With Microsoft’s purchase of Skype today, my mind has turned to video and its future in an increasingly communication rich society. For many years, vendors and industry pundits have said” X (insert year here) will be the year for video”. In the past video was difficult to use and expensive. This is changing. Skype offers low cost, easy to use video with reasonable quality if you simply have to have it and can’t afford it. Cisco, Lifesize and Polycom also offer a range of products that at various price points that correlate to video quality. However, video still isn’t mainstream. Video’s consistent failure to meet expectations is based on a limited imagination of the use cases. The concept of video has barely changed in the past two decades. The main enterprise video application is still a “from the neck up” point-to-point or multipoint videoconferencing. There is value in videoconferencing for meetings. Videoconferencing is good for meeting geographically distributed colleagues and clients when in-person meetings aren’t possible. It’s also appropriate for sensitive conversations such as employee reviews and business negotiations when face-to-face meetings aren’t practical.
However, we’ve had this for years and it wasn’t just a cost and ease of use issues that prevented video from achieving mass adoption. Part of the issue is human nature. People aren’t always keen on being seen but consumer trends in social sharing are starting to change this. The biggest issue video providers must overcome is inertia. Customers simply don’t see an inherit value in video for its cost. Saving money on air travel and increasing employee productivity isn’t a value add. It’s a cost cutting strategy that places the video in the domain of operational expense management instead of strategic investment. Video can be a strategic differentiator. Video will reach greater penetration when it helps a company do something better than it could with other technology. One issue with today’s video is there isn’t enough “video quality” content in it. Consumer video is gaining traction because it allows the user to share an event/action that is happening at the time it is happening. It could be a tornado, a concert, a funny building or a child’s first steps that a consumer wants to share with another person. These same “action-based” video principals can be applied in the enterprise environment as well. For example, video is a more effective and efficient way to illustrate how to fix a piece of equipment and remotely instruct a physician on the latest advances in a surgical procedure.
Also, video isn’t an island. Video is part of a continuum of communications. It’s the richest and most powerful mode of communicating. Video is the ultimate mechanism to relay context such as physical gestures and the environmental surroundings. Video strategies will also be more successful when video becomes more portable. People move and video can move with them. Consumers are buying portable devices, such as tablets and smartphones, with high quality HD video capture. The best video implementations will also create mashups with other software such as augmented reality, CRM and maps to create new services that are more powerful as a result of the combination. Leading firms and video vendors will take advantage of this trend to provide video on the go and mashups to create new business value such as shrinking time to service and improving customer satisfaction. For example, a field technician could use his tablet’s camera and an augmented reality overlay to identify a piece of equipment at the customer site and overlay a list of the most frequent technical issues on the image. It could also link back to a database with manuals and recorded video tutorials. By linking augmented reality and video with the CRM system, the technician could find the last repairperson that was onsite and connect with the technician via to walkthrough the recent issues. This may appear like science fiction but Polycom’s CTO Joe Burton shared a similar vision in our most recent interview. The world will move from video as an island to video as an embedded extension of your applications and services. The trick is to figure out where video will be most useful and request those features from your software, hardware and service vendors.
There are many valuable ways to use video that I haven’t mentioned or even considered. I look forward to readers sharing with me their uses of this powerful technology.