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Digital Workplace – the potentials of collaboration

Keeping pace with digital disruption has never seemed harder: businesses need flexible, easy-to-use technology to stay relevant and competitive in our profoundly changing world. Businesses need to improve employee effectiveness and engagement, digital workplace productivity and automation by empowering people to become connected employees. Organisations can no longer afford to commit themselves financially to a particular technology from a single manufacturer, and with increased globalisation, autonomy between different campuses is more likely which in turn will lead to a mix of endpoint technology at the very least.

Customers are becoming increasingly demanding and will want increased value for their money. They will be looking for all things “simple” in technology terms, like simple to use, understand, access, interoperate, connect and price. The most crucial customer demands of today are the following ones: minimal capital expenditure on infrastructure, a flexible model, future-proofing (that is, ability to incorporate the latest technology) and independence from a specific hardware solution.

Personalised communication and collaboration tools could be the key to enabling true work-life integration. In case of companies investing in collaboration technologies, productivity increases up to 400% have been achieved, whereas technology-enabled flexible working is quickly becoming a basic employee expectation, and will be the main option for most employers by 20201

Connect your employees – wherever they are in the world

Working face-to-face – irrespective of continents and time zones – helps you make sure messages are communicated effectively. It also allows staff based in remote locations to be fully involved in the decision-making process by sharing ideas, images, applications and even desktop environments with ultimate ease. Such solutions can contribute highly to speeding up business processes.

You can link your teams and clients throughout the world with our conferencing and collaboration solutions. They're designed to strengthen business relationships and make flexible working initiatives more effective. They also cut down the time, cost and environmental impact of unnecessary business travel. Plus, there are no large upfront costs to pay, servers to maintain or software to install as it is provided from the cloud.

Why the cloud?

Video conferencing has been in existence for over 30 years but has not yet achieved the widespread adoption over other communications technologies, such as telephone. This was, of course, due to a number of hindering factors:

  • Quality: Picture and sound quality haven’t been as good as users have come to expect of their TV at home.
  • Cost: hardware cost of endpoints has been high, infrastructure required to enable calls even higher.
  • Maintenance of the video estate: it’s often been left in the hands of an IT department with different skills unsuitable for managing video communication environments.
  • Security: in our age of “cyber-attacks”, organisations are reluctant to expose their networks externally where they are potentially vulnerable to compromise.
  • Network restrictions: video is “bandwidth-hungry” and time-dependent, so IP networks are on the face of it not the best suited for video traffic.
  • Scalability: initially video conferencing was restricted to internal communication, however with the emergence of personal forms of video communication, there is a drive to connect on a massive scale which is limited by the capacity and cost of infrastructure.
  • Interoperability: initially manufacturers used proprietary methods, later moving to internationally ratified standards. However, as newer video-based technologies have subsequently emerged, the existing industry has been slow or reluctant to embrace interoperability.
  • Usability: video conferencing has a reputation of being difficult to use.
  • Understanding: many deployments would be more successful if users appreciated some of the human factors that should be considered in video meetings that exist and are taken for granted in face-to-face meetings, like eye contact, meeting etiquette etc.
  • Adoption: organisations deploy video without investing in adoption programs to help their workforce adapt and grow with the new methods of working.

With regard to video communication, cloud services are able to address all of these issues and bring video collaboration into the mainstream. However, as cloud is flexible and requires no customer capital investment, customer loyalty is not assured, hence customers will choose providers that give them what they are looking for: the expertise that will help them achieve their business aims. Customers can move from a cloud service much easier than moving away from an on premise hardware infrastructure into which they have heavily invested. They want technology partners who understand their pain points and can adapt the services they supply to accommodate any changes. Customers will look for added value and innovation that will directly affect their bottom line.

The video conference industry has for too long been promoting video communication as a “special event” reserved for the great and powerful. Good video communication is achieved by looking at it as an office tool that works first time and every time, like a printer, a PC or mobile. It should be so simple that users don’t even think twice, where it becomes their default method for meetings without interrupting the business flow.

By the same token, video service providers will only survive and thrive if they respond to these challenges with innovative deployments and services that add value. Vodafone have brought a unique service to the market in VMA Video with a product that fulfils current customer expectations by combining an adaptable, flexible, future-proof technology with innovative features together with flexible pricing models and a full service wrap. When this winning formula is added to our network expertise and global reach, this places us in a leading position to influence the future of video communications and promote high quality video for all.

