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New analytics tools help track video conferencing usage

You’ve invested heavily in video conferencing. Was it worth it? New analytics tools try to answer that question by reporting on video conferencing usage.

Mayo Clinic was practically built for video conferencing.

For starters, its operations are spread out across the United States. The venerable medical institution has its headquarters in Rochester, Minn., and it established campuses in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Jacksonville, Fla., in the 1980s. Its reach now extends to dozens of community clinics, hospitals and other facilities throughout Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Moreover, the culture of collaboration among Mayo Clinic clinicians and employees make video conferencing a natural fit, according to Warren Harmon, the institution's director of media operations. Today, Harmon's team manages video conferencing for more than 50,000 medical professionals in nearly 400 conference rooms throughout Mayo Clinic's facilities. The organization began using video conferencing in the late 1980s with telemedicine in mind -- an initiative that has made a comeback in recent years -- but Harmon says the emphasis eventually shifted to administrators and doctors using video to keep in touch and make better decisions.

"This is a highly collaborative environment where doctors, administrators and other medical experts make decisions based on consensus," Harmon explains.

Much like other heavy users of video conferencing, Harmon recognized that the clinic needed more detailed metrics to justify and target its continued investment in video conferencing. With so many video conferencing rooms to manage, Harmon needed a better way to determine who was really using the equipment and how it was performing.

New analytics platforms are helping enterprises address this need by providing tools that can track video conferencing use and monitor any technical problems during sessions. Some of these tools include DesigNET's SMART Analytics and Reporting Platform, Polycom's RealPresence Analytics and Vyopta's vAnalytics. Cloud providers such as Blue Jeans Network and Videxio have also integrated video analytics tools into their platforms.

"The tool basically delivers the information my managers want to see," says Harmon, who ultimately deployed DesigNET's platform, primarily because it can customize metrics to suit the needs of Mayo Clinic. The platform offers metrics on use and reliability, which let Mayo Clinic make more strategic decisions on video conferencing deployments and the use of office space.

Sanofi US, a multinational pharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in Bridgewater, N.J., tapped Polycom's RealPresence Analytics for similar reasons.

Matthew Quatroche, the company's service manager for video conferencing, says Polycom's analytics enables the company to decide more effectively how it will use video conferencing in meeting rooms.

The three levels of using analytics

DesigNET CEO Jim Idelson says organizations use video conferencing analytics at the following three levels:

Level 1: Information and communications. Reporting and analytics are used to simply relay how often video conferencing is used.

Practical application: Mayo Clinic uses analytics to report on service quality levels and whether the rooms with video conferencing are being fully utilized. This information often winds up in the institution’s business reports.

Level 2: Operational decision support. The tools are used to make better decisions about operations to drive greater efficiency and better service quality.

Practical application: The analytics deliver information on the equipment’s reliability. At Mayo Clinic, if someone from Media Support Services notices a technical glitch, he or she knows a conference room needs to be upgraded or rebuilt.

Level 3: Driving strategic business value. The tools help organizations gain a deep understanding of how, where and why unified communications (UC) are being used. They use that information to make better decisions about investments and deployments of UC technologies to support strategic applications. 

Practical application: Mayo Clinic reads the usage data very carefully. If its IT staff notices that certain rooms dedicated to video conferencing are underutilized, they can opt to give that space back to the institution or make it a standard, all-purpose conference room. Space is at a premium at the clinic, so with nearly 400 video conferencing rooms to manage, it really helps to keep closer tabs on usage.

Today, Sanofi has a significant investment in Polycom video conferencing equipment, but it recognizes that new technologies are coming along and that long-term the company would want employees to run video sessions from any location.

"We still have a large installed base of Polycom equipment in the traditional video conferencing rooms," he says. "For now, for individuals who wish to participate from their desks, we have enabled video for Microsoft Lync."  

Using RealPresence Analytics, Quatroche says he and his team get better insight into which locations have seen a change in video conferencing use now that they've given the staff the option to run Lync sessions.

"The analytics are helping us sort out usage so we can put our conference resources where they get the most use," Quatroche adds.

Why enterprises use video analytics

At first glance, it might appear the metric that organizations are looking for is a simple return on investment calculation as to how much money a company saves from using video conferencing versus spending it on travel.

While all the different vendors are at various stages of providing this capability, Andrew W. Davis, a partner at Wainhouse Research, says that's not what enterprises are really after.

"The bottom line for companies is they want to know how much their equipment is being used," he says. "And with a typical room system costing something in the order of $20,000 to install, they also want to know what value video conferencing brings to the business."

Steve Cobb, director of IT at online medical insurance marketplace Benefitfocus Inc. in Charleston, S.C., says there's no question that using the cloud-based video conferencing service from Blue Jeans has had a positive impact on the company.

For starters, the company's new chief operating officer used video conferencing to conduct initial briefings with top managers spread out across four different continents. Sales and marketing often use Blue Jean's video service for meetings, and human resources now uses it for first- and sometimes second-round interviews.

Benefitfocus runs Blue Jeans in tandem with a mix of Cisco and LifeSize equipment. Cobb says Blue Jeans delivers analytics to his team in real-time as people in the company are running video conferences.

The analytics are helping us sort out usage so we can put our conference resources where they get the most use.
Matthew Quatroche,Service manager for video conferencing services, Sanofi US

"By using the analytics, we found that 70% of the users were running video conferences over webcams, which tells us that the Blue Jeans service is not only making us more collaborative, but it's letting our people communicate when and where they want to on the road or at home," he says.

Analytics from Blue Jeans' Command Center tool can also let IT staff know when there's a technical glitch with the video conferencing equipment that needs repair, and it offers up quality metrics for both live and past meetings.

Marty Kane, a video conferencing engineer at the International Bank of Commerce based in Laredo, Texas, says analytics from Vyopta helps him identify technical problems. The bank uses Vyopta's vAnalytics to manage video conferencing across 217 branches in South Texas and Oklahoma.

Kane says recently he noticed on a certain vAnalytics report that one of his Cisco Expressway unified communications gateways was running three external calls at one time. Kane knew that external traffic on the Expressway device doesn't run more than one call at a time, plus the phone numbers were not numbers he recognized.

After some investigating, he found that a SIP bot was trying to spoof the Expressway device to make fraudulent long-distance calls. Once he realized what was happening, he stopped the calls and notified Cisco, which then sent a patch.

Kane says along with technical information, vAnalytics delivers usage data that lets the company allocate video conferencing resources more efficiently.

"We've been able to shift equipment around to branches that use it more," he adds.

Resellers also use analytics to work more closely with customers.

Charlie Crawford is the director of technical operations for the enterprise video group at Technical Innovation, a Videxio reseller based in Norcross, Ga. He says the analytics tools in Videxio recently helped him diagnose why a customer had a video call drop four times in a row.

"We went into the analytics and looked at the IP address," he explains. "We learned that the customer had stopped using that IP address six months ago. Once we had that information, we entered the correct IP address and the calls went through fine."

Along with usage data, it's that level of technical detail that companies are really after. Of course, saving money on travel can be a big deal. Benefitfocus, for example, says it saves tens of thousands of dollars on travel annually by using Blue Jeans' video conferencing service.

But companies need to know if their investments in video conferencing equipment make business sense. These new tools deliver that kind of information and give managers insights into whether they should add more expensive room systems from the likes of Cisco and Polycom, go with cloud providers such as Blue Jeans and Videxio, or just piggyback a Microsoft license and use Microsoft Lync.

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