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August 2007 | Volume 10 / Nuber 8
Inside Networking

Getting the Word Out

How often do you need to get information to your staff across multiple sites? Much of the buzz on Unified Communications is around people-centric communications and how this can improve personal, group and overall business effectiveness. However, in most enterprises it is likewise important to unify multimedia communications focused on group communications, in the form of management information sessions, business updates, training and announcements. While many enterprises undertake various forms of group communications and e-training, multimedia technologies are often employed in a silo’ed fashion. What are the best-in-class practices, services and solutions that are focused on end user satisfaction and drive effectiveness and productivity?

Audio Conferencing. The traditional approach of reservation-based conferencing through a service provider, is expensive

and cumbersome and inflexible. In-house meet-me conferencing on the other hand, provides each employee with a personal admin-free reservation-less bridge. Our statistics indicate that ease of use drives a usage increase of 20%. An large enterprise can reduce traditional audio conference expenses by 75% with a payback in 6-10 months by bringing audio conferencing in-house.

Video Conferencing and Broadcast. Room-based video conferencing supports live, real time, interactive video/audio calls with internal and external locations, and allows participants to see as well as hear distant colleagues and collaborate more efficiently and effectively. Video meetings can be bridged across traditional ISDN-based room systems, newer IP video systems and unified communications desktop clients. Video conferencing systems require up-front investments in conferencing rooms with special attention given to seating placement, microphone, and screen and camera placement. These systems have traditionally suffered from set up complexity and associated delays. Newer systems are much easier to use, though many IT organizations have opted to work on a reservation basis, whereby the conference calls are available the minute people start arriving at the various sites.

At the same time, telepresence based on full-size high definition monitors, directional mikes and speakers, though expensive, are taking the experience to a new level. Telepresence provides immersive and interactive multimedia experience that truly reproduces face-to-face meetings and makes everyone sound as if they are in the same room. The user’s experience is dramatically improved, with real eye contact, communication through body language and full life-size images.

Webcasts and Web Collaboration. Webcasting to employees and/or customers is a means of reducing travel costs and reaching a global audience in a cost effective, interactive manner (i.e. without requiring specially designed conference rooms). Webcasts can be offered on a pre-arranged basis for large audience events (e.g., over 100 participants), while self-service webcasts are more effective for smaller events. In all cases, participants can be invited by publishing the URL for the webcasts. Media streaming is an inherent part of webcasting and can take the form of audio and video associated with the speaker and synched with presentation material whether in the form of slides or video. Event portals should provide the ability to search content, submit short questions, quiz participants as to the acquired proficiency, offer text transcription, and allow professional moderation. Webcasting is a subset of web collaboration and includes online web-based meeting delivery, covering both web-based meeting collaboration, as well as virtual classroom training and eLearning delivery.

Unifying the Group Communications Experience. For large-scale departmental and enterprise-wide events, it’s important to provide options to participants to ‘get the message’ to the highest possible percentage of the targeted audience. Live streamed video of the event can be provided to large venues such as cafeterias and auditoria. Webcast technologies can deliver the message to desktops and laptops wherever they may be (including WiFi hotspots), and ultimately live to mobile devices over public broadband cellular networks. Finally, archived webcasts can be made available on an on-demand basis and optionally as a podcast for additional flexibility in getting the message out. This is currently not an off-the-shelf opportunity. Leveraging the skills and experience of integration service providers may help an enterprise accelerate the realization of benefits of effective group communications.

First and Final Judgment on Multimedia Services: User Experience. The power of multimedia content delivery managed collectively as a single service model, is that real-time user experience data can validate and support these tools’ effectiveness. The same infrastructure, apps and end points utilized to provide multimedia service availability can return real-time user satisfaction data which can provide new data related to ROI. There is no better way to “get the word out” than providing a multimedia experience that successfully empowers users and maximizes their investment of time. IT

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies in Nortel, and has over 35 years experience in the application of packet network technology.

Hugh McCullen is Leader of Nortel Multimedia Services with experience in video transport, content delivery networks and rich multimedia applications that focus on communications and eLearning.

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