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Industry POV: The Revolution Of Personal Video Collaboration

Videoconferencing, Video Collaboration Technology

Technology managers now have the power to oversee on-prem and off-prem systems.

History has shown us that technology—just like life—appears to move along slowly most of the time; then, occasionally, it takes a huge, revolutionary leap forward. Today, most people walk around with a powerful computer in their pocket—it’s otherwise known as a smartphone.

Its lineage can be traced back almost 40 years to the launch of the personal computer. The PC was a revolution that changed the way we worked, the way we communicated (think email) and even the way we entertained ourselves.

In 2020, we went from sometimes needing video capability outside of the office to needing it for everything we did—from meeting with coworkers to connecting with our families and friends. More importantly, we wanted the experience to be the same as (or better than) when we were in the office. Sadly, in many cases, it wasn’t. We needed a revolution in the videoconferencing industry.

The History Of Video Collaboration Technology

Let’s start with a brief look at the history of collaboration technology. The first standalone devices for videoconferencing appeared in the 1990s, and they were the norm for many years.

Multiple brands of endpoints were sold and installed—first connectable via Switched-56, then Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) and ultimately Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP-IP). Providers hoped they would successfully connect to each other and allow a “good enough” video call to be useful. Later, enhanced endpoints and enterprise-management platforms began to allow organizations’ technology managers to get a clear view into their entire video-collaboration ecosystem and report on failures and other issues that required addressing. This was a standard technology evolution.

And, yet, even with all that advancement, once employees decided to work remotely and required videoconferencing capability, they were typically left to their own devices—literally. Sure, there would be executives who had the enterprise network extended to their homes, but they were the exception, not the rule.

Home-based videoconferencing sometimes worked, but it was subject to whatever bandwidth the user happened to have, and it was limited by the abilities of the gear
that employees chose to use. Maybe someone would be using a tablet or a PC with a built-in webcam; maybe someone would be listening with a set of inexpensive consumer earbuds to cut down on outside noise. Whatever the case, there were no industry-wide standards, and there were certainly very few—if any—accessible, professional-level devices to use in the home.

The Videoconferencing Revolution

Fast forwarding to today, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in this remote-collaboration “strategy.” Suddenly, we were asking ourselves whether homes had enough bandwidth to support all residents using the internet at the same time. We were asking whether the enterprises with which people
were trying to collaborate had enough bandwidth (or whether their cloud service had enough bandwidth) to support all employees being remote at the same time.

Then, the challenges to do with component quality arose. Does a given camera have the quality necessary to produce a clear, crisp image every time? Do the available
audio components have adequate noise suppression or echo cancellation? Is there enough light on the person using the video device to allow him or her to appear his or her best? And, perhaps most importantly, does the enterprise-collaboration and IT manager have any visibility into any of those issues, or any ability to support the wide variety of devices being used?

With hundreds of the world’s largest companies adopting a hybrid-working strategy as the way forward for knowledge workers, those questions must be addressed. The cost savings that companies are realizing by shredding their expensive building leases, which are no longer necessary, shouldn’t be the sole factor driving this movement. The pandemic proved that our remote-collaboration ecosystem was clearly in need of revolutionary change if we wanted to support large groups of people working
from home now and well into the post-pandemic future.

Thankfully, that revolution has arrived! Manufacturers in the space are now building professional-grade components designed for use at home. These devices—cameras,
headsets, video soundbars, displays with embedded videoconferencing features and lighting—are creating great experiences for employees working remotely. And, importantly, the devices are now fully manageable from the same platform that enterprises use on campus. Finally, the enterprise-collaboration and IT manager can see, at a single glance, a complete inventory of the devices for which he or she is responsible. Going forward, he or she will no longer manage an ecosystem of hundreds of on-campus endpoints, but, rather, manage the thousands of endpoints used in running the business during hybrid working or exceptional circumstances in which everyone has to work from home for an extended period.

After years of promises, video collaboration has finally proven itself one of the most valuable tools for keeping society connected and moving forward. We’ve now entered an era in which professional-grade, simple, smart endpoints can support and define the office’s new core purpose; at the same time, simple and smart personal systems have arrived that enable remote employees to look and sound as good as if they were in the traditional office. And all these systems— both at the office and at home—can be monitored and managed from a single pane of glass.

Welcome to the videoconferencing revolution!

To read more from Sound & Communications, click here.

S&C august 2021 digital edition
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