Tag Archives: organisation

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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.

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.

What is “the Cloud”? And what is it not?

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Clouds on summer sky (Photo: fastjel)

The Cloud – One of the hottest buzzwords and most abused in describing products or services recently. In this article I would like to mix facts with personal experiences I made, in order to assist everyone, who would like to find out what the cloud is and does and the things that is does not do (hence the title). Cloud has been buzzing around for a while now but when I witnessed both my parents talking about “the cloud” and how they use it in private I understood that this technology has arrived in mainstream and it is here for good.

Cloud??

So what is the cloud in few words? The cloud, or cloud computing is a technology design to enable users working with solutions independent from device, location and network. Of course there are specialisations with a larger or smaller focus on one or two subjects but in general this is it.

Origin of the Term

There are many theories on the origin of the term, yet there is no proven story. Feel free to check some good options on the Wikipedia article for cloud computing. My theory is that it developed from the use of cloud clip-arts and stencils in technical drawings or presentations, created to visualise a network setup. I am sure that even before the term became a buzzword, most of you have seen presentations with little black boxes, switches and routers in and around a large cloud to set a virtual border between realms.

Is the Cloud something new?

I am afraid it is not. The ideas and designs for such concepts have already been around since the 1950s but like with many breakthroughs in the user world, it required certain cultural and technological thresholds to be reached before the adoption could take place on wide-scale.

What is the Cloud?

  • Agility – The cloud is agile and therefore allows users to upscale or downscale their service based on business demand. Further the actual hardware, used to host a virtual machine, can be re-purposed if necessary. This is however not a cloud-only benefit, please read further down on infrastructure virtualisation.
  • Availability – Services have the technological possibility of being available independent from devices, network and location. This is of course relative to the design of each service along with its purpose but technically this is no limitation. For instance you can use cloud video conferencing services to join any enterprise-grade video conference call from your smartphone, notebook, office workstation, tablet or even from a private computer at your home or maybe somewhere else. Of course your conference partner needs to have their own environment set up to accept connections from outside in general. Cloud technology is not a wall-breaker and cannot bypass security of an organisation, if they don’t allow such connections by policy.
  • Business Continuity – Cloud services are set up with redundancy and failover automation in place. So that even if single devices would fail, users would not notice and can proceed using the service. Such reliability would traditionally cost a lot of money when investing in owned or dedicated infrastructure black-boxes.
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Asus product presentation event of cloud-enabled tablet device with Windows 8 (Photo: Tecdencias)

What is the Cloud NOT?

  • Cloud = VirtualisationVirtualisation of infrastructure is a great way of deploying new solutions and upgrading your environment. But if you do this within your WAN this does not automatically mean you are using the “cloud”. You are just virtualising your infrastructure. Fair and square.
  • “No more hardware” – Well that’s a lie. Using software solutions or virtual infrastructure there will still always be servers and databases that require a physical body. Only the deployment and usage is changed but there will always be hardware. You might not own the hardware and you will most likely never see or touch it but it’s there, somewhere in a physical data centre.
  • Grid computing – No, grid computing is not the same as cloud computing in my opinion. Even though, it might be its scientific opposite. Where grid computing allows many computing units to work on a common target (e.g. movie rendering in render farms or Bitcoin mining), cloud computing allows a single user to utilise just any infrastructure in the pool offered by the cloud service provider to achieve their objective.
  • “Private Cloud” needs to be on-premises – No that’s not correct even though it seems to be a common assumption. A cloud service can be deployed dedicated for your organisation without anyone else having access to it, but the location of the physical hardware is irrelevant in order to provide that. In most cases the service provider will utilise hardware that is physically near to the user base in order to avoid performance issues that could occur on long “open internet” routes.

Challenges of Cloud Technology

  • Security – Any cloud service can be set up in secure manner if the solution and the environment of the clients allow it.
  • Privacy – Yes, privacy is a hot topic nowadays. But actually, it always were even in pre-internet age. Privacy is nothing impossible even in the cloud, even in the internet if you choose the right service provider. And if you are looking for good providers but affordability is a concern, make sure that your selected partner has a few good reference clients to show-case to you.
  • Compliance – When you are in phase 2 of the provider selection, bring in the techies of your organisation to make sure all offered functions and features are compliant to any active IT security policies that you need to consider.
  • Vendor Strategy – Cloud providers equal single vendor lock-in? Yes, it can be the case but if you want to avoid that, talk about this particular subject with your provider candidates. A few providers out there have established alliances and offer support to avoid any lock-ins.
  • Online works, offline it doesn’t – Depending on what your solution looks like make sure that your workforce  can use the solution when they are online and when they are offline. For instance when changing a file being on a flight, the data should update and synchronise itself in the cloud again when they are online. However there are some services which this does not apply to such as real-time communication (e.g. WebRTC, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging).

