Role of Solution Integrator while integrating Video Conferencing with Unified Communication In the last four to five years, Unified Communication (UC) is gaining a lot of mindshare as a methodology for effective corporate communication. UC is essentially a convergence of different communication solutions and variety of collaboration tools. Today, with majority of businesses across the globe engaging in or actively planning the implementation of UC, it is becoming a key factor in enabling real-time connectivity thereby enhancing employee productivity, increasing collaboration and reducing IT operational costs.
As a powerful productivity tool, UC has already incorporated presence, instant messaging, telephony, data sharing and voice communications. Integrating video conferencing into the UC environment then becomes the next logical step in the UC implementation. Needless to say that video is a powerful mode of communication. Visual communication helps in building trust and understanding amongst employees and also with suppliers, partners, and customers. It also adds depth to the interactions as it provides the ability to communicate via body language and hence helps participants establish a closer, more personal relationship beyond just voice or text. In certain situations only instant messaging may be sufficient, but when a more comprehensive dialog is needed video conferencing is the preferred communications medium.
Similar to the way the deployments of voice based communication used to happen a decade ago, video conferencing deployments have been standalone with a separate set of equipment and infrastructure. Such standalone deployment is often complex to use and manage as it requires separate scheduling and learning of new interface. Integrating video conferencing with UC is therefore a key factor in developing a well-conceived communication strategy that would remove the silos in visual communication by unifying video with other UC based communication mechanisms in the enterprise such as voice, instant messaging, presence, and audio conferencing. In other words, video conferencing combined with UC would allow users to achieve true integrated and unified communication with a face-to-face experience.
Although such integration may sound a simplistic task on paper, behind the scenes, to make such integration workable and the interactions easy for users can become a highly complex and challenging task. In terms of integrating with UC, the simplest choice is to use the UC vendor's video solution which will naturally be tightly integrated with the UC environment. Many UC vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel amongst others have an in-built basic video solution.
Such basic video solutions lack sophisticated video conferencing facilities like higher quality video output, multipoint capabilities, ability to work both inside and outside the enterprise network boundary and provide integration with tele-presence systems. Most of these facilities are provided by many video conferencing vendors like Avistar, LifeSize, Polycom, RadVision, Cisco/Tandberg etc. Today, most of the enterprises are demanding the best of both worlds; sophisticated video conferencing functionality integrated with user friendly UC interface.
This is where the Solution Integrator (SI) plays a key role. The IT team in most of the enterprises who would want to integrate UC with video conferencing may not have the time to work their way up a substantial learning curve, nor will they have the proper channel available to the vendors to solve unexpected problems. Video conferencing also has high visibility within the enterprise so getting it right the first time is extremely critical. Hence the role of a strong professional SI team becomes very critical for smooth integration. SI team would take the ownership of the integration project to deliver it on time while getting it right the first time thereby providing the enterprise users with an excellent initial experience of integrated video conferencing into the UC environment.
There are lots of choices involved in deciding how to deploy video conferencing within the enterprise and the SI team must start with obtaining a clear understanding of the requirements and the preferences of the firm. It essentially means understanding the purpose of the integration, the video conferencing usage patterns of the employees, and the company's overall security concerns. With these parameters, SI can objectively conduct a cost benefit analysis of different video conferencing solutions to be integrated with the existing UC solution.
I strongly feel that any SI which is handling the integration project needs to specially focus on three integration areas which are detailed below before finalizing on a particular video conferencing vendor:
• Integration of Signaling with the UC solution
• Integration of Account Management with the user / call directory of UC solution
• Integration of Scheduling with the UC solution
In this scenario, signaling means the call setup signaling that establishes a connection between different parties or endpoints. The UC solution running on the user's desktop shows the user's buddies and their availability. When the user clicks a contact and asks for a video connection, the video conferencing client communicates with the UC solution which signals the destination client to establish the call. Therefore the SI must ensure that the video conferencing clients (either desktop or room-based) must have the facility to integrate with the UC solution with the help of SIP signaling protocol and can register itself as a video endpoint with the UC solution.
The second integration parameter to consider is that of account management which means obtaining the user credentials, understanding his / her profile, preferences and permissions, and presenting to
him/ her a familiar interface. On the desktop or in a room-based video system, the SI needs to establish a tight link between the video conferencing solutions with the corporate user directory to obtain appropriate permissions before being allowed to communicate. SI must ensure that the interface and user experience of using video conferencing solution in a desktop environment matches exactly with the room based environment.
Scheduling of the meetings is also a key integration area where the SI needs to give special attention. Scheduling essentially means being able to create meetings in future, reserve resources and notify participants. Once the meeting is scheduled, the notifications must be sent to all the participants and also to the room making the room system aware of its schedule. These three areas of integration if carefully handled can enable the SI to successfully integrate the video conferencing solution into UC environment.
To sum up, in this entire process of integration SI’s role is of paramount importance. Not only that the SI can effectively implement the solution in the given time but additionally it can also provide an excellent user experience of the system. Overall, the role of the SI is that of a trusted technology partner of the enterprise in developing an effective and well thought out communication strategy and implementation roadmap through the use of appropriate technologies.
(The author is Vice-President - Video Conferencing & Multimedia Sales, AGC Networks Ltd)