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We've all heard the expression: "It's nice to put a face to the name." In today's hybrid workplace business world, this statement is especially true.
Many modern communications methods, such as the telephone, fax machine, email and instant message (IM), have completely removed face-to-face contact. This often results in team, customer or partner relationships that are disjointed, impersonal and cold. On top of this, many businesses have embraced a work-from-home or hybrid work model, further endangering personal connections shared among co-workers and customers.
Yet, there's one technology proven to deliver instant communications without physical location restrictions. Video conferencing technology provides a personal touch by enabling a person to see with whom they're interacting. And enterprises have embraced video conferencing well beyond traditional meetings to the point where they have fully integrated it into many day-to-day business workflows.
Video conference architectures, platforms and software
Years ago, video conferencing products consisted of complex and expensive hardware and software appliances that were installed almost exclusively in conference rooms or boardrooms. That's no longer the case.
Modern video conferencing still happens inside conference rooms. However, today's conferences can now happen at the desk, at home or any remote location. Single-user hardware, along with desktop and mobile device video conferencing software, now enables anyone to join a meeting at any time with high-fidelity audio and high-definition video.
Let's examine the different types of video conferencing technology, as well as the various hardware and software options, and how they can best be integrated into an enterprise infrastructure.
Personal video conferencing vs. meeting room conferencing options
Modern video conferencing still happens inside conference rooms, but video conferences now more so occur between physically distanced, home-based groups of people or between only two parties, replacing phone calls for video calls.
Today's video conferencing options can be loosely split into two categories. On one hand, there's traditional conference and meeting room options. This is typically a hardware appliance that's permanently installed in a meeting room. The room-based video or immersive telepresence resource is then shared by employees who reserve the room for a meeting with on-site and remote participants. Remote meeting participants connect using their own conference room video conference system or a personal-use video conference system.
All other video conferencing endpoints can be placed into a personal-use video conferencing category. Personal-use video can consist of a dedicated endpoint appliance that sits on a desk, one built into a desk phone or a software-based video conferencing product that uses a desktop or mobile device camera. Software-based video conferencing technology is often referred to as web conferencing.
On-premises, SaaS and hybrid video conference architectures
From an architecture standpoint, there are three different video conferencing deployment options.
A fully on-premises video conferencing platform. This type of system places all hardware and software inside the corporate LAN. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this traditional architecture model was considered best for large organizations that required control over conferencing streams and had dedicated staff to manage the video conferencing appliances and server components. However, this changed as on premises proved to be inflexible with most enterprises moving to a full remote work model.
A SaaS model. Here, a service provider manages the intelligence behind the video conference platform in the public cloud. The business then deploys supported hardware-based cameras and personal-use software. The hardware and software endpoints then connect to the video conferencing cloud via internet.
The benefits of this architecture include less back-end hardware to maintain, improved scalability and a reduced need for dedicated in-house talent. The drawback is the organization relies heavily on the internet and video conferencing service provider to deliver quality audio and video streaming to all participants. While some businesses were once concerned with third-party video conference service providers managing sensitive audio and video streams that extended beyond corporate LAN boundaries, the COVID-19 pandemic forced these fears away as IT teams had to scramble to get video conferencing technologies accessible for remote workforces. These concerns could possibly resurface once employees return to the office in larger numbers, and for these companies, a hybrid cloud approach may be a better fit from a privacy perspective.
A hybrid cloud approach. In some situations, on-premises deployments are preferred from a quality, resiliency and data loss perspective. In others, the flexibility and ease of deployment in a SaaS model may prove ideal. Thus, organizations can choose to deploy different video conferencing architectures that can be merged to form a unified product.
Standalone video conferencing vs. integration with other UC tools
Video conferencing technology can be deployed as a standalone product or combined with other unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools. This includes tools such as voice over IP, presence, IM, team chat, webinar software, and file and screen sharing. Most IT decision-makers are finding a combined collaboration platform can save the organization time and money in the long run.
Use cases for video conferencing in the enterprise
There are endless ways an organization can use video conferencing technology to facilitate and enhance business functions. Common examples include the following:
- Ad hoc team video collaboration. For companies with a hybrid or fully remote team, it's important to be able to start a video conference at a moment's notice to share and collaborate in a virtualized group setting. Additionally, the organization can use other built-in collaboration functions in meetings, including team chat; digital whiteboarding; and application, file or screen sharing.
- Company town halls. Organizations often use video conferencing software for companywide briefings or town hall meetings. This is more of a one-way communications stream but is useful in distributing information to all employees, no matter where they reside. The meeting can also be fully recorded for playback for employees who weren't able to view the video broadcast in real time.
- Communications with customers and partners. Companies often use video conferencing to communicate with others outside their organization. Whether the organization is trying to sell products or services to potential customers or is working with an external partner, video conferencing platforms provide a simple way to collaborate with those external to the corporate LAN.
Video conference platform purchase considerations
Looking beyond architectural decisions, such as on premises vs. SaaS vs. hybrid cloud, some additional factors should be considered for choosing a video conferencing platform and vendor. While every organization's video conference needs will vary, there are several considerations all must contemplate. Here are a few examples.
Geographic location of end users. Some video conference tools have restrictions on what regions or countries they support. This is especially true when looking at UC as a service. The COVID-19 pandemic did enable many service providers to further bolster their global footprint, possibly rendering this a nonissue in the future.
Migration path from legacy video conferencing platform. An organization may already own a legacy video conferencing platform. As such, it's often wise to reuse expensive room-based video conferencing hardware whenever possible. The organization should verify what devices are supported on new video conferencing platforms, as it could end up saving money.
As of 2021, advancements in technology and significant drops in high-definition video conferencing hardware have let many organizations fully abandon their existing video conferencing systems and instead enabled them to migrate to brand new hardware and cloud or virtualized platforms at a reasonable cost.
Integrations with same-vendor and third-party services. As mentioned, many video conferencing platforms can be fully integrated with other UC and collaboration tools. This integration is generally easiest when all collaboration tools come from the same vendor.
Additionally, businesses are beginning to seek out integration with popular third-party applications using APIs. This includes integrations with email, calendaring and CRM, as well as compatibility with third-party video conferencing software, hardware and platforms. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, video conference providers have worked diligently to bolster their ability to integrate with popular business tools and services in order to attract new clients.
Pricing and licensing model. Video conferencing platforms offer a wide range of pricing and licensing models. This is especially true when comparing on-premises and SaaS architecture deployments. That's why it's critical to understand the needs of end users and what features and functionality each video conferencing technology can provide.
When enterprises first moved fully remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations purchased and maintained SaaS-based video conferencing services on a month-to-month schedule. But, now that work-from-home and hybrid workforces are likely here to stay, IT departments should rethink their licensing and payment strategy for the long term.
Technical support options. While video conferencing services are easier than ever to deploy, they remain a challenge from a troubleshooting perspective. Because of the distributed nature of employees, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether a user or group of users is experiencing a problem related to the conferencing platform, software or hardware -- or if the issue resides between end users and the remote conferencing service. Therefore, it's important to evaluate each vendor's technical support options, methods, capabilities and track records in terms of determining where the problem resides, who or what is to blame, and how to fix it. Some vendors are more willing to go the extra mile to help find the root cause of an issue than others.
Additionally, businesses should examine factors such as access to technical documentation, operational support hours, contact methods and on-site support capabilities to verify a vendor can provide the level of support the organization needs.