All to all vs VMR

Parallel to this was another battle going on which can be summarised as “all to all” vs “VMR”. Let’s take a look at these two concepts:

All to all

Cisco was a firm champion of the “all to all” school, according to which video communication is treated similarly to telephony. Each person can be contacted directly in a point-to-point call wherever they are – like a telephone call. This concept was adopted originally by most of the major manufacturers. However, as there are many different devices and protocols out there, it is quite a complex issue to solve. You might be connecting a SIP-based device to an ISDN device or a Skype for Business client to an immersive telepresence system. Both of these examples require translations between different protocols and algorithms. Great advances have been made both in endpoints and infrastructure, but essentially the problems are mainly solved by hardware. For each problem you wish to address, you will require additional hardware, and then you may be limited by capacity. Virtualisation has perhaps helped alleviate this, but there is still a huge cost to adding “boxes” of server hardware to accommodate these virtual machines and solve the connection challenges.

In such a scenario, increase in demand creates further challenges. If a company has invested in expensive MCUs and has a number of them around their network, then increase in demand is a thorny problem. The company has a number of choices, but none of them offers a flawless solution. They can restrict usage to certain endpoints or groups of people, which however means the denial of service to others. They can also deploy technologies, such as Cisco’s Conductor, which will manage the existing ports and deploy them more efficiently, but this is really only a “finger in the dyke” and demand could outstrip the existing capability very quickly. Althernatively, they could increase their hardware capacity to match demand, however this could mean further expensive investment in “soon to be obsolete” hardware just to ensure that users get a consistent experience. None of the options are particularly attractive and demonstrate only short term tactical solutions. Of course, if additional investment is the chosen route, then this will not necessarily only apply to MCUs but call control and gateways, too. The cynical may see this as a way of “locking the customer in”.

VMR

In this setting, participants call into a Virtual Meeting Room (VMR) from whatever device or endpoint they choose. There is no direct connection to other users: they all meet in a virtual, secure, sterile space. Details are easily shared, calls can be PIN protected and additional methods of connectivity are opened up to the company previously restricted by their choice of infrastructure. VMRs principally deploy the capabilities of the modern MCUs to solve connectivity problems. Transrating (different speeds) and Transcoding (different picture coding techniques) are built in. In addition, MCUs can also be used as gateways to other technologies (Skype For Business, telephony, Webex etc.).

These solutions can be deployed on premise, however, in this scenario the same capacity issues could be experienced. On the other hand, deploying them in the cloud allows for almost infinite capacity with no capital investment, just a monthly fee, thus placing the budget in the “opex” category. The investment is carried out by the cloud providers who are able to reduce costs by economies of scale, sharing the platform between many organisations whilst simultaneously ensuring the separation and security demanded by many customers. Customers are content as this is effectively a “pay for usage” model which can potentially flex and expand upwards or downwards depending on demand, no capital investment in infrastructure is required and ample capacity is assured.

Using VMRs as the interface between different entities is also extremely secure as the only connections are to the cloud provider not to external organisations with whom you wish to communicate. All calls are terminated in the VMR in a secure, sterile environment with no direct network to network connectivity between separate organisations. Encryption is also supported, so video, audio and data are protected.

The Vodafone Meet Anywhere (VMA) video service

The VMA video service from Vodafone have been expertly designed and executed together with our strategic partner, Elisa Videra. Vodafone’s potential impact on cloud video services shouldn’t be underestimated, as Vodafone is the provider to many global organisations and has high quality data connections to these companies in many countries across the world. This in itself is a good reason for customers to look at VMA when evaluating cloud services for video as an important part of the infrastructure (ie. the network) that is already in place. Improvements may need to be implemented, such as bandwidth increases for the predicted video traffic together with traffic shaping by packet tagging and onward connection to the VMA cloud, but they will already have the basis and sound investment to deploy high quality video quickly.

Addressing the pain points

VMA addresses many of the pain points discussed earlier for customers deploying video:

