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The Elephant in the Video Conferencing Room

The fundamental challenge of running enterprise-wide video conferencing (VC) is keeping users happy. Happy users feel empowered, not foolish when confronted with the challenge of setting up or running a VC meeting. If you keep users happy you have most likely cut support costs while increasing utilisation – both metrics critical to any AV service manager come review time.

However for some inexplicable reason the VC industry as a whole has done a very poor job of keeping users happy. Regardless of what the respective vendor marketing departments say, most VC users consider the experience to be at best annoying, at worst completely off-putting. Integrators try to put lipstick on the vendor-grown pig, but inevitably only add cost and introduce unneeded complexity.

Effective Communication with Clients and Colleagues

Business communication is defined by Wikipedia as “communication that promotes a product, service or organization; relays information within a business; or functions as an official statement from a company”. Topics communicated usually include marketing; brand management; customer relations; consumer relations and public relations. In each one of the above you are representing your company so you need to handle yourself in a professional manner.

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When you have to go speak on behalf of your company you need to determine what you are trying to communicate and to whom. Sometimes you have to communicate with your co workers and at other times with clients. If you need to show a presentation to one of your clients face to face, PowerPoint will always work best but you need to be able to communicate to present your presentation. You cannot prepare for this too much, and you need to be simple and to the point.

5 Things You Should Not Forget When Inviting To A Meeting

Today I would like to show you 5 things to consider when inviting others to a local meeting or video conference. These methods have developed throughout years of hosting and participating in meetings all over the world and I hope they will be of value to you. So without further ado don’t forget the coffee and … enjoy!

1 – Identify Participants

Meetings can be a nice way of bringing relevant people together on a table (or virtual table) to analyse the status quo and decide for the best way forward towards a common goal. However a meeting host, who is to send out the meeting invites, has to consider carefully who should participate and who does not add value. That might sound harsh but the reality is that even people often forget it, every person’s time costs money. Maybe they are not charged for it but at some point the time they were involved in this meeting could also have been used differently. That is especially a critical factor if meetings happen with more than just one organisation involved.

3 Secrets to Motivate Distributed Teams

The expansion of the distributed workforce is on the rise. If you do not already work with a fully- or partially-distributed team, you might find your situation changing soon. In the recent survey of Wrike, popular provider of task management software, 66% of respondents believed that their office might go fully virtual by 2017. With that incredible statistic in mind, we need to prepare the knowledge now on how to keep our teams motivated and driven when they’re geographically apart.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, a brand famous for its positive company culture, says, “You can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.” Motivating and ensuring the happiness of your staff must be a priority in order to succeed.

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In line with Hsieh’s beliefs, Wrike’s productivity survey found that the top productivity boosters are (in order): a sense of responsibility, a good mood, and a possible reward. And below, we forge these ideas into 3 best management practices that you can use today or in the future to inspire your team even when it’s spread all over the globe.

Give Your Employees a Sense of Responsibility

To encourage this in your employees, work ownership is key. Make your employees accountable for a project’s success and see how it affects their results. Harvard Business Review agrees that the best way to empower your employees is by giving them responsibility and autonomy. This idea founded a new “managerial” (or lack thereof) style: self-organizing teams, which are popular in agile software development. For example, a dynamic software company /ut7 dared to try it and gave full ownership to their employees, i.e. no more managers. And as a result, they always deliver their work on time. Treehouse similarly adopted a flat org chart, and it has kept everyone accountable because there is no place to hide if a project falls flat – the responsibility is on your shoulders. When you trust your employees to create bright, innovative work without micromanagement, it creates an incentive for hard work and dedication to projects.

One more powerful method of empowerment is encouraging peer review. It will create a culture of responsibility between your employees. This way, managers share some leadership and control over quality with their team members.

