Below are a few questions that are commonly asked of video communications experts during consultations, along with some answers to help guide you through the process. This Q&A is designed to help you better understand the process of deploying a video conferencing system. You can also email us directly with your own Q's and we will provide the A's.
1. What is our benchmark for success?
When deploying a video conferencing system it is not enough to be sure the technology is properly installed. Instead it is important to ensure the technology is used to help your organization. This can include reducing travel costs, increasing productivity, improving communications, as well as a variety of other benefits.
2. Why are we implementing these technologies?
Often people responsible for implementing video conferencing tell us they are doing so because their management asked them to do so. Instead, it is important to know how the technologies will be used and for what applications. (See response to next question for further details.)
3. What are they going to do for us?
Video conferencing is a tool that can be used to help your organization better communicate with others, solve a problem, or get a product or service to market more quickly. This includes training people or sharing medical expertise at a distance. The top four reasons why most organizations install video conferencing relate to: management/administrative needs, sales & marketing, training, or engineering/manufacturing and production. This does not mean the human resources or legal departments won't use video conferencing, but your organization probably chose to install the technology for one of the primary reasons listed above.
4. What will we do with the technologies once they are installed?
It is important to make people aware of the locations of the video conferencing facilities, what each facility offers (seating capacity in each room, equipment available), how to schedule the facility, how to use the technology, and whom to call if there are problems.
5. How do we drive utilization?
The best way to drive utilization is to know why your users need video conferencing. Conduct a brief survey asking users with whom they meet, what tools they use in meetings, how they wish to improve communications, and what frustrates them about their work. The answers to these questions will help you identify people who have a need to use video conferencing. Once people have used the technology successfully it is important to promote their success to others. Keep in mind that video conferencing systems do not need to be used for a specific number of hours per month to be successful. The technology should be viewed as another communications tool to help people communicate better with others at a distance. For some groups this may mean a once a month meeting, while others have the need to use the technology multiple times a day. The costs of video conferencing are now so low that having to justify the initial capital expenditure is often no longer an issue. Do you justify the implementation of fax machines? Probably not. Therefore, given the lower costs of video conferencing today, you will often justify the expense with a gut feeling.
6. Where Are The Users?
Everywhere! There isn't an industry today not using video conferencing. It is no longer a "bleeding edge" technology, but a technology that has been adopted by the mainstream and has proven useful to most who have tried it. The easiest way to find users is to ask people if they have a need to see others at a distance. While video conferencing is not needed for every meeting, it is useful to see facial expressions, get reactions to information, and allow teams to get to know one another. Video conferencing is not meant to displace travel, but rather supplement travel. It allows people to communicate more often with others at a distance. Speak with people who are tired of traveling to the same locations or who interface with others at a distance on a regular basis. These people could be working on a project together, involved in solving problems, or providing training to others.
7. What Facilities Do I Need To Support My Deployment?
Video conferencing can be offered from a person's desktop to a full blown, dedicated room with multiple monitors and cameras. To support your deployment you need a facility that allows good audio, proper lighting, and an environment where noise is minimized. Think of video conferencing as a form of television at a distance. You want to be able to see and hear the people on the other end. Video conferencing service providers and integrators can provide you with a grocery list of items to ensure a good facility. These will range from selecting a room that is away from noisy areas (elevators, bathrooms, exterior windows), has comfortable, controllable lighting, and is conducive to good video.
It is important to keep in mind that all video conferencing features are not compatible from one manufacturer to another. Think of video conferencing standards as offering you basic features regardless of which systems you use, but the bells and whistles may not all work together or the same way. Also, if you mix vendor technologies you may find it more difficult to maintain multiple types of systems and train users on different interfaces.
8. What Do I Need To Support My Users?
To support your users video conferencing needs to be easy to find and use. This means having processes & procedures in place to support your users, as well as promotional materials and training. Where are the video conferencing rooms located? How many people does each room hold? What features are in each room? How does the user reserve the facility and the technology? Is the technology easy to use? Who does the user call if help is needed?
To get the greatest benefits from your video conferencing systems it is helpful to have individuals knowledgeable in communications, and who also understand your culture and objectives, available to explain technology and coach your users. Successful meetings at a distance generally require more preparation logistics and technical support than in-person meetings. This is especially true when holding large multipoint video conferences. Time zone differences, incompatible technologies, cultural differences, etc. will have to be taking into account to ensure successful meetings.
9. How or Who Will Handle Trouble Resolution?
At a minimum it is recommended that each video conferencing room have permanent, simple instructions mounted on a wall in the room that provide easy operational steps and a number to dial for help. Help desk support can be offered by your internal organization (i.e. telecommunications people or current help desk support offered for PCs) or by external resources. These could be a network provider or the integrator of your video technology.
Be sure expectation levels are properly set in the minds of your users. Video conferencing is similar to a personal computer and cell phone. Systems need upgrading and they can break. Calls can disconnect and need to be redialed. While this isn't the norm, it can happen. Just be sure users know what to do when a trouble occurs.
10. What Equipment and Services Fit My Needs?
To determine the right equipment and services to fit your needs you should look at both the user audience and the support staff for video conferencing. Video conferencing ranges from being on a personal computer, to an appliance on a desktop, to a range of rooms sizes from small to very large. Anywhere you have a meeting is a potential for video conferencing, including having video on an individual laptop computer. Understanding how people work and communicate with others will help you select the right type of video conferencing to meet specific needs. Individual face-to-face meetings will be sufficient for some situations, while others will need to have groups of people meeting. Keep in mind that video conferencing can be real-time or delayed and video calls can be stored for future viewing as well as sent to hundreds of desktops (streaming) at the same time in a viewing mode. The latter is often good for a CEO address or product launch where many people need to get information at the same time, but the speaker does not need to see everyone at once.
Video conferencing service can be offered by internal staff, integrators, traditional telephone companies, other network providers, and firms offering managed services. Organizations who are heavily staffed to handle internal telecommunications and computer needs, often have the people on site needed to manage video conferencing. Other organizations may have contracts with large telecommunications or computer providers. Many companies have turned to firms who specialize in offering unique video networks or managed services specifically designed to handle video needs.