Desktop video and telepresence interoperability on the way?

Low supply but high demand for telepresence suites can drag IT into conference room politics, but the issue may dissolve as the quality of desktop video conferencing and desktop to telepresence interoperability improve.

An enterprise can sink millions of dollars into immersive telepresence suites to reduce travel expenses. But what

happens when employees schedule telepresence meetings only to have the room hijacked at the last minute by upper management? Users grow jaded, go back to traveling and the return on investment (ROI) never materializes. Improvements in the quality of desktop video conferencing and desktop-to-telepresence interoperability should offer IT organizations a way to keep the peace without getting pulled into conference room politics.

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Telepresence interoperability is still a work in progress, and large enterprises are likely to hold back until they can ensure investment protection, according to David Danto, director of video and telepresence systems for a large financial services company that has one of the largest telepresence deployments in the world. Danto is also director of emerging technology for the Interactive Multimedia and Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA), a nonprofit industry group based in Syosset, N.Y.

"The interoperability will come and move forward," said Danto, who has worked with video conferencing systems for 32 years. "Major Fortune 100 firms looking at the UC space are now in the camp of, 'We can't deploy anything unless everything talks to everything.'"

Although telepresence interoperability demands may stem from the need for more flexibility, most enterprises prefer to keep important video calls telepresence-to-telepresence, according to Dominic Dodd, senior industry analyst and program manager at Frost & Sullivan.

"It is still primarily a senior executive communications tool, with the [telepresence] suites located close to the boardroom or executive offices in the headquarters building and major branch offices," Dodd said. "So there's not yet a big demand for working with desktops; but it will inevitably come."

De-emphasizing the room-based system

Danto said many users will gradually move away from being tied down to a room-based telepresence system, making telepresence interoperability with desktop video conferencing more important.

"No one will go to a room anymore to have to access the technology when the technology's there on their desks…. When was the last time you saw a phone booth?" Danto said. "For the most part, people don't need to go to rooms to use communications and collaboration tools."

Although he doesn't see video conferencing or telepresence rooms disappearing completely, Danto envisions a day when the need for a dedicated studio is limited and users prefer high-quality systems for personal office, mobile device or desktop video conferencing.

"I don't think the [video conferencing or telepresence] room will ever be obsolete," he said. "I think the concept of just going to the room to access the technology will be obsolete."

Many major manufacturers will recommend more [telepresence and video conferencing systems] than people have now, and the cost will come down, so these issues of entitlement will go away.
David Danto
Director for Emerging TechnologyInteractive Multimedia and Collaborative Communications Alliance

Danto expects that some desktop video conferencing will be modeled for executives who want the telepresence experience in their office -- "big, sleek, sexy, high-quality 25- to 35-inch screens" -- but high-quality but scalable desktop clients for the lower-tier users will proliferate in enterprises.

"Many major manufacturers will recommend more [systems] than people have now, and the cost will come down, so these issues of entitlement will go away," he said.

Demand rising for better desktop video conferencing, telepresence interoperability

Enterprises with heterogeneous video conferencing environments -- juggling multiple vendors and various types of endpoints -- are demanding that vendors deliver more flexibility and interoperability between systems, according to Michael Helmbrecht, vice president of product marketing for LifeSize, a division of Logitech.

"Customers are waking up and saying, 'You don't build buildings around technology. You fit technology to buildings,'" Helmbrecht said. "Communications should sit in the environment where you are, instead of having to redesign your environment to be a studio."

Vendors have made what appear to be some goodwill gestures toward improved telepresence interoperability -- LifeSize and Polycom were among the co-founders of the new Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), and Cisco Systems has begun to integrate its open-standard Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) into the products it acquired with Tandberg.

Advanced calling features may settle scheduling conflicts

What should IT organizations do when they get caught in the middle of a telepresence scheduling squabble or users give up on telepresence, as one RADVISION blogger illustrated? In addition to enforcing entitlement policies and restricting high-end system usage to executives, some technical advance may help IT pros avoid having to play referee.

Cisco customers can use advanced calling features -- including hold, mute and transfer -- between any Cisco video conferencing endpoints, according to David Hsieh, vice president of marketing for Cisco's emerging technology group.

If an executive commandeers the room from a small group of C-level managers, they can easily say, "Hold on, let me take this call at my desk," Hsieh said.

"We treat every telepresence system like a giant phone, so it actually has all of the features your phone has," he said.

The catch is it works only Cisco-to-Cisco; multivendor telepresence interoperability for advanced calling features is not quite there yet, according to Helmbrecht. Enterprises can gain some benefits by tying telepresence and desktop video conferencing systems into their PBX, but it's more successful in a single-vendor environment, he said.

"Audio functionality, call hold and transfer are still in their infancy. It's certainly on the horizon and coming, but it's going to depend on each vendor," Helmbrecht said. "Though you're not talking about [it being fully developed in] five years. You're talking about it [happening] now."

Meanwhile, Polycom systems can offer 2,000 "virtual meeting rooms" with its RMX 2000 bridge, giving participants who need to exit a call the ability to hang up and dial back into the bridge without disrupting the other participants, according to Laura Shay, director of product marketing.

"Let's say I'm in a telepresence suite ... and somebody comes in and says, 'I'm really sorry to do this to you, but we really need this room to close a big multi-million-dollar sales deal,'" Shay said. "I dial into that bridge number [from my desktop video conferencing client], and they're sitting there waiting for me…. I've hung up, but I haven't had to tear the whole call down and have everybody dial back in."

One online retail customer, which Shay declined to name, has been able to use Polycom's bridge and virtual meeting room function to ensure that its 12-year-old legacy systems don't go to waste amid a recent telepresence investment.

"Those systems can still call into that bridge … and let them connect to the brand-new immersive telepresence room they just installed last week," she said. "It brings the ease of use, simplicity and the ability to do things ad hoc."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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