Article

Bringing UC tools into enterprise video conferencing

Jessica Scarpati

Meetings play a big role in how enterprises do business, but employees often complain about spending too much time in meetings, regardless of whether participants are there physically or virtually.

I see more challenges right now than I do benefits, because there are no real complete solutions. I think ultimately SIP may play a key role in simplifying and standardizing … but only time will tell.

 

Scott Aldridge
Advanced Technologies Specialist
U.S.-based engineering firm

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 In response, some enterprise video conferencing vendors are expanding their partnerships with other unified communications (UC) vendors to bring more collaborative tools into the video conferencing environment. Although UC pros welcome these integrations as a way to improve employee productivity, some still hesitate to implement them.

"Ultimately, we'd like to have our existing UC, HD video and VoIP environments integrated to allow for ease of communication among all three," said Scott Aldridge, advanced technologies specialist at a large U.S.-based engineering firm. "[But] I see more challenges right now than I do benefits, because there are no real complete solutions. I think ultimately [Session Initiation Protocol] SIP may play a key role in simplifying and standardizing … but only time will tell."

Aldridge has deployed 30 of Logitech LifeSize's HD video conferencing systems across 25 locations. He expects to double his deployment, which includes room-based and mobile systems, over the next year.

LifeSize's platforms have native screen-sharing capabilities through a digital video interface (DVI) or via its Virtual Link software, but Aldridge said he'd also like to take advantage of some of his existing UC deployments. Bringing Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 and Office Communicator's services into his enterprise video conferencing environment would further improve employee productivity, he said.

"I see value in being able to extend video conferencing to a select number of desktops for individuals already familiar with the OCS client interface," he said. "In the short term, I think we will have to implement incremental infrastructure changes that allow steps in this direction. Ultimately, I think common standards will be adopted to allow for real interoperability."

Paul Pataky, supervisor of IT infrastructure at S&C Electric Company, an electrical power systems equipment manufacturer based in Chicago, recently contemplated integrating his VoIP platform, OCS services and Microsoft SharePoint into his Polycom enterprise video conferencing environment. He also hesitates, but not because he thinks vendors fall short.

"We just haven't been able to give the project any priority, [in terms of identifying] requirements, solutions, et cetera," Pataky said. "We have been busy with software upgrades, hardware replacements and other such 'prerequisite work.' However, I wouldn't rule it out for 2011."

Enterprise video conferencing vendors expand partnerships

Web conferencing platforms, including Microsoft's Office Live Meeting and Cisco Systems' WebEx, have brought enterprise video conferencing into the collaboration space with their native video applications to help improve employee productivity. Many video conferencing products also have native UC and collaboration tools -- namely screen-sharing and click-to-call -- but vendors have been busy developing and expanding their partnerships with other vendors to make more UC and collaborative tools part of video environments.

Polycom recently announced a series of expanded partnerships with other UC vendors, including IBM and Microsoft. With its IBM partnership, Polycom and Lotus Sametime 8.5.1 customers can purchase a software upgrade to enable workers to use Sametime's instant messaging, presence and click-to-conference features to route video calls to Polycom gear, according to Mark Roberts, Polycom's vice president of partner marketing.

Although they did not offer insight into any specific projects, Polycom and Microsoft announced a "strategic relationship" earlier this year to jointly develop software, hardware and services for Polycom and OCS (soon to be Lync Server 2010) customers.

Though better known for streaming video than enterprise video conferencing, VBrick Systems is also getting in on the push for more UC tools integration. The video platform vendor recently announced two new products: OCS Streaming Gateway and SharePoint integration for its VBrick Enterprise Media System (VEMS). The OCS integration enables administrators to broadcast or users to share video within Office Communicator sessions. The SharePoint integration enables users to search for or share videos from VBrick's video on-demand server while in SharePoint.

Nearly every major enterprise video conferencing vendor -- especially those with high-end HD or telepresence systems -- is working toward multiple partnerships and integrations, said Roopam Jain, industry director for conferencing and collaboration research at Frost & Sullivan.

"It leads to a more flexible way of communicating," she said. "Rather than just talking about [a project] and saying, 'When we get back to our conference room or desktop, we'll get to work on this' … it's about getting things done at that point in time, in that communications session."

From the standpoint of improving employee productivity, Jain emphasized that both approaches -- putting UC into video, or video into UC -- are equally valid. Both sets of vendors are working toward interoperability, but it may be wise for UC pros to wait until vendors finish working out all the kinks.

"There is a lack of complete interoperability between UC vendors, so it's definitely a work in progress," Jain said.

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


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