, streaming, and in some cases, video
conferencing. In addition, set top boxes are making the home television more
interactive. But while todayï¿½s solutions are selectively convenient, the
integrated platform of the future allows simultaneous multimedia access for
Imagine a not-so-futuristic corporate desktop with an integrated
communications platform. Thereï¿½s an 18x24-inch flat screen on which the
user can perform familiar PC functions, have live video streamed off
broadcast networks, access the Internet, dig into a VOD library, make
IP-telephone calls, automatically set up conference calls without a bridging
service, create one-way broadcast videos, and participate in two-way video
Offered such a desktop today, most users would be clueless as to which
medium or mix best suits a given communications chore. E-mail is a prime
example of this. After two decades of use, e-mail is still routinely abused
by users who stuff into the "to" line the addresses of people who should
only be copied on the e-mails. Such mistakes create confusion because no one
knows who actually "owns" the action item. We are getting to the point
where the technology of communications can do more than people know how to
handle. Therefore, education is essential.
To take advantage the integrated communication platforms, users must be
trained on all communications media and taught how to choose which is the
best for any given job. What is the difference in writing style between
overhead-slide presentations and e-mail? What combination of video, audio,
and text is most persuasive for which audience? Unless the end users
understand how to effectively formulate their communications content, giving
them more choices on how they deliver it will only exacerbate their
In the meantime, such education is useless if a companyï¿½s procedures
are inherently flawed. Unfortunately, most companies, regardless of IT
wealth, are poor at running business meetings -- even when they are held in
one room. Discomfort with video conferencing is often traced, in part, to a
lack of well-structured meetings. To even approach their potential,
communications initiatives must be matched with procedural discipline.
As has often happened in the past, technology will soon provide us with a
dramatic new solution to simplify our communications -- if the end user is
prepared to use this new venue. As the technology progresses and interfaces
become simpler, more people will adopt the technology because it
substantially increases their access to information and subsequent
productivity. This trend will generate the cultural acceptance that will
open the door for the integrated communication platform of tomorrow.
David Butt is director of product marketing at FVC.COM. FVC.COM is a
leader in two-way broadband video networking, providing systems and services
that enable system integrators and service providers to deliver rich media
communications to their enterprise customers. For more information, visit
the company on the Web at www.fvc.com.
To The March 2001 Table Of Contents