Five Key Factors to Success in Videoconferencing

By TMCnet Special Guest
Allen Drennan, CTO for Nefsis
  |  June 01, 2011

In the 1990s, only one category of business videoconferencing existed: hardware-based solutions for fixed-site installation. Thanks to the Internet, today, millions of people use videoconferencing without fixed-site systems for tasks such interoffice meetings, employee and customer training, and sales meetings.

According to a March 2011study by Infonetics (News - Alert), enterprises will spend $5 billion on videoconferencing and telepresence solutions in 2015, and last year, revenue from these technologies grew 18 percent, reaching $2.2 billion worldwide. As businesses continue to seek out new ways to cost-effectively communicate, their spending on videoconferencing and telepresence is expected to increase.

While the scope of videoconferencing has evolved, so have the key factors for success – today there is more to it than just video quality and cost. Here are five critical success factors for enabling anyone, anytime, anywhere business videoconferencing while staying within the bounds of IT security policies. These apply to any multipoint videoconferencing system. 

Ease of Use

Today, anything more difficult than clicking on a web link can be an obstacle to success. Web-based videoconferencing services have solved this problem via standard URLs and web links that everyone can use. The best solutions have an intuitive user interface that follows a familiar office application or browser metaphor. These well-designed applications support a natural online meeting process, increasing adoption and improving return on investment. 

Secure Accessibility

To encourage widespread adoption, companies must make videoconferences easy to launch from desktops, laptops and conference rooms. Secure access also requires the ability to include external participants, such as customers and business partners, behind their own firewalls and proxies. Only the leading web-based videoconferencing services can meet these requirements today. They have deep support for firewall and proxy standards, and a select few have proxy-manufacturer-specific optimizations to achieve the highest desktop connection success rates. 

Integrated Collaboration Tools

Today, live collaboration involves multiple parties who can annotate, share the keyboard, and otherwise interact with shared content. The critical success factor is the ability of the solution to provide a complete alternative to an in-person meeting. It is important that shared documents be displayed in their original, high-quality, rich text form, not screen captures from the presenter’s computer. And high-end tools should be available, including annotation over live applications, whiteboarding, media sharing (playing movie files), sharing PDFs, and electronic handouts – everything needed for a productive meeting.

HD-Quality Video

Business-grade videoconferencing requires medium and high-quality HD video and, if desktop connections are included, the ability to automatically adjust video quality at all the endpoints in real time.

Latency, jitter and inferior picture quality are visual measurements that any consumer will use to judge the videoconferencing experience. Video quality often suffers further as more video participants or active desktop sharing or other compute-intensive tasks are added. This is particularly pronounced in Flash-based, single-threaded, or scripted solutions. But these problems are easy to overcome via the application of end-to-end parallel processing, variable bit rate encoding (also called scalable video coding), and automated bandwidth throttling – all features of the latest web-based videoconferencing services.

Low Financial Risk

Traditional videoconferencing systems typically require a substantial capital equipment expense and dedicated network bandwidth in the form of virtual private circuits. While the quality of service for this type of system is typically very good, the cost is prohibitive for most small to medium-sized organizations.

Today, variable bit rate, scalable and other dynamic encoding technologies allow HD-quality video anywhere bandwidth permits. The old notion that high quality is the exclusive domain of room-based systems is no longer the case. Consider the costs of installation, maintenance and expansion. Scenarios requiring video routers or other hardware infrastructure incur considerable additional project costs for any potential expansion. Today, however, there are viable solutions where IT managers need not concern themselves with owning, maintaining and upgrading any particular piece of infrastructure hardware.

With cloud computing, expanding a videoconferencing installation is as easy as plugging in a few more peripherals and a license update, resulting in a lower cost of ownership and lower financial risk. Moreover, one can easily cancel a cloud-based online service – not a possibility with large capital equipment expenses for video routers, gateways, media servers, and other infrastructure components required for secure multipoint video with live collaboration.

Telepresence (News - Alert) and installed-site systems with dedicated bandwidth deliver high quality for a high price, but recent technology, including HD webcams, variable bit rate encoders, multicore desktop processors and cloud computing enable a select few online services to deliver the same high quality at a much lower price point.

 Allen Drennan is CTO for Nefsis (www.nefsis.com).

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Edited by Rich Steeves