Create a Good Mood

How do you create a good mood for your employees when you can’t see them? You build a relationship. Thanks to the advent of video and instant messaging tools, you can easily set up virtual bonding activities. Establish a venue for the “virtual water cooler” to share personal photos, talk about your weekend, or just have simple fun. Volvo IT, an organization with a global workforce of over 60,000 employees, would have one office order food for an office in a different country, thus creating a fun, impromptu office party. If you create an enjoyable distributed-office environment and meet your employees on a personal level, it creates the opportunity for them to feel more connected to the company and your cause.

Another way to create a good mood and also motivate diligence for your employees is to establish open lines of communication. If you provide consistent feedback, and allow them to provide feedback too, it will foster a culture of trust – an environment every employee craves. Furthermore, when you think your employee is having problems, talk to them about their roadblocks, identify the cause of their loss in motivation, and create a solution together.

Reward Them

As an extension of creating a good mood, it is important to reward your employees by showing your appreciation for their work. Ensure that you celebrate the achievement of both short-term goals and long-term goals. Forbes cites a study which found that providing substantial employee recognition shows a 31% decrease in employee turnover rates. With a distributed team it isn’t possible to shake hands or give pats on the back, but you can send encouraging messages or “Employee of the Week/Month” awards through email and chat platforms.

You can also reward your employees for their success through great benefits. In addition to benefits, a well-developed incentive program will encourage your employees to push harder and pass benchmarks of success. Inc. published a list of perks you can afford, such as reimbursement for work-related outings, free food and drinks in the office, and paid volunteer time. Global accommodation-booker Airbnb, which has offices in 12 countries, gives their employees $2,000 a year to travel anywhere on the globe. There is a never-ending list of ideas for what you can provide your employees.

While motivating a distributed team may be difficult, it isn’t impossible. If you understand key productivity motivators, then you can take these ideas and implement them in your virtual workspace.

Have you tried any of these motivation methods before? What has worked for your team?

Top 5 Video Conference Self-Service Pointers

What you should take into account while introducing video conference self-services

The deployment of video conferencing booms in many companies. This way they can save costs and increase productivity. In earlier days video conferencing was reserved for top management but this has changed fundamentally. Today video conferences are used by all employees for their daily communication.

Today many companies own 500+ video conference rooms and 10thousands of desktop video conference users. The demand for professional video conferences is growing further and has been up to 30% a year.

The company’s structure used to be set up in a way to correspond to the needs of top management as a strictly controlled managed service. This strictly controlled managed services offers a high security standard for the company, however accounts for a big amount of the budget at the same time.

A remedy can be found in video conference self-services. The big advantage here is the high scalability and the reduced costs compared to the encompassing managed service. The video conference self-service should generally serve as an addition to the existing managed service structures.

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Photo: Interop Events

Anyone thinking about implementing a video conference self-service should take note of the following five points:

1. User expectations

In case you use a high quality managed service already, it will not be an option to not use this service in the future. It is important to manage the user expectations and clearly state for which purposes the self-service is intended. A self-service should predominantly be accessible for all employees. The managed service still makes sense for important meetings of the top management, etc. It can be helpful to communicate the costs of the managed service transparently to the users – a measure which might change their mind rather quickly.

2. Video conference infrastructure

Be aware that existing video conference infrastructure often is not tailored to the needs of the video conference self-service. Ordinary video conference infrastructures only enable low scalability, which means that video conference ports are not unlimited. It might make sense to use a software based video conference structure. These allow for high scalability and low operation costs. Initially it might make sense to use a cloud video conference service.

3. Planning business as usual

Video conference self-service does not mean that normal business can be compromised and the solution automatically works – to the contrary! For high user satisfaction the video conference infrastructure has to be stable, questions of users have to be answered timely and competent and the administration of accounts and virtual video conference rooms has to be managed.

4. Offer trainings

If you offer a video conference self-service, you also have to educate the users in a way that they are able to use the service right. Training is important. That can be seminars, booklets, eLearning training videos and intranet pages.

5. Manage growth

The introduction of a video conference self-service can lead to an enormous demand. Some companies measured the double demand within a year. Pay attention to the impact on your network and on your video conference infrastructure as well as on the daily business. The budget planning should grow too, because financial resources are especially scarce during the year.

