by Martin Veitch

Video enters the corporate mainstream

May 25, 2010
IT Strategy

After text, numbers, messaging systems, web pages, hi-res images and audio had entered the corporate mainstream, video was perhaps the last media type to appear on the radar of CIOs. Even 10 years ago it was rarely- sighted except in the cases of the advanced minority that had installed videoconferencing systems or, as with the broadcast sector, those that had some niche requirement.

Today, however, video has permeated into many corners of the enterprise as a tool for communicating, marketing, educating, selling, persuading and securing. But where is video in the enterprise and where is it going next?

Video as an alternative to face-to-face meetingsis flourishing, particularly- at the high end of the market where so-called telepresence systems employ high-definition video, directional audio and high-spec microphones, cameras and flat panels to deliver an experience that mimics that of sitting in a room with other participants.

Helped by environmental, budgetary and security concerns over flying, telepresence appears to be growing even in spite of the recent economic downturn. Analyst Frost & Sullivan pegged the total value of the market at $396m in 2009 and sees this more than doubling to $826m in 2015.

“Ash clouds from Iceland are just the latest in a long line of issues that have impacted business travel,” explained Frost & Sullivan analyst Dominic Dodd. “Telepresence in particular has played a pivotal role in helping build greater awareness and in refocusing executive-level attention on visual collaboration.”

Cisco’s wall-to-wallmarketing can’t have hurt either in getting video into the minds of the C-suite. Of course, not everybody is convinced by the virtues of telepresence, with sceptics citing bandwidth requirements and availability, cost of installation, lack of multi-vendor openness and the need to begin and end meetings to strict deadlines as demand for rooms grows.

However, Rich Plane, CIO of wireless networking firm Aviat Networks, which uses a LifeSize videoconferencing system, is in no doubt as to the business benefits.

“We got commercial broadcast quality, cut out a lot of internal travel between offices in particular, and reduced carbon footprint in one,” he says.

For those troubled by cost and access issues of in-house telepresence, the good news is that public rooms are popping up to provide ad hoc access.

“For those with telepresence, public rooms offer more opportunities to connect and collaborate, and thus a greater return on investment,” says Peter Quinlan, director of Telepresence Managed Services at Tata Communications. “They should be part of any telepresence strategy because they facilitate connections to locations where the business case does not justify- the deployment of a dedicated room, where there may be intermittent or ad hoc requirements, or where customers or suppliers have not yet deployed the technology.”

However, don’t go pigeon holing corporate video as just for conferencing. The advent of YouTube five years ago showed how important video could be in terms of marketing. Today, many firms create a viral buzz through the site and its rivals, but that side of the business is also becoming more professional through online video platforms (OVPs) such as those provided by Brightcove, the acknowledged market leader of the fast-growing sector. Brightcove, and other OVPs including startups like Ooyala and open-source ventures such as Kaltura, in their broadest incarnations offer a way to apply measurement metrics so that video creators can see not just how many people visited the video spot but also when and for how long, as well as controlling hosting, encoding, distribution and more. On top of winning sales among broadcast and media firms, that combination has attracted interest from across vertical sectors including GM, Staples, Nestle and ski break group Vail Resorts.

Another emerging application for video is in communicating to a broad group, whether to break news, explain strategy or educate. Some companies will simply stream video over an intranet or extranet but others are turning to third-party programs for superior ease of use, management tools and to free up the network.

Google Videois, the firm says, an attempt to “democratise” business video by providing a secure hosted site for content where administrators can control who has access to what videos so that, for example, training exercises can be carried out to fit the time windows available to staff. Meanwhile, firms like Adobe with its Connect Pro service offer low-cost conferencing solutions that embed video tools but emphasise the benefits of broader collaboration.

Also thanks to video and the ubiquity of IP, public events such as product launches, sales kickoff confabs and press conferences are often less based on getting people through the door than getting them to a local office or even a computer.

And of course, surveillance over IP-based video is everywhere from street furniture watching for rowdy behaviour to London’s congestion zone watching for drivers that haven’t paid the C-charge.

Bandwidth blockers

Video in the enterprise also has its challenges, with one CIO calling it “cholesterol for the network”. That artery-hardening effect could come into play very soon with football fans keen to monitor England’s progress in South Africa over their office internet connections, creating an optimisation and control challenge for CIOs.

But supporters say even traditional bugbears are being addressed. Julian Phillips, managing director of audiovisual specialist services company Impact, says customers are exploring multipoint systems that let users have games streamed live to their desktops. The argument for is that they can keep half an eye on the football while working rather than sloping off to watch on a big screen elsewhere and companies are better able to manage the connections and bandwidth because they can predict the size of the likely audience.

“What’s interesting is that when people talk about video in the enterprise, everyone assumes its videoconferencing because ash clouds and corporate travel budgets are in the news and because it’s easy to translate the saving,” Phillips says. “But if you want to send out a communication about a merger or acquisition is it better to do it by email or have a head-and-shoulders view of the CEO looking you in the eye? That’s what people are used to with YouTube.”

Similarly, Phillips recalls how his own company recently underwent ISO accreditation and used video to the desktop to save costs, make training convenient for staff, prove that videos were actually being watched and to benefit from feedback.

Securityis another area where video is proving its mettle and not only through basic surveillance. Impact has a service that uses videos to watch over traders for governance purposes, for example, while it also has services that let customers record the traditional ‘morning call’ in HD and make it available to the desktops and BlackBerries of global staff within minutes.

“Video is a major opportunity but also a major challenge,” Phillips advises. “It’s chunky stuff. Also, it tends to lend itself to the lines of business and the CIO is playing catch-up in a lot of cases.”

Chris Lewis of analyst IDCagrees that video also sets some challenges.

“Video was formerly the remit of the dedicated conference room, but it often disappointed and many rooms and units were poorly utilised. Along comes telepresence and rooms are suddenly well booked and new meeting protocols evolve as people have to pay attention as they are exposed to HD-quality sound and image. Discipline increases and meetings- are more effective. Building up from the bottom however, and on desktops and even mobile devices, we have another explosion: video is being used for marketing, blogging, person-to-person and even linking in with their end systems. The CIO, like with social networking, voice and the rest, is trying to address the exploding demand by banning applications (never very popular), throwing bandwidth at the problem (expensive) or trying to move towards cloud-type solutions where the cloud helps the distribution and management of video flows. Implications are, of course, that traffic and usage needs to be monitored and that quality of service needs to be developed within the enterprise network itself and extended to customers and suppliers where appropriate.”

Even the technology behind London’s C-charge may end up helping us as supermarkets plan stock control systems that look for shelves that need refilling and police will be able to search for images of ‘blue cars with two passengers in the last hour on Acacia Avenue’. Having conquered the living room 40 years ago, it seems video is finally coming close to being as common in the workplace as the TV set in the home.