David J. Danto
Principal Consultant, Collaboration/ AV / Multimedia / Video / UC
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
The “Good Enough” Mentality in Visual Communications – Think Fred!
Think about the last time you went shopping for a car. You probably had a pretty good idea of the type of car you wanted – size, features, etc. You also probably had an idea of how much cars like that cost. Sure, you’d negotiate and try to make a good deal, but you didn’t have any expectations of walking out of the dealership with your desired car for free.
Just imagine what would you have to sacrifice on that car to take it home for nothing or close to nothing? It would probably be one of those “guaranteed price for any trade-in” cars that someone recently pushed down the street to the dealership. It would probably have no radio, no breaks, no airbags…probably no engine either. You’d have to get around like Fred Flintstone did - dropping his feet through the open floor and getting up to a good running speed.
It’s a pretty good bet that none of us buy cars with those sorts of price expectations, or are willing to make that many sacrifices in reliability and features, yet many organizations today are looking at visual communications products with just that mentality. “We don’t need to invest in reliable hardware and/or software - we can just use a free program.” “We don’t need to invest in a reliable network - we can just run everything over the free internet.”
Now I’m not referring to personal use video – like when I’m on a business trip and want to say hi to my kids and find out how they did in school. Free internet video is just great for that. Odds are that I would simply not use video in that circumstance if it weren’t free.
I’m referring to businesses and professional organizations. From SMBs just starting to use visual collaboration tools up to enormous Fortune 500 firms - including some that were designated “too big to fail.” Some of these firms and the IT managers that work there have either seriously considered “free consumer video” applications for their enterprises or have already begun projects to switch over to them.
If you’re asking what is wrong with this, “Think Fred” pedaling with his feet out of the bottom of the car – you get what you pay for.
The history of the visual communications industry has clearly shown that in order to achieve any consistent adoption, positive ROI, or other actual benefit from video technology the experiences have to be reliable. People expect video communications to have good quality, ease of use, a high probability of making a successful connection on the first try and then keeping that connection for the duration of the call.
Free internet video does not rise to achieve any of those goals. When the call doesn’t connect or becomes so poor after a few minutes that it’s unusable we often don’t care. We’ll see our kids tomorrow or call on the phone if needed. How do you explain that to your firm’s remote location when they had to review products with you for decisions needed today? How do you explain that to your co-worker that needs data for a project? Even scarier, how do you explain that to your CEO when his customer call just dropped for no reason?
If we look objectively at available solutions in the visual communications space, we’ll see a large menu of choices, each with plusses and minuses. Free internet video is clearly at the bottom of the list – with users getting exactly what they paid for. Up a bit from that are video enabled collaboration and UC suites. These are typically very good for establishing a “face to name” alongside content that is the point of the presentation. The lower quality and lower bandwidth requirement are also ideal for participating from a remote location (like a hotel or airport) where the network stability may not be guaranteed. But if a user or salesperson tries to tell you that the video conferencing engines in these suites are “good enough” for extended enterprise quality video collaboration between people - then here again you have to “Think Fred.” Postage stamp sized video stretched over a PC desktop which is relying on a single processor that may be simultaneously crunching numbers, providing market data, doing email and lord knows what else is not a reliable platform on which to risk important, extended length video collaboration.
In order to achieve the quality and reliability needed for true enterprise grade communications we move up the menu some more and look at a hardware or software product created specifically for that purpose. These products have advanced algorithms that optimize the video, they have appropriate management tools to obtain usage metrics and report anomalies and outages, and they have teams of product engineers hard at work to bring you the next generation of advancements.
Finally, at the top of the menu we also need to omit the software based applications that utilize a shared use, general PC or tablet processor – today anyway. Visual collaboration systems such as these are only as reliable as that processor – not just what it’s doing as above, but the design, quality, speed, etc. - things that vary from device to device and user to user. While these systems have made tremendous improvements and represent nearly 100% of the mobile video market today I still wouldn’t recommend them for applications such as a firm’s C-suite or an essential services network. No matter what you think of the application, if it is on a device that we know we have had to recently reset (through no fault of the application) then Murphy’s Law dictates that such a crash and reset will take place at the time of your critical call. The guaranteed performance and continuous monitoring of dedicated hardware is still the only option I’d hang my reputation on for any mission critical application.
All of this however needs to be understood in the context of the “Collaborative Conferencing Continuum” as I’ve written about before. There is no one right or wrong answer. One has to utilize a broad array of interoperable tools and systems to achieve ubiquitous and pervasive video. You have to identify the best solutions to meet your real needs. 99% of the time the answer is to create a communication and collaboration ecosystem using multiple types of systems all working together – what I call “The Right Blend.” This could include free internet video – but only when you need to communicate with a firm or individual where that is their only option. You have to ensure that your visual communications ecosystem has a gateway or other solution that enables these uses too. Just be sure to tell that firm to “Think Fred” when your call is over.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over 30 years of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems or develop a future-proof collaboration strategy.