The world is extremely unpredictable these days, perhaps more so than ever before. Enterprise is generally slow to make drastic changes to the way they do business. As a result, business communications trends tend to evolve over time in gradual shifts, rather than immediate disruption. Everyone isn’t going to replace audio with video, or email with team messaging, in a day. Therefore, we don’t have any bold predictions of dramatic changes to the way everyone works. However, there are some shifting trends in the visual collaboration space that we expect to be following in 2017. Please be sure to check out part one of this two part series, where I rate my predictions for 2016.
In no particular order, here are our 2017 predictions.
Social Media Streaming
At this time, these streaming services (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitter Live) are still primarily being used for social activities. It’s true that many internet personalities are making a living off of self-promotion using these services, and a few big businesses have held successful events. However, for the most, part traditional businesses have not started to seriously leverage social streaming as part of their normal marketing/promotion activities.
There are several things to like about the social streaming dynamic compared to a traditional webinar:
- Lower Cost: A traditional webinar can be very expensive. Social media streaming is free.
- Larger Audience: Traditional webinars cost more as they scale up in size, and many services top out at a few thousand attendees.
- User Friendly: Social streaming is designed to be used without technical assistance. Anyone can do it. Some traditional webinar services require a concierge to run the software and moderate the session.
- Easy Recording Share: With traditional webinar services, the recording may be in a proprietary format or hosted on the service provider’s site, making it harder to share. With YouTube Live, the result is a YouTube video, which is the easiest way to share video.
- Lower Quality Expectations: Social streaming has set itself a low bar for presentation preparation. Most streamers offer a casual, natural, unrehearsed, stream. With a webinar, presenters often feel a lot of pressure to perform. Webinars are a one shot event, where effort was expended to drive an audience, and ROI must be achieved. Social streaming is just something you can decide to turn on at any moment to share your thoughts, or a conversation, with your social media network.
- Lower Turnout Expectations: When hosting a webinar, there is pressure to drive attendance to get ROI for your spend and effort. With social streaming, there is no spend and little effort. There are countless streamers online every day with only one or two viewers. They continue to do it, because it is no cost or effort, and if they have a good session, they can always promote the recording. A webinar with 20 attendees is a failure, a social stream with 5 attendees is a success.
- Higher Interactivity: Both webinars and social streaming offer chat interactivity. In a typical webinar, attendees are prompted to type in questions, or click through a quick poll. With social streaming, they chat dynamic feels different. It’s less formal, and attendees are more likely to not only address the host, but start conversations amongst themselves in the chat. Social streaming solutions also support more emotive ways to interact, by allowing viewers to click and send a heart or thumbs up, or some cute icon across the stream feed. This sets up a loop, where the viewers are seeing the emotive feedback from all other viewers. If everyone likes something that is being said, everyone sees a ton of little thumbs up float across the screen. It seems like a meaningless gimmick, but this type of interactivity can turn an audience of individual viewers, into a group/community.
At least three cloud video providers (BlueJeans, Videxio and one NDA) are getting in on this trend early by connecting their services to a social streaming service. This allows users to easily host panel sessions, using a high quality cloud video service, and broadcasting it live to your social media network of choice. If customers of these providers don’t come up with ways to leverage this new feature, they aren’t trying hard enough.
EDIT: On January 17, 2017, the NDA provider mentioned above made their announcement.
Software Video Meeting Room Solutions
This growing market category suffers from one fundamental problem. It’s a little hard to explain the concept to someone who is new to the business video space. Other than that, it has everything going for it. Software VC Rooms directly address a growing market need, and do so in a way that makes sense from a budgeting and usability perspective. In other words, often you have to choose between the more affordable option, and the option that matches your workflow. In many cases a software video room solution is both.
The vendors of these solutions have the right answer for many customers, but it’s not easy to describe the solution without first explaining why it’s not a hardware system even though it comes with hardware. A hardware system is generally a video camera on a thick stand, or with a separate box, which contains a computer running specialized video encoding software. You can’t access that computer and run different software on it. In other words, if you want a Polycom RealPresence Group experience, or a Cisco Telepresence MX experience, you need to buy one of those two devices. You can’t run your own software on those devices, and you can’t run their software on your own third party devices.