  • Quality
    • VMA has been designed to support High Definition video up to 1080p together with High Definition audio.
    • Connection to the service may be by high quality private network connections for room-based systems.
  • Usability
    • Connection to your own VMR is simple. Everyone in the organisation has their own VMR and all users have the same format (eg firstname.lastname@ company.vmavideo.com). Details for joining the meeting from H.323 and SIP room endpoints, mobile devices, PCs and using WebRtc are included in the invitation.
    • o All new systems provided by Vodafone come with a manufacturer’s touch panel interface designed specifically for video communication rather than a hand controller. Name-based, standardised addresses are much easier to remember and understand and are easily entered in the dial field with a familiar keyboard on a touch controller. Research with existing customers has shown that this was a key factor for rapid adoption of video and truly created ease of use.
    • The VMA app specially developed by Vodafone also has a number of innovative features:
      • All meetings are displayed on the app thanks to integration to calendar tools
      • You can start your own meeting and invite guests from the app, and if QR codes are displayed at a room endpoint, these can be used to automatically order the platform to dial out to the endpoint from your own VMR.
      • If you are an invitee to a meeting, QR codes can also be used on the endpoint to get the VMR to which you are invited to call out to the physical endpoint where you are.
      • The app may also be used to call out to a SIP address.
      • Notes may be taken using the app and then easily emailed after the end of the meeting.
  • Cost
    • Expensive infrastructure is not required by the customer on-site, although VMA is able to make use of any that exists. Endpoints register directly to the cloud.
    • Endpoints supplied as part of the service are designed to give the best Return on Investment (ROI).
    • The service is based around OpEx rather than CapEx, so no huge capital expenditure is required for infrastructure.
    • VMA is a flexible model that ensures that customers only pay for what they use. Each client is only charged for the peak number of concurrent calls for the month. No commitment is needed for a minimum number of concurrent connections.
    • All VMRs are free – payment is for “peak” concurrent connections.
    • The cost reduces depending on the volume of concurrent calls.
    • Excellent ROI – you pay for usage and have access to the latest up-to-date technology.
  • Interoperability
    • VMA supports all of the current industry-recognised video conference standards.
    • VMA leverages the best of breed technology from a number of different manufacturers to deliver a robust solution that interfaces and operates with all the leading technologies.
  • Scalability
    • At a cloud service, scalability is not an issue: the system is built on virtual servers, so capacity can easily and very quickly be increased.
    • Economies of scale dictate that capacity will always be over and above that needed by a single organisation.
    • Controls and triggers are in place to ensure that capacity availability is always ahead of capacity requirement.
    • Full redundancy is deployed to ensure maximum uptime and will cope with failures of single parts of the service by switching to back-up infrastructure.
    • Being a mission critical technology, an on premise solution becomes economically difficult to justify when scale increases beyond a certain point because organisations must also provide redundancy meaning that capital costs could potentially double for on premise infrastructure.
    • Concierge “Meet and Greet” services are also available with larger conferences being monitored and facilitated as a white glove service.
  • Security
    • Organisations and individuals communicating using VMA virtual meeting rooms connect into a cloud service outside their network, which is hosted in a secure, sterile environment. This reduces risk, there is no direct network-to-network connectivity. Customer “A” may communicate with Customer “B” but only through the VMA platform which acts as a secure proxy.
    • Communication will be encrypted wherever possible.
    • Microsoft Skype for Business/ Lync normally requires direct federation between organisations, however with VMA the platform acts as a broker and separates individual organisations. However, it also adds flexibility as any organisation federated to VMA may communicate with any other also federated to VMA.
  • Adoption

    Changing the way people work is fundamental to the successful adoption of a new service – resistance to change is natural human behaviour.

    • Training is integral to successful adoption and Vodafone will tailor training programs for users, advanced users and also include “Train the Trainer” sessions for continued development.
    • Training should also focus on changing users mindset by demonstrating the true business value of video.
    • VMA is able to provide detailed statistics showing usage of individual VMRs. These can be used to support the business model for adoption by showing the value of the platform in terms of cost saving, time saving and increased agility.
    • Vodafone will assist customers to implement internal programs to encourage adoption.
  • Understanding
    • Vodafone have carefully designed VMA video to be as easy to use as possible and have built in some of these premises as standard. Connections to calls are simplified and endpoints that Vodafone supply for use with service are configured with the end user in mind.
  • Network restrictions
    • Vodafone offer a full service and will work with a customer’s IT professionals to put in place the correct safeguards, such as Quality of Service (QoS), to cope with a “bandwidth hungry” technology, such as video.
    • Vodafone will ensure that the network is “fit for use” for high quality video communication.
  • Maintenance of the video estate
    • Vodafone offer a fully managed service for the customer’s existing video estate. This includes support for existing endpoints, new endpoints and any remaining infrastructure.
    • Vodafone have a dedicated team of video conference specialists that may be contacted directly for any live incidents, especially when customers need help immediately in a call. Customer calls to this helpline will be answered by an engineer who understands video and is able to get to work and resolve issues on receipt of the call.
    • Non-urgent issues may be reported directly to Vodafone, as well, or if our customers prefer, through their own internal processes, helpdesk etc.
    • Vodafone will ensure that the appropriate processes and workflows are established with the customer to provide the best level of service with high SLAs.
    • Support is available 24/7/365 in multiple languages.
  • Future-proofing
    • Each new innovation to the cloud service is fully tested before implementation.
    • New features and functions are added at no cost to the customer.
    • Obsolete infrastructure is replaced when needed without requiring further investment from the customer.
    • Users can be sure they are on the optimum platform.
    • The service may be “flexed” up or down according to the customer’s ongoing requirements.

