In the debates of software vs hardware and ease of use vs quality of product vs cost, it’s necessary to put together a summary of hurdles to ubiquitous video conference adoption. Let’s cut through the hype and buzzwords and get to the roots of the problem. The industry continues to portray video conferencing as a necessary part of unified communication, but until a few things are addressed and those that can be resolved are resolved, I don’t see it being as ubiquitous as we all think it should be.
Installing and supporting enterprise-wide video conferencing is no simple task. Software has made video conferencing much easier and more available, but the assumption that they don’t require IT staff to maintain is a fallacy. Both software and hardware solutions will require support staff to install, support, troubleshoot and maintain.
Quality of Product
We’re getting closer to the age of ‘good enough’ video, but even that has its problems. Video conferencing over the internet has issues when you’re sharing bandwidth with online gamers and people streaming movies. When it becomes too difficult to look at the screen because of choppy video or bad audio to video sync, then what is the point? If you desire the absolute best quality of product and have the bandwidth to utilize it, it leads right in to my next point.
The cost of entry for both software and hardware has been dropping continually for years, but to deploy video over an entire enterprise can still be incredibly expensive. When you weigh cost vs quality, of course soft codecs win hands down if ‘good enough’ is good enough for your organization. If you must have the best quality, we’re still talking thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment per room. Want an ‘easy’ button for all the gear so all you have to do is touch a button or two to make calls? This could end up being tens of thousands of dollars more.
Cost will always be an issue with startups, SMB and the enterprise. Even the cheapest software products will require a piece of hardware to run them on. Add to that a decent set of speakers, a good camera and a microphone and you can be looking at hundreds of dollars per room to use a “free” or inexpensive soft codec.
Initiating a video conference can be a frustrating series of events. Even with the easiest product out there, it’s near impossible to make a one click call to anyone. You have to rely that the person you want to talk to is there to accept your call. How exactly do you do that? You need to schedule the call in advance so everyone has time to prepare. If you want to call someone new, you have to make sure your equipment can talk to their equipment, no matter if it’s software or hardware. In a call I had a couple of weeks ago, the far participant gave me no less than five different ways to call them. None of them ended up working and neither of us could figure out why. This is also another reason why support staff will never go away.
The largest hurdle to video conferencing adoption, in my opinion, are the product vendors themselves. Something that’s not helping the industry as a whole are vendors telling potential customers that their product or set of products is the end all, be all of video conferencing. I’ve been in enough product webinars and sales demonstrations to know this is being touted by more than just a couple of companies. When a sale is made and the product is installed, the customer is sometimes left with a ‘solution’ that was supposed to be easy, supposed to be cheap and supposed to be high quality. When it’s none of the above, it won’t get used and video conferencing as a whole takes one big step back.
We need to stop telling potential customers that our brand new widget will solve all their communication problems.