Examples of Public Cloud Solutions

Summary

I hope this cleared some confusion around cloud terminology and technology. Further I hope it helped you through your process of picking a good service provider for your organisation if that was your objective. Further I would like to thank Simon Dudley of LifeSize and Phil Karcher of Forrester Research for hosting the webinar, which sparked the inspiration to write this article. LifeSize is often arranging interesting webinars and announces them on their social media platforms. Maybe I will see you on their next event – until then.

Have anything to add or feel I got the wrong picture? You are welcome to comment below and join the discussion. We at Telepresence24.com love your feedback!

The Benefits Of Wide Area Networking Using Cisco Technology

Cisco Nexus Switches (5010 and 2248)

Cisco Nexus Switches (5010 and 2248) (Photo credit: pchow98)

Long before the internet became the phenomenon that it is today, Cisco was providing networking solutions, so efficiently that it has become the world leader in computer, IT and communications networking. In fact, the company has become a household name, recognised even by people who haven’t a clue what Cisco does. This is why, to those who are in the know, Cisco technologies are the perfect choice when planning Wide Area Networking (WAN) solutions for anyone from home users to corporations operating around the globe.

Cisco Offers Bespoke Solutions

One of the most appealing advantages of using Cisco Technologies for WAN is the company’s flexibility to tailor its networking products and solutions to customers’ specific needs, meaning no prospective customer is only offered the choice from a range of off-the-shelf options. This also offers the scope for growth and future updates without installing a complete new system.

Connecting Through Switching

Wide Area Networking using Cisco Technology is where the company comes into its own. While many other providers have moved into the smaller Local Area Network and Personal Area Network markets, Cisco have undoubtedly looked at the big picture for the future and provide a service that is used and trusted across the globe. From a base or local station, information sent to a remote geographical location must travel via one or more WAN links, connected through switches that are dedicated to sending the information. A computer in London, for instance, would communicate through a router to a WAN that then sends the data to a router in, say, Munich, Montreal or Mumbai. Three different technologies, cell switching packet switching and circuit switching, are used, each with its own advantages, disadvantages and optimum uses.

Benefit From Unbeatable Flexibility

At the heart of all of the company’s products and solutions is the Cisco Internetwork Operating System, or Cisco IOS. The IOS brings together diverse and different systems and devices to integrate varied protocols into a cohesive whole system. The integration of all components of the network increases security, as well as speed and quality of communication. With these solutions available, network designers can work more freely and flexibly, delivering solutions to their customers in a smooth process.

Modern Communication with Cisco TelePresence

Cisco TelePresence

Cisco TelePresence (Photo credit: dolanh)

Using high-end video conferencing technology Cisco was among the first organisations to produce TelePresence infrastructure and endpoints alike. With the Immersive TelePresence suites they have reached a milestone that was unparalleled until now allowing important meetings to be carried out with participants from around the world with the same effectiveness as if they were all in the same room.

Cisco Technology Is Future-Proof

One reason that Cisco technologies lead the world is that the company has never stood still. It has acknowledged advances in technologies in networking and connectivity, which means that the company is trusted by a wide pool of users. Consumers and network specialists look to Cisco for future developments. Cloud technology is the latest development to have captured the imagination, but it will not be the panacea it is predicted to be without the nuts and bolts of everyday use. Whatever comes out of the cloud in the future, integrating WAN with Cisco technologies gives its users optimum usage out of their broadband and network to do their own jobs with the maximum of efficiency, while Cisco runs the system unobtrusively under the bonnet.

Video Conference Services for Banks of the Future

How Video Conference Services can create additional value for banks of the future.

The Banking Sector and the whole financial industry have been subject to considerable change within the last couple of years. The fast development of the Internet and the growing acceptance of Internet users for online banking, entail great chances as well as great risks. Deutsche Bank AG Co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen has expressed his concerns about possible competition from big Internet companies such as Google or Microsoft, who have detailed knowledge about their customers’ preferences, which they could use for financial services.

