IdaRose Sylvester, Silicon

As we enter 2009, reducing spending, improving productivity of smaller teams, and the perceived imperative to improve the corporate ’green’ footprint are three priorities facing corporations.

Video in the enterprise has been heralded by suppliers and pundits as a cost-saving, productivity-improving, green panacea for years, and the technology is finally coming together well enough to no longer be considered a true obstacle.

But does that mean you should implement video in your enterprise in 2009? This article frames the debate by discussing the various uses of the technology so that you can decide if video is the right choice for your organisation.

In the enterprise, video can play three major roles: one-to-one telephony, to bring individuals together over a video phone or PC; video conferencing, to bring groups together for live meetings (which can be unicast or bidirectional); and video on demand, for storing videos used for training and communications purposes.

With telephony, a few people who would normally have a conference call can enrich the experience through a video chat. However, talking heads staring at each other in a simple meeting are not necessarily inherently valuable, unless participants are sharing extensive visual information or need to see body language to interpret nuances of a challenging conversation (though video quality has, up until now, mitigated the latter benefit).

If additional collaboration tools can be added to the conversation, such as a shot of a real white board, or indeed a PC-based virtual white board, more value is derived, but virtual white boards can be used without video too.

With video conferencing to bring groups together in a virtual meeting, or to broadcast from one point to many, the benefits are more obvious. In team meetings, strategic planning sessions and other meetings where teams must come together to learn, solve problems, debate and tackle issues, often for many hours at a time, video brings life to the meeting.

For unicast broadcasting of a live meeting, video can add a dimension that makes important or challenging messages come to life for the viewer. But calculating the actual value of such implementations remains a challenge.

Lastly, video on demand, used for corporate training and messaging, offers the clearest value to the enterprise. Video training can ensure unified education across teams and gets the enterprise over time-zone concerns.

For executives and other users who truly embrace creating video for on demand consumption, video can be a useful tool for recreating the water cooler, and for sharing interesting news such as design wins, introducing new team members and sharing informal greetings.

All forms of video usage share common downsides. For one, implementation costs can be quite high, which is an unappealing hurdle when budgets are tight. Provisioning of video cameras, video phones, appropriate routing and backup equipment – not to mention software and user and IT training – all take money and time.

An exception to the big infrastructure rollout costs are roll-your-own video services that rely on cost-effective desktop cameras and typically have SaaS-like video storage and management systems.

Another implementation concern is user acceptance. While video can provide a realistic experience akin to face-to-face meetings for an individual or a group, and in theory that can enhance communications and trust, that doesn’t mean users are automatically interested in using a new video system. If forced from the top down, video telephony and conferencing may be viewed as an intrusion, or worse, another system that must be learned and – given the long-held biases about the quality of video – assumed will fail.

A grey area is video training and communication, where users around the globe may gain better access to training and to other members of the corporation.

Lastly, there are the long term overheads of video in the enterprise. First of all, organisations that want a professional look to their content will need not just high-quality equipment and production space but also a professional production manager. Post production, video must be securely archived and searchable. For this, bandwidth, storage, software and even additional staff may be needed.

So should video in the enterprise be part of your strategy in 2009? Only if it can solve a clearly defined problem. Simply making video available doesn’t mean users will watch it or change because of it.

Organisations must ask themselves what problems they are facing and then what role video would play in their resolution. For example, if training budgets are tight, video-based training may require only one trainer and one session, and reach employees around the world without requiring travel costs.

In the same way, unicast webconferencing may be an efficient way for management to spread messages to employees, without travel costs.

We recommend using video in small trials to prove the utility of the solution in your organisation, and help you determine if a large-scale rollout makes sense.

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