I hope these are some good pointers for all our readers considering to look into add a self-service to their portfolio. If you have made any experiences yet around this or just want to share your thoughts, please feel invited to do so in the comments box below. Many thanks!

Introduction to Session Border Controllers

High definition video conferencing is a standard right now. If it will change, it will only change to an ever higher definition such as Ultra HD (involving 4K and 8K). Virtual workplaces, telecommuting and working from home becomes more and more easy and so organisations go expanding, sometimes forgetting about network requirements ending up with new capacity limits or reduced quality of their video communication solution.

A Session Border Controller can help with many problems there might be, but it is not a remedy for every issue ever to occur on your video conferencing network. I wrote this article to give you some more insight into what a Session Border Controller is, what it does and how it can help your corporate communication.

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Click for large version

What is a Session Border Controller?

A Session Border Controller is a network component designed to safely link networks with a different security requirement and setup. They are mostly utilised for VoIP and video conferencing networks to establish secure connection sessions. The Session Border Controller therefore allows control of signaling and transfer of media data in a secure way.

What can I do with a Session Border Controller?

Session management allows service providers to control the session routing, establish interoperability across environments with differentiating standards, enforce bandwidth policies or create an interface to a third party application. To keep it short and simple: A Session Border Controller optimizes solution performance and overall service quality, it allows a rapid service deployment or growth and it protects infrastructure from malicious attacks.

Who develops Session Border Controllers?

Based on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Session Border Controllers from October 2012, Acme Packet (recently acquired by Oracle) excels in execution as well as vision scope, making them the leader of the magic quadrant (see graphic). Other competitors are Huawei, Sonus, Genband, Metaswitch Networks, Dialogic, ZTE and Technicolor.

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Magic Quadrant for Session Border Controllers by Gartner Research

Acme Packet is very interesting due to their focus on unified communications networks and even offering solutions especially designed for video conference networks of manufacturers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya / Radvision, Cisco (including former Codian / Tandberg technologies), LifeSize, Polycom and Vidyo. Supporting and enabling interworking these technologies the Acme Packet solution avoids potential for vendor lock-in, protecting the investment made in video conferencing infrastructure and endpoints.

What are the technical functions of a Session Border Controller?

The functional scope of a Session Border Controller can vary, depending on what the individual device is designed to do. However to reflect a maximum of capability information, we would like to list the following functions that can be found in Session Border Controllers:

Connectivity

  • IPv4 / IPv6 interworking
  • SIP manipulation
  • NAT traversal
  • VPN connectivity
  • H.323 / SIP interworking

Quality of Service (QoS)

  • Traffic policies
  • Call admission control
  • ToS / DSCP bit setting
  • Resource allocation
  • Rate limiting

Security

  • Defense against DoS attacks
  • Can prevent toll fraud
  • No topology hiding possible
  • Malformed packet protection
  • Signaling protection via TLS and IPSec
  • Media protection via SRTP

Media processing

  • DTMF delay and interworking
  • Media transcoding
  • Tones and announcements
  • Data and Fax interworking
  • Support for Voice and Video calls

Regulatory

  • Call prioritization (e.g. for VIP usage or emergencies)
  • Auditing functions for internal audit or for law enforcing organisation
  • Business Intelligence, reporting, management information, source for billing information

Summary

Even though not a mandatory part for VoIP or video conferencing networks, Session Border Controllers have a great potential to add value to the communication services of organisations. The relevance increases for service providers companies as the functions described above can significantly increase the quality and performance of a serviced network.

If you have questions, remarks or other types of feedback please drop us a line in the comment section below. Thank you!

5 Business Ideas That Enable Working From Home

For the last couple of years, the internet has provided opportunities for people to work not only in the offices but also in their homes. This is through “working from home” business that is currently popular among many people in the world because of the numerous business ideas possible through it. So, what are examples of business ideas that enables people to work from home?