With a software system, you can use any hardware you want. They are often offered along with a “kit” of affordable peripheral components, but you can easily create your own kit. This means you can shop for prices for hardware separately from shopping for prices for software. More importantly, it means you choose the experience for your meeting rooms based on your choice of cloud video. If your team is all using Zoom or BlueJeans on their desktops and mobile devices, you can give them the same experience in the meeting rooms. This will increase usage and ROI as no training will be required and the users will walk in with existing familiarity.
It is important to note that we are not talking about simply loading a desktop cloud service on a meeting room PC and using that as our meeting room client. Meeting rooms have an entirely different set of requirements than desktop apps. For example, software meeting room systems have additional security and manageability requirements. In additional, as a shared resource, meeting rooms require a slightly different workflow to accommodate meetings scheduled by multiple users.
With SMB and enterprise looking to video enable potentially millions of shared workspaces, software meeting room solutions could be a big part of this expansion.
Persistent Team Messaging
Many PTM users will argue voraciously that it should outright replace UC, as well as replacing most of your email use. This will happen for some people in 2017, but it will not yet be the new normal. Grassroots use and growth will continue, and it will start to gain more traction in enterprise. However, it will not become the defacto business communications modality in 2017.
What needs to change is the perception that it is primarily an internal team tool. While it certainly has immediately and obvious value as an internal and external team tool, many people are still hesitant to set up rooms and invite externals. Interestingly, I was saying the same thing about video meetings 5 years ago, and I no longer say that. Perhaps as more people get used to working with PTM, it will become more acceptable to set up PTM rooms to communicate with clients and partners.
At least one of my analyst friends is predicting that 2017 will be the death of the PTZ camera. I think it might take another few years, but I agree that it is under attack, and that it needs to die or reinvent itself.
Now, this may seem inconsistent at first. I have repeatedly stated that a webcam, or laptop, is not sufficient for a meeting room, and that a PTZ is required to properly frame in-room meeting participants. So how can I say it’s required, while also saying it needs to die? The answers is that I think the function of framing participants is required, but PTZ is no longer the right way to do it.
It’s simple. No one likes using the remote control to use PTZ. No one is good at it, or comfortable with it. So the view in a video meeting isn’t always optimized. What we need is a way to better frame the participants. Fortunately, we have new approaches on the market which are quickly developing in their capabilities and become more readily available. There are basically two main approaches. The first approach is to roboticize the PTZ cameras. Give the cameras enough intelligence to understand where they should be pointing the camera. This approach can suffer from the distraction of moving cameras. The other approach is to capture the entire room through multiple cameras or specialized cameras at very high resolution. The resulting video images can then be properly framed without any moving parts.
I expect both approaches to have success and growth in 2017. I expect the no-moving-parts approach to eventually hurt or even replace the PTZ market, but not quite yet.
Virtual Personal Assistants
Two complementary technologies are both reaching a level of maturity allowing for some real exciting uses. The first technology is vocal recognition. Machines are getting better and better at hearing and accurately identifying the words we are saying. We still find ourselves yelling, “No Siri! That isn’t what I said!” from time to time, but it’s getting better. The second technology is the ability to understand and contextualize what we are saying. Vocal recognition was initially just dictation software. It could hear, and print, our words, but it had no idea what we are saying. From that it developed to understand simple commands (“Siri, call my wife.”). In 2017, these things are getting seriously smart. Pretty soon we won’t have to bark commands, but will just be able to talk to them in natural language. In Star Trek, they talk to the ship’s computer as if it was a member of the crew, in natural language. We may not quite get there in 2017, but virtual personal assistants are getting good enough that I expect to see them in more and more devices, including collaboration tools. Do not be surprised if you find yourself walking into your meeting room this year and saying “Video system, bring up my calendar on screen.” or “Video system, start our morning meeting.”
More and more meeting room systems supported by clouds services which also support mobile apps. This opens up a number of opportunities. The most obvious one is allowing the meeting room system to coordinate with your mobile device when you enter a room to determine your meeting schedule. In other words, if you have a video meeting scheduled at 4pm, when you walk into the room your phone can let the meeting room know you are there. At that time the meeting room system can display a button allowing you to click to join your meeting. With more and more workplace devices and mobile apps going online every day, the potential for proximity based features is pretty significant.