Video communications will never replace all face-to-face business meetings, but IT administrators need to be able to divvy out enough bandwidth to the right users so they can talk using their Web cams, says Stephen Beamish, director of Solutions Marketing for Mitel Networks.
Beamish, who joined Mitel 2-1/2 years ago after working in Ottawa for both Tropic Networks and Newbridge Networks (now part of Alcatel), recently shared his views on IP communications, multimedia collaboration and presence awareness with Communications & Networking staff.
C&N: How much more difficult is it to do multimedia collaboration over a wide area or to wireless devices? What additional complications does this introduce for the IT manager?
SB: Whether it be a wireless or a wired device or over DSL, it makes no difference. It’s all about presence and availability. I was in Australia and my business day ended on a Friday. Saturday morning, as I open up my laptop, my presence shows up. Meanwhile, 16 hours behind, one of my sales people is talking to a customer, and they see my presence pop up, and they say, ‘Let’s just ask Stephens.” Now they send me a secure IM, they say, “Are you available to chat?” I start chatting, next thing we augment that into a voice conversation, then we increase it into a video call. I didn’t even bother telling them where I was. The beauty of it was, it didn’t matter where I was. I was on the other side of the world, and I could provide that information. What I didn’t realize was, it was a room full of bankers, and when they hung up the phone, one of the bankers said to our sales person, “Let me get this straight. Then guy that was sitting there in the video with the ripped T-shirt, growing beard and his hair pointing in four different directions is responsible for your solutions marketing?” Because for me it was Saturday morning, but for them it was Friday at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. They didn’t even know I was on the other side of the world, and that’s the beauty of it. For an administrator there’s no difference, whether I’m down the hall using collaboration or presence, or on the other side of the world. It’s still the same thing.
C&N: With video, you’re getting more users who want to make video conference calls or get video to the desktop. What are some things an IT manager should keep in mind?
SB: You can divide video into two camps. The first camp is in a boardroom setting, where you need high resolution, 30 frames a second, broadcast quality video and the other camp I have is USB Web cam, sitting on top of a PC. Somebody that just needs to have a video connection and does not require that 30 frames a second. I see the growth in the market in the lower end, where people have a video camera attached to their laptop or their desk. Where you’re seeing the market go is in the high end, the end point’s becoming a commodity.
What IT managers need to look to is to be able to have some means of controlling that bandwidth. If I look at some of our products, Your Assistant for example, if you and I wanted to do this by video, it’s no problem. I could invite you in, even though you’re external to our company, and if you did have a simple USB Web cam, I could detect a presence to say, “Oh, you’ve got this Web cam. I can enable it.” Now, if suddenly I have a CEO on with us as well, I have the ability as a user to bring down your video resolution, and bring up the CEO so that he looks better, and I can bring down your resolution almost to 50 Kbps. And I can bump his up to 300 Kbps at 30 frames a second. You need to have that flexibility to control bandwidth, because bringing in video is going to suck a lot of bandwidth.
C&N: Is there any development in the industry that’s taken you by surprise?
SB: One of the things that everyone always talked about, that I still don’t believe, is going to be a major part, is video. Video’s important, but I don’t think you will ever replace face to face communications. We had a customer in here, and they said, “Wow. With the high resolution I can see and I can sense body language that way, and that’s important.” Video is always going to be there, it’s always going to be a strategic requirement, but I don’t see it taking over from the need to travel and to collaborate. What has surprised me is the whole concept of presence. You know in the olden days, where you get a phone call on your foot-long mobile, and somebody says, “listen, I need you to get this report to me,” and you say, “I’ll deal with it when I get back to me office.” You don’t have that luxury now. If you want to stay ahead of the curve competitively, if you want to be a leader in whatever markets you are as a corporation, you want to have tools that your people can access in the moment. The total idea of presence has been a phenomenon that’s going to take off. You’re going to see when people are going to have on their swipe cards to get into their offices, whenever they walk into a boardroom, suddenly it says, “Stephen’s in a boardroom right now.” I would say, “When in boardrooms, only let certain people access me.”