Also video conference services play an ever growing role in the banking sector and add positively to change and modernization of business processes. Especially investment banks make use of video conference services in order to globally exchange real time information about markets, shares, currencies and other relevant information.

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“Deutsche Bank Skyscrapers in Frankfurt, Germany” by Thomas Wolf (www.foto-tw.de)

Up to now video conference services have been used seldom in areas such as Private Wealth Management, although those could potentially have an important impact on changing banking products and offers. Many banks keep themselves busy with designing concepts for bank branches of the future, in which video conference services certainly will be one of the components.

If you take a closer look at the traditional banking concept for private customers throughout Germany (provident banks, cooperative banks, Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank and many more) you will not find a lot of creative approaches for change: During normal office hours customers get detailed advice about accounts and construction loans, leaving almost no time for individual advice.

Video conference services could leave more design scope to banks, thus helping them to offer better, faster and more tailored advice to their customers.

Improving Internal Communication

Using modern video conference services enables banks to equally inform all employees at all locations about current developments at the financial market, political changes or new products of the bank and their business partners. A big advantage compared to ordinary media channels (e-mail, intranet, video streaming, etc.) is the personal contact, which allows for further inquiries and therewith promotes a higher level of knowledge. Furthermore participation numbers are transparent.

Remote Experts Advice via Video Conference

In many cases customers confront their bank advisers with very complicated questions. The worst case is that the adviser will give the customer bad advice or has to start a lengthy inquiry within the bank to get the necessary information from an internal expert. Either way is not very customer friendly. A smart solution here would be to patch in the expert via video conference. This concept could also save travel costs where experts are shattered across the whole country and it additionally could accelerate decision processes concerning sales and distribution deals.

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This lady can talk to the right expert, thanks to video conferencing services.

Customer Advice via Video Conference

Modern video conference services can also be used to advice customers via video conference. Many video conference services permit taking part in a video conference via desktop PC, Mac or also with Tablet or Smartphone as mobile service. In the future bank advisers can effortlessly communicate with their customers via video conference. This still might sound like a vision to banks, but it should not be forgotten that the coming generation has been exposed to video conference services such as Skype since their early childhood and does not have any reservations against this communication medium. Banks certainly will have to look into this new consumer behaviour.

Consequently video conferences and modern video conference services have great potential for innovative financial services and banks. Putting technology to use in a smart way can be the decisive competitive edge for banks in creating an ideal environment for individual and superior advice also in the future.

Have you ever been using service like these or is your organisation having similar approaches? Let us know of your experiences and drop us an comment below!

All New Viber: Cross-Platform Monster for Consumers

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Viber Desktop with all new features (Image by Viber Media Inc.)

Some of you might know Viber already and that they are  now also providing a solution for Windows and Mac based workstations. For everyone else here is a quick introduction to Viber:

What is Viber?

Viber is a cross-platform VoIP solution for consumers developed by Viber Media Inc. It was first introduced to iOS in December 2010. Since then they have been increasing support for other smartphone platforms such as Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian and Samsung Bada. Their app does not cost anything but the initial registration requires a SMS to be send for validating your phone number.

What’s new?

On May 7, 2013 Viber released software clients for Windows and Mac. So you are able to install the application on your computer or notebook and register with your phone number to synchronise contacts. When you are logged in with both your smartphone and a desktop client at the same time you can move any active call to the other device.

Features

So what value does it add to your unified communications environment? Here are some of the new (and some old) features that might come in handy:

Positioning

The Viber solution is clearly positioned in the consumer market and gained wide popularity among users in that category. So far I have not come across enterprises utilising Viber as part of their unified communications strategy. If you are using Viber for professional purposes please feel invited to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Competition

As the Facebook Chat app is currently tested for possible VoIP features and beta tested, Viber seeks to increase their solution portfolio to maintain market share and this release seems to be the result of that. Other in-direct competitors of consumer-based unified communication tools are solutions such as WhatsApp for instant messaging and Skype for video conferencing.

Possible Business Usage

If you and your social network connections list their smartphone number along with the social profile, and install the apps of such on their smartphone they will see each other on Viber. Being completely synchronised  they will be able to communicate via VoIP, video conference or instant message beyond their enterprises unified communications abilities. This should serve for non-critical communication only though, as consumer solutions might not be sufficient to match your organisations IT security policies.


The Viber Desktop Introduction Video

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEqS5W-KfRw]

Microsoft Lync 2013 – New Feature Overview

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Main Window

Are you planning to upgrade your unified communications IM client? Following up on the article “What Is Microsoft Lync?” by Mark Stubbles we would like to introduce you today to all new features of Microsoft Lync 2013.