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Example of a home office setup (Photo: Kevin Shorter)

1. Working from Home – Freelance

Freelancing is one of the home based business idea that will enable you to work from home while providing services to the rest of the world population. Currently numerous websites offer online businesses that make a good business idea once implemented. This will let you work from home at the same time enhances create jobs to other people whom you hire to assist in your everyday chores.

2. Academic Assistance

TeleEducation – Internet technology has enhanced the process of education by enlarging the accessibility of these services. This is a great work from home business opportunity. Through video conferencing services, you will be able to tutor thousands of students that need tutoring services through internet in your home. Many people are currently using this new business opportunity to earn amazing amounts of money. This has allowed people working from home without the need of travelling to these academic institutions.

3. Medical Services

TeleHealth – Provision of medical advisory services is another idea to work from home business especially if you have a medical background. Instead of seeking to work in a hospital, you can subdivide your house to medical room where you offer services to clients that are indeed of medical services. This will not only create huge amounts of dollars but also create jobs for those people who will help you conduct the services. In addition, you can also offer virtual medical assistance through the internet where you help even those people beyond your geographical reach.

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An example TeleHealth setup with Polycom equipment (Photo: USDAgov)

4. Online Office Virtual Assistance

The internet also offers another amazing opportunity to provide virtual assistance especially in office functions. Through the internet, at your home, you can find a job as an office assistant. This will enable you to exercise any delegated office job such as answering of mails, drafting letters as well as memos among other numerous services. This will not only be a good opportunity to earn money from home but also ensures that corporate communication with the clients is enhanced to greater heights. To gain leverage, you have to be familiar with some of the most common tools used by businesses. Look at this Pure Leverage review to learn a few.

5. Construction Or Engineering Advisory Services

Offering advisory services in the engineering services is one of the ways to create a home based business especially if you have an engineering training background. Currently there are numerous clients both online and offline that needs construction services. Through your services, you can solve their problems that will help you make money at home without the worry travelling to an office. This will also improve accessibility especially when you are settled in a strategic position.

Summary

I believe the above top ideas on how start a home based business that will enable you working from home without worrying about the need to reach the office at the appropriate time.

Advantages of Managed Services in Videoconference Environments

“Hello, I am your Videoconference Operator. How can I help you?”

It is 9.30 am. The reception of the conference facility welcomes a group and accompanies them to their previously booked videoconference room. When coming to the room they see their colleagues have already arrived and started with the preparations. A colleague of the group cannot make it on time and has informed the other group members that he wants to participate via telephone. He is already dialed in and takes part in the preparations. A 30 minutes preparatory meeting takes place. Afterwards a signal is given and at 10 am sharp the business partners are connected as well. The negotiations can begin. In the background works the managed service.

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Everything is tested and on stand-by, you can start the conference. (Pic: Victor1558)

That is how daily business can look like with managed services. In the example we have chosen, a back-office videoconference operator prepared the videoconference. The preparations begin before the actual videoconference with the operator testing all videoconference rooms that will be dialed in. Thus a smooth running of the videoconference is ensured. Problems can be identified and solved beforehand. Special requirements or processes can be adequately tested and when in doubt be revised.

Also for the colleague who could not come to the conference room in person, a managed service has advantages. The responsible operator can quickly take action and change the infrastructure according to the new circumstances. He opens the dial in port for the telephone and immediately passes that information on to the participant.

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Focus on your conference, leave the setup to us (Photo: Victor1558)

The participants from the business partner also profit from the videoconference operator. While the preparatory meeting still goes on, he already has “taken care” of the “external” location. The location is connected in a sub-conference and audio and video quality are tested. After a successful check the room awaits the starting signal to enter the main conference. After the participants have given their “OK” the external location has been connected to the main conference and the meeting can begin.

These and others are the daily tasks of a managed service videoconference operator. Our example illustrated the preparation and testing in a pre-call, which allows the participants to completely focus on the videoconference itself. Technical functionality and completeness of the meeting are taken over by the operator.