Vodafone unique features

In addition, Vodafone have included some unique features to enhance the Vodafone VMA service which really places the user at the forefront of the technology.

With so many people now owning multiple personal mobile devices, it is not surprising that they wish to incorporate these into their daily workflow. This may be achieved in a number of ways and this concept is integral to the Vodafone VMA service. These versatile options allow users to invite other participants outside their own organisation to take part in their calls in a controlled manner with no compromise to security.

The Vodafone Meet Anywhere application

Most workers now own at least one if not more mobile devices without which they would struggle to do their job. When Vodafone launched their Vodafone Meet Anywhere service, our primary consideration was to create an app for mobile devices to give users control over their own personal meeting space in the cloud.

The VMA app completes the Vodafone experience allowing users to:

  • Schedule Meetings
  • View their calendar for upcoming meetings/events
  • Join an existing meeting using video or just audio
  • Create their own ad hoc meetings
  • Invite participants easily and simply
  • Manage their meetings
  • View participant lists
  • View content shared in the meeting
  • Take notes to share afterwards
  • Secure the meeting with a Host PIN

VMA_Image

The VMA app can be downloaded to Apple and Android mobiles and tablets from the Apple Store or Google Play. After initial sign-on users will be taken directly into the app

Once in the app, users may view their own profile which details all the information required to access VMA video calls. This includes their personal VMR details, SIP URI for access by room system, software client or Skype for Business, Host PIN, audio dial-in numbers and the appropriate audio access code. Information about how to access the camera and microphone and where to get help are also included. Access to calendars may be set up to ensure visibility of all scheduled events both video and others. In addition, a plug-in for VMA can be used to populate meetings scheduled through normal calendar tools.

New scheduled meetings may be initiated, participants selected and an email sent with all the necessary details embedded for invitees to take part in the call, whether by room system, VMA app, Microsoft Skype for Business, WebRTC or by audio.

Ad hoc meetings are easily joined and set up from the app or from a video-enabled meeting room. Video meeting rooms can be configured to display QR codes. To use this facility, the VMA app is able to scan these codes and initiate a meeting towards this room-based system whether it is your own VMR conference or one to which you have been invited, thus avoiding the need to type a complete URI in the dial field on the video endpoint.

Meeting VMA app - meeting management

Meeting VMA app meeting management-156x274

Participants joining a meeting will be kept in a “virtual waiting room” until the owner of the conference joins and enters their host PIN to start the meeting. Once started, the meeting may be “locked” by the owner. Any participants trying to join a locked conference will be placed in the VMR lobby from which the meeting host can either grant or deny their access to the VMR using the app.

Further tools are available in the call in addition to the normally accepted controls. For example, notes may be taken which are then available to be emailed at the call’s conclusion, further participants can be added and others reminded that the call has started or is about to start.

 

VMA video app - functionality

VMA video app functionality-156x277

These types of innovative tools are typical of Vodafone’s approach to connecting their customers, namely making connection and usage of the VMA service simple and easy to use allowing users to get on with “business as usual”.

We’re making this happen now

In this paper, we’ve evidenced the importance of collaboration in the digital workplace and how it can be improved using cloud-based video solutions. Providers like Vodafone can accelerate every customer's digital evolution with interlinked products creating total customer solutions. Designed to connect people, applications, clouds and networks around the world.

We believe that the deployment of Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs) satisfies current customer demands and has the added advantage of being adaptable as a full cloud, hybrid or on premise service if required.

The technology is here to combine an adaptable, flexible, future-proof solution with innovative features together with flexible pricing models and a full service wrap.

Even when your teams are in different countries, our solutions will make them feel like they’re working in the same room.

Please visit http://www.vodafone.com/business/global-enterprise/unified-communications/vodafone-meet-anywhere

Video overview of the product


1 http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/02/26/flexible-working-will-be-main-option-for-most-employers-by-2020-says-report.aspx

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