“Like television archives, stored desktop videoconferences can potentially provide a legacy of our meetings, presentations, and collaborations. These video anthologies may follow us through our careers and personal lives.”
This observation is from the book, Personal Videoconferencing, published in 1996 by Manning/Prentice Hall. It so happens that I wrote the book. Recently, I’ve been re-reading the book, articles and columns on collaboration that I wrote in the mid-1990’s to assess how collaboration has progressed over the last fifteen years. This exercise is particularly relevant, because I’m currently writing my third book on collaboration. And to know where collaboration is headed, it’s essential to understand its evolution.
There’s no need to pre-empt my forthcoming book here, but I feel compelled to share some thoughts about the role of video. In 1996, video was the most controversial aspect of collaboration. Engineers, marketing people, and senior leaders were divided on the value of video. Videoconferencing on desktop and notebook computers was emerging and so was non-video web conferencing. Many technologists insisted that people primarily wanted to share documents, spreadsheets and electronic whiteboards rather than see one another. Inside Intel, which was developing an early conferencing system called ProShare, a debate raged on whether to include video in the product. Ultimately, the video proponents won that debate.
In the mid-1990’s, audio conferencing people dominated the conferencing industry and felt threatened by video. So, video was defending itself from assaults from two groups of naysayers: the legacy voice people and the early non-video web conferencing crowd. Essentially, many people with entrenched interests felt uncomfortable using interactive video, disliked how they came across, and lacked vision regarding video’s role in business. In short, they felt threatened by the emerging medium. Their attitude was similar to that of “serious” print and radio journalists towards television news when that medium emerged in the 1950’s.
Fast forward to 2011. The age of YouTube, reality television, and Skype has conditioned us to embrace video. We’re comfortable seeing friends, relatives and colleagues when we communicate at a distance and having them see us. It’s no longer a stretch to accept that video creates an emotional connection second only to an in-person exchange. Nearly every collaborative organization I’ve encountered and almost all of those I feature in The Culture of Collaboration book have not only adopted real-time, interactive video, but also have integrated video into their cultures and business processes.
A few years ago, I gave a speech in London at the Tandberg global sales directors’ meeting. Tandberg leaders sensed a shift in how their customers were making purchase decisions for videoconferencing systems. Increasingly, business unit heads or senior leaders rather than telecom or IT people were calling the shots. So, video was moving from an equipment sale to a consultive sale involvement business processes. I was in London to give sales leaders some pointers about winning in the shifting environment.
Having acquired Tandberg, Cisco is nudging enterprises to adopt video throughout their operations. And Cisco offers a broad portfolio of video products ranging from telepresence to WebEx to Flip video cameras. From a sales perspective, though, Cisco still struggles with some of the same issues that plague other telepresence and visual communication vendors including Polycom and HP. Namely, it’s easy to slip back into pushing boxes of products. The challenge is to collaborate with customers to create value by integrating tools into their cultures and processes.
Ilan Kasan and Grace Kim of Cisco recently demonstrated for me a new version of WebEx. The new version, dubbed the WebEx High Quality Video Experience, offers Active Presence, which is a “film strip” of video feeds showing everybody on a call. Cisco TelePresence offers the same capability, and now people can join TelePresence sessions via WebEx. Plus the new version enables the Apple iPad with WebEx.
Marketing departments of technology vendors are typically bullish on customer adoption forecasts. Cisco is no exception. David Hsieh, Cisco’s vice president of emerging technologies marketing, tells me that within twelve months, 36 percent of Cisco’s top customers will roll out telepresence and video collaboration across their entire enterprises. That percentage climbs to 46 percent in over two years. David and his colleagues believe this, because Cisco gathered its top customers in a room and asked them about their purchase plans. However, my experience with this type of survey is that customers are more likely to reveal purported purchase plans when they are surrounded by other customers---and therefore the results from the customer gathering may be skewed towards greater adoption.
Nevertheless, Cisco believes the survey results indicate something significant. “This represents a major shift in the market. Cisco is going to put a major stake in the ground,” according to David. There’s a difference, though, between rolling out systems and actually integrating tools into workflow, processes and culture. Cisco, Polycom, HP and other visual communications and collaboration vendors must devote greater time and resources to integrating tools into workflow and processes. This approach will create far greater value for their shareholders and salespeople than simply moving products. As customers see other customers creating value through extending and enhancing collaboration, adoption becomes more viral.
Clearly, the debate has advanced from whether video is necessary in business to how video can be used most effectively to create value.
Real change happens when the culture shifts and tools, including video, become part-and-parcel of how an organization collaborates and does business. Tools rarely create collaboration, but they play a critical role in extending and enhancing collaboration. Sold and used effectively, video is the tool that can enhance collaboration like no other.