In comparison the Microsoft Office Communicator (also known as OCS) had the look and feel of Windows XP, the Lync 2010 update brought it up to speed with the Windows 7 design and finally Lync 2013 has the looks of the Windows 8 and Office 365 environment. But of course there is much more under the hood than just eye-candy. I listed below a few of the new features that were most interesting to me.

Overview of new features in Lync 2013

Visual Features:

The main window has been optimized to provide better access and a more intuitive using of the application. The new tabbed conversation feature gets rid of having several chat windows open at the same time – so you can keep track of all your conversations in a single place and just have to browse through them. Similar to the tabbed browsing of Google Chrome you are also able to move a certain chat out of the tabbed conversations and provide them with their own window and naturally you can move it back into the tabbed conversation window.

And for everyone who would like to display the images and fonts larger they can easily adjust the display setup in the configuration of the client. This is not only a help to users with sight challenges, but also can be useful for a deployment on wall-mounted displays.

Easier Deployment:

The main Lync 2013 client and the Online Meeting add-in is now included in the setup program of Office 2013 so deployment on the software side has been made significantly easier, especially for large enterprises with many thousands of workstations.

However because this part has changed Microsoft has also changed how the group policy is deployed. Instead of working on the communicator.adm file to define policies, certain ADMX and ADML admin templates are provided along with Office Policy Administrative Templates to work on. For more information on this particular topic I suggest reading the Microsoft article on “Group Policy Settings for Lync 2013“.

BYOD Enhancements:

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Calling a Smartphone

With Lync 2010 the App for smartphone, there was only support for presence and instant messaging while the new Lync 2013 App for smartphones and tablets also supports Voice calls and mobile video conferencing over WiFi and cellular data connection alike. Regardless of the fact that many desk phones can be connected with your Lync client, utilizing Lync on smartphones and Lync on PCs within your organisation your permanently replace the requirement of having a separate hardware phone on your desk and cutting costs for invest and maintenance by enforcing unified communications technology. For a more detailed overview of the features for mobile Lync I recommend the “Mobile Client Comparison Tables” page by Microsoft.

The users accessing from non-corporate workstations via browser also get some good news. The Lync 2013 Web App for web-based conferencing received support for voice and high definition video conferencing devices. Meeting participants can also show their screens for collaboration or presentation and re-assign the presenter role to others – They get the full Lync 2013 meeting experience without having the software client installed on the machine.

Functional Features:

The Lync 2013 client can handle virtual environment better. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) fully supports audio and video devices, like a headset and a webcam, to be connected to the client even though you might be using a virtual machine such as a thin client or a differently re-purposed workstation. For more details on how to deploy the Lync VDI plug-in please check the Microsoft TechNet article.

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Chat Room Integration

Another interesting new feature is the chat room integration (also known as persistent chat rooms or topic feeds). In older versions you were already able to create group conversations for multiple users to chat or hold a presentation for instance. In the new Lync 2013 however these can be promoted to be permanent and will be also available for others to be joined, including all the content that was added and when. It might not be applicable to all services and organisations, but this feature might the need for static email lists and adds a new dynamic way of sharing information and making such available for all. If you don’t want it to be available for all users, there is also the option to limit the visibility to certain users or user groups.

Also newly implemented is a feature that lets Lync 2013 automatically assign you with “presenting” status, to block incoming communication unless the sender is in an approved group. If you are a two-screen users however this is not automatically done for you, if you use the secondary screen as presenting space.

You may have made experience with previous versions of the client that you would like to keep a certain conversation up for reference but you need to restart the machine. What happens? The information is gone. In the new Lync 2013 once you are back booted up, the conversation comes back along with the content of the conversation, you held before rebooting. I found this to be quite the time-saver in those moments.

Improvements of already deployed functions:

  • Outlook Meeting Scheduling updated
  • Native Video Conferencing enhanced
  • Web App and Mobile App now support voice and video conferencing
  • Contact and card view was improved
  • Meeting participation functions were heavily improved for better collaboration

Have you tried Lync 2013 out yet? Missed your favourite new feature? I would be delighted to hear your opinion. Drop us your comment below!

The Not So Obvious Advantages of Telepresence Versus Chatting

Telepresence? Why not just use instant message chat? Let me tell you why..