Working according to time schedules also is a means of organizers to be able to draw up very complex videoconference settings and allows participants a high degree of flexibility.

Videoconference monitoring is another task that will be taken care by the operator. In case of technical problems the operator can react immediately. This however does not mean that the operator is able to follow the content of the conference. He rather monitors the endpoints and the infrastructure and thus is able to identify alarms or other abnormalities and quickly analyze and solve them. This guarantees a smooth and uninterrupted videoconference. The participant can focus a 100% on the meeting, because he is not distracted by operational details.

Managed services account for an increasing efficiency and reliability in videoconferences, which also presents new opportunities.

Do you have experiences with this topic? Have you ever been in a situation where you would have wanted an operator? I am looking forward to your stories and reactions!

What You Need To Know About Telecommuting

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Working on the train (Photo by rxb)

It was found in a recent study that around 20% of employees around the world spend a part of their work week doing their jobs from home.

Seven percent of these are those who work from home every day. Telecommuting, remote work or telework is an arrangement wherein the employees do not come in their office (or commute, hence the term) or to a central place of work.

Some work from at home while others work from coffee shops or other locations. This type of arrangement is becoming widely used among different companies all over the world although their views and standards of these countries are far from the same.

 Potential benefits of Telecommuting

For starters, it can actually save the company millions of dollars. It has a significant impact on a company’s overhead expenses, at the same time helps employees save money but cutting on a commute or gas costs.  Similarly, less commuters and less car users also reduce traffic congestion, road accidents and pollutants.

The flexibility of time has also helped many employees balance their life better between work and the home. Studies have shown that an employee’s productivity increases in a telecommuting arrangement. It was even found that around 75% of business or organization owners notice happier employees. This may be credited to the fact that some employees get more stressed as they are in their workplaces.

Telecommuting has also been found to possibly help keep 83% more talented women in the workplace instead of leaving in order to stay at home.

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Virtual Presence Handshake (Photo by ganderssen1)

Technology has made it easy for companies and their employees to stay in touch even when they do not physically see each other in the office.  For example, with a stable Internet connection, employees can still be part of conferences via some web conferencing software or phone systems. Many companies have also developed their products, like the RingCentral virtual PBX, to accommodate the growing number of companies that have telecommuters. Employees are also able to access the company’s network, and send e-mails and reports via the Internet.

But as many benefits as it has, telecommuting has also raised some drawbacks and concerns as well.

 What’s stopping them?

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns of employers is “losing control” over their employees who choose to work from at home. Experts say that telecommuting only works when employers hold their people responsible for the work they are doing from at home or outside the office.

At first, productivity rate was seen to drop, most probably because those concerned are still adjusting to the “new work regimen.” In the long term, however, surveys have found that the productivity of teleworkers will climb eventually.

Another concern is that in telework arrangements, employees need to work harder to maintain good relationships with their co-workers. Not seeing them every day may cause certain conflicts to arise and some telecommuters even feel a sense of disconnection from their office.

Security is also another issue that has been raised with regards telecommuting. It was found that many telecommuters do not use their company’s data backup system that may put a lot of sensitive information at risk. Information technology issues have also been raised as one of the main problems of working from a location outside the office.

Telecommuting, in some cases, may also negatively affect a person’s career. In a recent survey it was found that people who telework are less likely to get promoted because executives cannot promote people into leadership roles if they haven’t been consistently seen and monitored.

There indeed is a lot of improvement needed for those who allow telecommuting in their offices. But one thing is certain. By giving a lot of support to their employees, businesses will definitely benefit from their being more productive, happier and healthier, regardless of where they choose to work.


What do you think about those potential risks? Have you remediated them or banned telecommuting like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo? I am looking forward to hear you opinion around this.

How to become a Videoconferencing Expert

I will start this article by answering what exactly is an expert – to me it’s a person who is really really good at something. Simple as that. This post is only about my thoughts on what it takes for a person to become such, not how he uses his expertise.

