No one size fits all when it comes to video conferencing requirements. Some businesses need large-scale video conferencing in an auditorium setting. Others like restaurants have unique video conferencing requirements, such as high-quality audio for music and specialized video for meeting rooms. Every installation has unique video conferencing requirements, but if you master the basics you will be prepared as you expand your video conferencing business.
The Changing Landscape of Video Conferencing
While the basic video conferencing requirements remain the same, new voice and video technology provide you with more choices as to how you meet those requirements. Simple video conferencing is easier than ever with services like Skype and Facetime. More complex, dedicated video conferencing systems are harder to sell. While simple conferences can be handled using cloud-based services like GoToMeeting or WebEx and a computer, more sophisticated video conferencing still needs more sophisticated digital signage/AV expertise.
According to Infonetics Research, 2013 saw 8 percent growth in video conferencing, up 6 percent in the second quarter alone. They also report that “PBX-based video system revenue doubled in 2Q13 from 2Q12 as businesses sought cost-effective ways to deploy multimedia communication... Dedicated systems, meanwhile, continue to struggle.”
Of course, in many cases, cheap conferencing solutions are inadequate. Video conferencing is only as effective as the weakest link, so if you have a poor AV experience because of insufficient bandwidth, audio dropouts, or poor video, the video conference will be a failure. For example, you can’t support a conference room of executives with a Skype call on a laptop screen, nor can you collaborate when you have too much ambient noise from the guy dialing in from Starbucks. The system you design needs to meet customer expectations for reliable performance.
Providing the Right Video Conferencing Approach
Recommending the right video conferencing requirements is a matter of understanding the customer’s objectives. There are many ways to approach video conferencing so the only “wrong” way is to recommend a solution that fails to satisfy the customer’s needs.
With that in mind, here are some basics you need to master to make the right video conferencing recommendations:
- Properly assess the customer’s objectives – Understanding exactly how your customer plans to use video conferencing establishes the baseline for system requirements. What is their primary goal? Their secondary goal? How many locations do they need to connect? How many users? Do they have existing equipment or software they plan to use? How big is their budget? To ensure customer satisfaction, you need to thoroughly understand the scope of the project from the outset to make the right video conferencing recommendations, and to ensure you are both using the same metrics to measure ROI.
- Right-sizing a solution – Once you understand the objective, the budget, and how to measure success, you can recommend the right solution. Like the three bears, you don’t want to recommend a system that is too small to do the job or too big to justify the costs; you need to design a solution that is “just right.”
- Choosing the right hardware and software – Now you can define the specific video conferencing requirements and design a system scaled to suit the customer’s objectives. Start by selecting the right hardware and software, including the appropriate display or digital signage system, audio, cameras, white boarding and collaboration software, and anything else needed to make the system complete.
- Verify there is enough network bandwidth – Be sure the customer’s network has sufficient bandwidth to handle the defined video system requirements. Video conferencing can consume anywhere from 400 Kbps to 6 Mbps of network bandwidth depending on frame rate, picture resolution, and other factors. If the network already supports voice-over-IP (VoIP) it may be able to handle video conferencing without a problem. However, make sure you have the right tools in place to validate and manage network bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) so you can ensure flawless video conference performance.
- Telepresence – For more sophisticated conferencing applications, telepresence may be the best solution even though it is more expensive. Telepresence offers a more seamless video conferencing experience (“the next best thing to being there”), and is ideal for spontaneous meetings as well as applications that require high-resolution audio and video, such as delicate medical procedures. Cisco already has an impressive telepresence solution available. You should be aware of the capabilities of telepresence should if prove a viable, and affordable option.
- Need for mobile support – If the customer wants immediate access to conference participants on the go, or their conference attendees are working in temporary or “pop-up” locations, be sure to consider the video conferencing requirements for mobile users. Consider the wireless capacity and network infrastructure for mobile video conferencing as part of the system design.
- Know your support commitment – Be sure you know the support capabilities of your customer’s IT or AV team so you can anticipate how much hand-holding you will need to provide to maintain the video conference system. If you have to be on call to manage the system, consider either revising the design specifications so the customer can manage it themselves, or include ongoing support as part of the contract and set customer expectations accordingly.
These are just some of the video conferencing requirements you should master. If you understand the interrelationships between the hardware, software, and networking requirements and can balance those requirements to meet the customer’s immediate capabilities and long-term goals, you can design a system that not only does the job and doesn’t break the budget, but that leaves you with a happy customer willing to come back for an upgrade at a future date.
So when you specify a new video conferencing system, what’s the first thing you do? What have you mastered that helps you deliver superior customer service?