Telepresence of Unified Communications is one of the greatest invention for the business world. In today’s society, business is no longer limited to the 4 corners of the office. The most successful businessmen and businesswomen are always looking to branch out, and this involve doing business with other people from a different city, or even a different country. Obviously, telepresence is a great way to reach out to these people. Through telepresence, it is possible to have conversations and meetings with individuals far away. However, there are some telepresence sceptics who believe that whatever conferencing may accomplish, chatting can too. Not to be argumentative, but there are many advantages to telepresence that are not covered by chatting, although they may not be so obvious.

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  1. Telepresence awkward situations made by misinterpreted statements

    We’ve all been there- gotten into an argument with someone because a text or a statement sent on chat was misinterpreted. Because chatting is flat and does not involve the use of voices, certain statements can easily be taken to mean something else. For example, the statement “get to work now” may sound harsh or motivating, depending on the speaker’s intention. However, on chat, one may not be able to tell the difference. With telepresence, it is possible to avoid misinterpretations, as the tone of one’s voice already conveys so much.

  2. Telepresence may help with possible language barriers

    We mentioned earlier that many companies deal with other businesses from other places on a daily basis. Therefore, it is possible to hold business meetings with people who may not even speak the same language as you. In cases like these, it may be very possible to hit a language barrier, especially if the other party is not fluent in your language of vice versa. Obviously, once a language barrier occurs, chat becomes pretty much useless, as the person on the other end is not able to articulate the word he wants to use. However, with telepresence, it is possible to see the other person, so it may still be possible to figure out what the person is trying to say though his body language, sign language, or what have you.

  3. Telepresence makes it so much easier to gauge a person’s mood and overall demeanour

    Chat takes so much away because even if the person on the other end is pissed or frustrated, what he says will always look and sound the same. Telepresence certainly comes in handy especially when it is sensitive business matters that are being discussed. If you see and sense, based on how he looks, as well as his tone of voice, that the person on the other end isn’t feeling too happy or pleased, then you will know how to proceed accordingly.

Although chatting and telepresence set out with the same goal- to communicate with those far away, it becomes obvious that there are more benefits to one compared to the other. For better business communication, It may be a good idea to invest in telepresence for meeting rooms as well as desktop solutions and consult a service provider for all types of organisations.

Good Collaboration through Knowledge Management

The other side of the coin of organisational growth and how to fight it with Knowledge Management.

In order to work well with each other and collaborate, it is not only important to utilise appropriate collaboration technology. A good starting point is to understand each other and knowing what others are doing as well as what one can expect from their services.

In rapidly growing organisations, it can happen that people who previously worked very close with each other are more and more separated over time. Maybe not even in a physical way, but people are getting more and more skilled in their particularly focused task and might be even joining different teams permanently.

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Markus Mattern, holding a presentation around high-level video conference bridging.

This is a natural side-effect of organisational growth and there are a few things that can be done to prevent this from becoming a negative influence to the service quality. One thing that could be done is to increase the focus on Knowledge Management. Turning tacit knowledge into “common sense” can make a huge different when working with clients, other companies or even within the same organisation.

As GMS is not excluded from such effects we have developed a way of sharing knowledge and providing insight into each team’s work. That is why Markus Mattern, in his capacity as one of our Senior VIP Video Conference Bridge Operators, has taken great effort into preparing a presentation around technological and operational details around his and the team’s work.

Initially this was planned as a single workshop for the few of the company who might be interested in learning a bit more about other teams. However we received so much positive feedback about people who wanted to join that we actually had to make several workshops and even include the weekends.

The Workshop

The content of the presentation was prepared in a very appealing and visual way, so everyone in the audience could understand both the operational procedures and requirements of the video bridging service as well as the technical introduction on the video conferencing infrastructure no matter what their background was.

In this workshop we used Cisco TelePresence infrastructure devices as examples and described the function of a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) and all it can do as well, as all the things even a good video conference bridge operator cannot do. We do this because we believe that even within the same company it is absolutely key to have clear expectations of what can be done and to know the things that cannot be done.

Markus explained what the Video Communication Servers (VCS) are there for and how they are utilised to traversal through corporate firewalls in an audit complaint way. This is very important for enterprises with a very tight network policy on the traversal between intranet and internet. But it shows that if the firewall traversal is well planned, configured and managed a lot of costs on ISDN (or all in best case) can be saved.

After all sessions have finished we received quite good feedback from everyone and are looking forward to the next workshop maybe from a different department then.

Thank you, Markus!