In the first part of this feature on video communications, we looked at how and why user experience is specially crucial in the corporate environment. Here we consider the pros and cons of interoperability, and whether the shifting video comms landscape offers potential opportunity for integrators
“Unified platforms for video delivery do exist,” says James Keen, group marketing manager at Tripleplay. “In digital signage, for example, the challenge tends to come when those installing or purchasing want very specific things. Every video platform has its own USPs and integrators want to deliver exactly what their clients want – so if they need to pick a CMS from one company, encoders from another and decoders from somebody else, then they will. That can create a disparate and convoluted control platform – but the buyer gets their boxes ticked and so the client must be happy. Mustn’t they?”
Anne Marie Ginn, senior category manager at Logitech VC, sees things slightly differently. “Multi-platform videoconferencing is a fact of the industry, and there are a number of vendors who enable interoperability between systems,” she points out. “The simplest scenario within a company may be to have one common platform – but the good news is that many users are already comfortable with multi-platform communication through their consumer devices. It is the norm for many to use iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, switching platform according to who they’re speaking to, and they accordingly anticipate the same when setting up a video call – so it isn’t as big a stumbling block as it seems.”
“There are a number of third-party services for video collaboration systems to integrate together,” notes Joel Chimoindes, European commercial director at distributor Maverick AV Solutions, “but there’s nothing available to unify the full functionality of the whole workflow solutions platform from Microsoft, Cisco and Google. I do imagine, however, that third-party vendors will produce the glue that sticks these workflow solutions together and make them compatible. This will deliver a truly unified user experience.”
“It will seem that the technology we’re using will be completely invisible and vanish from the actual meeting experience” – Anne Marie Ginn, Logitech
If the thoughts of Francis Williams, technical director at Pioneer Group, on the likelihood of vendors collaborating are close to accurate, Chimoindes’ suggestion is an interesting one. Is there a real opportunity for value add for companies with no hardware axe to grind and no commitment to any one solution?
“In the past, the go-to-market for videoconferencing solutions had been 100% channel, as it required heavy integration services and so on,” says Josh Duncan, senior director of product management at Lifesize. “As easy-to-install, ‘plug-and-play’ endpoints and downloadable cloud-based apps have gained pace, it has driven different expectations for the buyer’s experience, which requires business adjustments for many integrators. Whenever there is a fundamental change in technology and customer buying behaviour, integrators face the question of how they add value for customers in a rapidly shifting market.
“As such,” he continues, “there is a great opportunity for integrators to help customers navigate through this changing landscape, plan and deploy new solutions, and support them in enabling user adoption. To be successful, there are additional capabilities that integrators will develop and business changes for which they need to prepare. As solutions and markets change, revenue opportunities do as well. This requires a strategic conversation to understand customers’ broader communication and collaboration needs and plans, which can uncover new opportunities for growth as scalable, flexible solutions and a SaaS delivery model enable video communications to scale beyond a more traditional set of rooms to connect every person and every room in an organisation.”
Williams is in agreement.
“Clearly, there is an opportunity there,” he adds. “There is a growth in the use of shared standards and protocols being defined which we haven’t seen much before within the industry. The increased availability of APIs is evidence that manufacturers are aware of not only the opportunity but also the requirement for third-party integration. Integrators who are forward thinking should be looking at new ways to provide their value-add, and one such way would be using this to help provide a single user interface that converses not only with multiple systems but integrates with the whole of the user experience.”
Technically more difficult
“This is technically more difficult than our industry is used to,” he warns. “However, I just see this as an inevitable part of the convergence between AV and IT; the closer AV moves towards IT, the more likely the need for more and more software because the delivery platform is changing from hard infrastructure towards that of a service platform which is clearly software-based.”
“Certainly, as I said earlier, there is an opportunity for third parties or integrators to create solutions,” declares Chimoindes, “which will combine the capabilities of workflow solutions together to improve user experience between vendors.”
Tripleplay’s Keen, however, wonders whether that’s the right way forward – or whether there’s an alternative.
“I think vendors do try to deliver the unified, quality user experience people want, but it often gets overlooked because integrators don’t always fully understand the video streaming/UI element of AV and so don’t necessarily sell the concept of a single platform over an ‘integrated’ solution,” he explains. “You don’t need to plumb four products together just to add value: delivering a single platform that can do 90% of what the customer needs may be the right route, especially if that platform has the capabilities to evolve and change over time.”