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There is more to becoming an expert than this.

I agree with the assumption that all humans are born as “tabula rasa” (lat. blank state), meaning all their knowledge comes from learning, experience and perception, but with genetics playing significant role in the process. Unfortunately, not all people take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie ahead of them in becoming really good in something they love doing, often due to fear of failure. But failure is not something to be feared of, on the contrary, as Thomas Edison said:

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Every person can be good at anything, good in so many things at the same time. But becoming really good at anything isn’t just a walk in the park. It takes discipline, focus and more importantly a strong will to make it happen.

So how does one become expert at anything? Well, I believe the formula is pretty much the same for any skill you choose. Since this is a Unified Communications blog and it happens to be the field that I’m currently working in, I’m going to point out what I consider to be important in becoming a Videoconferencing Expert.

Videoconferencing Education

I believe education is the first step in becoming good at something. Once you identify your objective and set your goals, you have to start preparing for reaching that goal, show genuine interest in learning all the bits and pieces that are related to what you really want to do, in this case Video Conferencing. I’m talking about harvesting knowledge you can use from every source you can get your hands on: specialized courses , forums, blogs, whitepapers, industry reports, product guides…

When it comes to official training, major industry leaders like Cisco and Polycom are already offering specialized training programs for anyone interested in becoming engineering or sales expert in Videoconferencing / Unified Communications and these certifications are usually valid for 2-3 years in order to keep up with the latest trends in the industry.

Cisco recently added two new programs to their certification portfolio focusing on Video, which already included the Cisco TelePresence Solutions Specialist and Cisco Rich Media Communications Specialist:

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CCNA Logo by Cisco

  • CCNA Video establishes an individual’s ability to deploy video endpoints, set up new users, and operate networked voice and video solutions for job duties that include configuring voice and video single-screen endpoint devices, supporting telephony and video applications, and troubleshooting. The certification also validates a candidate’s knowledge of the architecture, components, functionalities and features of Cisco Unified Communications Manager solutions.
  • Cisco Video Network Specialist establishes and enhances key skills including the ability to configure video single-screen endpoints, set up new user accounts, support video applications and troubleshoot networked video solutions.
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Polycom Logo

Polycom is offering the Polycom Certified Videoconferencing Engineer – a program that confirms the successful candidate has the necessary knowledge to perform implementation, configuration and troubleshooting operations for small to medium-sized environments on the Polycom RealPresence Platform including. In addition, the PCVE exam will validate the individual’s knowledge of networking models, standards and protocols relevant to videoconferencing.

Plenty of free training material is also available on the Internet. Personally, I liked the old Tandberg Certified Expert Partner (TCPE) program, simple and straight to the point, it’s perfect to gain the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to Video Communication.

Forums such as the VTCtalk and the Cisco Support Community are a great place for promoting and  sharing knowledge and engage other experts in constructive conversations about topics of the Videoconferencing / Unified Communications industry. There are also great groups on videoconferencing business and technology available on LinkedIn for anyone to join and listen or contribute.

Working Experience

It has been said many times before – no amount of theoretical knowledge compares to a real world experience, no matter what field are you part of. If you’re just starting in the industry, try an entry-level position and work your way from the bottom up. There are also companies who first offer training to their personnel for couple of months, and then make hiring decision, this is another good way of getting practical work experience.

And once you get there, try to learn as much as possible, try to learn everything you can about the topic, focus on becoming better and better until you become “so good they can’t ignore you”.

The constant hunger for knowledge is what separates experts from…well, everyone else. The beauty when working with technology is that it changes constantly, there is always something new to digest. Personally, I don’t understand how some people are pretty content with doing the same thing day by day. There is much more you can do, if you want to. The internet is there, the books are written and there are heaps of people to talk to, who are more than happy to engage in discussions – so jump right into it and become an expert!

I am going to end this post with two quotes from people who were really good at something and accomplished a lot:

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin