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The iPad effect: Changing enterprise video-conferencing strategy

It's hard to find a device that has enjoyed as much rapid success in the consumer market as the iPad, and as a result, it has quickly entered the enterprise. With amazing speed, the iPad's video capabilities are infiltrating enterprise video-conferencing strategy but must be managed by IT and network managers, not just tolerated.

According to Nemertes Research survey data, more than 74% of companies either allow or directly support iPad use, while 7% are developing internal applications to take advantage of its user interface.

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After its release in 2011 the iPad 2, with its front- and rear-facing cameras, became a viable enterprise video-conferencing device, offering opportunities for improved collaboration and business processes and applications, as well as usability and performance-management challenges.

Vendors of video-conferencing solutions have noticed the iPad's video capabilities. Numerous consumer video-conferencing vendors, including Skype and FriendCaller (as well as Apple itself), deliver cloud-based video-conferencing services for the iPad. Enterprise-focused vendors like LifeSize, Mirial, NEC, Polycom, Radvision and Vidyo have extended their video conferencing portfolios to include iPad clients.

As a result, enterprise IT buyers are increasingly looking for video-conferencing solutions to support the iPad and other consumer mobile devices as part of their product evaluation criteria. Sixty-three percent of IT buyers now consider consumer mobile device support "critical" or "very important" in choosing video solutions, according to Nemertes enterprise survey results.

Tablets' video capabilities beyond conferencing

Beyond conferencing, a growing number of companies are using the video capabilities of tablets to improve specific business processes. Examples? One large manufacturing firm equipped its quality-control inspectors with iPads to video record product tests. Some insurance firms are using iPads to record assessments. Utility companies use iPads to establish two-way video between field crews and supervisors, and medical teams are using iPads for remote diagnosis and collaboration.

Incorporating iPads into a video strategy -- think usability

Successfully incorporating iPads into an enterprise video-conferencing strategy requires addressing usability challenges.

  • Offer iPad education. One IT leader said conferencing with iPad users was "like riding on a roller coaster" due to iPad movement, and said all he saw was the bottom of his employees' noses. As a prerequisite for success, educate employees on the need to properly position the tablet in a fixed location and have the proper lighting.
  • Check network impact. Another key challenge is managing performance and network impact, including bandwidth management. Most video clients require video over Wi-Fi, which puts additional strain on an increasingly taxed wireless LAN infrastructure. Network operators must provide ample capacity, and potentially leverage Quality of Service (QoS) and call admission control, to limit video's impact on the network, or investigate services based on the H.264 Scalable Video Coding protocol, which is more forgiving of poorly performing networks.
  • Buy the right tools. Finally, network managers must invest in tools that will enable them to troubleshoot iPad video problems. Simply telling employees that it's a "best effort" service may work in the short term, but eventually some executive will call the help desk for support.

If IT managers do their homework up front, pay attention to network and performance issues, and help educate business units on the possibility of video-capable tablets to improve business processes, not only will their users thank them, but they may end up improving their company's bottom line.

See related tip: Extranet and desktop video requirements drive 2012 telepresence trends  

About the author: Irwin Lazar is the vice president and service director at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VoIP, unified communications, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration and advanced network services.

This was first published in April 2012

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