The world is your boardroom

By Ilva Pieterse, ITWeb contributor
Johannesburg, 27 Jun 2016
Orange Business Services' CTO for Africa, Mark McCallum.
Orange Business Services' CTO for Africa, Mark McCallum.

Physical boardrooms are falling out of favour with the modern mobile workforce. For many years, technology has been replacing the need for people to physically gather within the confines of a four-walled meeting room, but in a way that simulates the 'real thing' as much as possible. Technology-enabled teleconference rooms with multiple screens, for example. And although the business world still has a need for such meeting rooms, especially the big corporates, in many, if not most, cases where meetings are required, today's fast-paced mobile workforce simply doesn't have the time.

That's why mobile meetings, made possible through the cloud, are today's preferred meeting method. Broadband has evolved far enough to provide stable and high-quality video-streaming across the user's choice of endpoint device - be it smartphone, tablet, laptop...or even a combination of these.

Orange Business Services' Open Videopresence is one example of a virtual enterprise meeting service that is being used via the cloud. "Visual collaboration with video-conferencing or telepresence is being adopted everywhere, from Facetime chats on iPhones through to Skype video on a desktop and visual collaboration environments from the likes of Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft and Polycom," says Orange Business Services' CTO for Africa, Mark McCallum.

Not that long ago, it used to be that organisations were limited to using premise-based solutions for video-conferencing purposes, rather than embracing all the benefits that come with going through the cloud, he adds. "Today's virtual enterprise meeting model can also be enhanced with additional functionality such as direct private and shared in-meeting messaging, document-sharing, collaboration and control, presence indicators, desktop-based asset-sharing, whiteboards, spreadsheets, and even automated transcription and other tools."

Downloading blues

Rob Lith, Connection Telecom's business development director, believes the industry is even taking the convenience and time-saving ideal a step further - by doing away with the need to download a device-specific video-conference application or plug-in.

"WebRTC enables participants to join meeting sessions from whatever browser they're using on their preferred device," he says.

According to research by MarketsandMarkets, the WebRTC market is expected to reach $4.45 billion by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of 51 percent from 2015 to 2020. Last year, more than $1 billion was invested in WebRTC-related companies and the market experienced over 40 mergers and acquisitions.

"Although Apple was a latecomer in providing WebRTC support in Safari (since April 2016 only), all the major players are now on board ? Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple," Lith says. "Since the various devices in use today have the computer power equal to a desktop machine (and the capability to stream high-definition video via 4G/LTE networks) it makes sense that virtual meetings should be moving in this direction."

Visual collaboration with video-conferencing or telepresence is being adopted everywhere.

Mark McCallum, Orange Business Services

With today's technology, says Lith, participants can use their preferred devices and reasonably priced cameras, audio devices and commodity TV screens to kit out rooms, and mobile participants (who were previously excluded) can join in.

SA's choice

Affordability is a huge driver for the uptake of video-conferencing, and this is especially true in a local context. As Avaya pre-sales engineer at Westcon-Comstor Lionel Dartnall says: "Traditionally, video-conferencing was seen as a huge investment, and not even an option for SMEs - but this is all changing."

He points out that video-conferencing endpoints (devices), bandwidth and even datacentre space are becoming a lot more affordable. "Furthermore, the compression technology now in use is also making a huge difference to the bandwidth needed to conduct a high-definition video conference."

For example, he says, with the latest H265 codecs, you only require 256kb/s to do a high-definition call. This is a huge leap from the 2MB/s that was needed just a few years ago. Cloud-based video-conference offerings further reduce the upfront CAPEX investment needed for organisations to start using video-conferencing as a viable meeting alternative, he adds.

WebRTC enables participants to join meeting sessions from whatever browser they're using on their preferred device.

Rob Lith, Connection Telecom

Cost-saving considerations aside, SA has several unique challenges that make the use of video-conferencing even more viable. "Fuel prices went up again (by 88c per litre) in early April and will continue to rise," Dartnall reminds us. "And let's not forget the inclusion of an upcoming `tire tax', which is set to be enforced as of the beginning of October. E-tolls are not going away either. We are seeing signs all around us that it will get more expensive to commute every year, and we need to look at viable alternatives to conduct business.

He also makes mention of SA's frequent and numerous protest action. "This has an enormous effect on the economy and on businesses in terms of productivity and efficiency. The student protests of 2016, for example, had the education sector on its knees."

But what if the technology was in place for students and teachers to carry on virtually?" he asks. "I believe that video-conferencing will not only be a crucial business tool in the years to come, but also one to help us overcome social hurdles."

In short, Dartnall concludes, `right click' to 'video call' on all devices is something that customers and millennials expect in terms of communications, and the sooner organisations realise this, the better off they will be when competing for market share.

Video-conferencing a core business tool

Source: WR and Cisco

In August 2015, Wainhouse Research (WR) surveyed end-users of video-conferencing (VC) and asked for their opinions about a range of video-conferencing and collaboration-related statements. Roughly 170 users responded as follows:

- 97% agreed that they use VC more than two years ago
- 95% agreed that VC is more reliable than it was two years ago
- 92% agreed that VC is easier to use than it was two years ago
- 71% agreed that they have more video rooms in their company than two years ago.

It seems VC has finally taken its rightful place as a core business tool. Companies around the world are depending on video-enabled meetings to empower their people, serve clients better, and compete on a global basis.

But today's users expect - and, frankly, need - a full collaboration experience including voice, video and content. And they need access to collaboration in the places where they work - in the office, at the desk, and on the road. To support these users, organisations require solutions that are cost-effective, distributed to ensure a strong experience around the world, redundant to maximise reliability, and highly scalable. And all of this must be accomplished in a manner that is easy to purchase, deploy, use, and manage.

For this reason, companies have to rethink the way they enable video-conferencing for their organisation.

This article was first published in the June 2016 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.