• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Audio; Av Industry; Conferencing; Networked Av Systems; Security; Video;
  • Date: February 2015

By Nermina Miller and Brad Grimes, AVIXA

The following is the second in a three-part series on the role of the pro AV industry in unified communications and collaboration (UCC). In the first part, we discussed the skills required for AV professionals to play in this field and how UCC providers in the AV industry identify customer requirements. Part 2 looks at some of the deployment challenges UCC users face and the way AV/IT professionals can help overcome them.

If you, as an AV professional, have taken part in AVIXA University™ training (and even if you haven’t), you know that conducting a needs analysis is a big part of ensuring a project’s success. You can’t deliver the right solution unless you understand how the client with use it and why.

Similarly, when it comes to unified communications and collaboration (UCC), it’s not enough just to provide a UCC system. UCC is not technology; it’s an outcome of technology-based systems. Understanding the desired outcome and the hurdles to achieving it on a client-by-client basis is important. Because AV integrators and designers are trained to identify needs and outcomes, they are in a position to help UCC project teams deliver optimal solutions.

We talked to several AV professionals working in UCC to get their thoughts on the most significant challenges their clients face in exploiting UCC solutions.

Challenge 1: The User Interface

Achieving consistency across UCC user interfaces can be a challenge. But because many AV companies have experience in AV control systems design, they can easily pivot that expertise to UCC systems. Scott Wood, Senior Vice President of Technical Services for Unified AV Systems, describes a client with close to 600 touchpanels in rooms throughout the country — all of which work identically. “The client’s employees can travel from office to office and don’t have to learn new interfaces,” he says. “Even though the equipment behind that interface may be different, we make sure that the user interface is always the same.”

Consistency is important, but so is simplicity.

“Our team has adopted a transformational GUI design strategy that looks at modern interface design from a minimalist, simplified standpoint,” says Alex Bisset, Director of Sales Engineering at HB Communications. “HB utilizes a highly simplified approach to providing user-control GUI design, often mirroring a simplified manufacturer interface such that users can transition from a more complex room to a basic, video-enabled huddle space and enjoy a common user experience, regardless of the complexity of the AV environment.”

According John Jennings, Assistant Vice President for Midwest Operations and Chief Technology Officer at Trinity Video Communications, integrators “either have to utilize something they are very comfortable with, such as Microsoft Lync or you have to design something that we like to call ‘ATM simple,’ which any user can use.

“Think about it, you were never trained on how to use an ATM machine. If you change banks or use another bank’s system with a different interface, you aren’t confused. You figure it out because it’s ATM simple,” Jennings says.

Challenge 2: Necessary Bandwidth

Ensuring image quality is another challenge for UCC users — especially those who employ videoconferencing as part of their UCC solutions, and specifically if they’re using their network as a means of signal transport. Image quality has everything to do with bandwidth and quality of service (QoS). When planning a UCC deployment, AV integrators should start talking to their customers early about QoS and the importance of configuring QoS on their routers to allow high-bit-rate video to go through.

“What we’re putting on the network isn’t just control anymore,” says Wood. “We’re streaming packets of video — and they are large packets of video. Depending on what the user wants in terms of resolution — how clear you want that picture to be — that’s directly related to the bandwidth we’re going to use to deliver that picture.”

The conversation about what the client wants and what the network can (or will) handle is a critical part of the needs assessment. “We will talk to them about specifications for each type of service and give them something that is more capable than what network can handle today,” Wood says. “They may have a plan to upgrade the network in the next one or two years, so it makes sense to put something that they can grow into versus giving them something that works perfectly on their network today but when they upgrade the network becomes obsolete.”

Challenge 3: The Room Environment

Where audio and/or videoconferencing are part of a UCC solution, ergonomics count. “If you are going to use a UCC system at your desk, then you have to consider the lighting, the background, and so on,” says Jennings.

One of the many common UCC challenges an AV pro must address is that of the far-end video view of a typical rectangular conference room. The wrong table length, combined with a potentially sideways (as opposed to front-facing) participant-seating orientation, can create an impersonal UCC experience. For its part, HB Communications overcomes this challenge by deploying intelligent, two-camera tracking systems.

“These systems offer users a more intimate video experience that captures the active speaker and displays segments of the room based on audio and facial recognition,” Bisset explains. “Best of all, system operation is completely user-transparent.”

But it can be hard give the necessary attention to room design when rolling out UCC, especially in light of what integrators say is a shrinking timeline between planning and deployment. “We’re helped several customers overcome that challenge by adopting common room standards with repeatable, predictive engineering standards, allowing facilities early visibility into common room requirements,” says Bisset. “In cases where rapid deployment and flexible work spaces are critical, we offer simplified deployment plans based on a fully-integrated, pre-engineered, HB lab-certified, customer application-specific, video-enabled, room in a box.”

Of course, even the most intelligently designed UCC space can’t totally overcome user error. “Audio above all is always the most noticeable and also the most difficult to control due to the client’s inability to mute cell phones, for example,” says Rick Winde, Director of Advanced Video at MCW Solutions. “Too much is still out of the integrator’s control. UCC etiquette is key. That means setting up proper expectations in advance and providing boundaries to their users to avoid noise and/or dissatisfaction.”

Challenge 4: Interoperability

The “unified” part of UCC is a challenge all its own. For communications and collaboration to be truly unified, users need to be able to connect via whatever networked system they have at their disposal — whether it’s a room VTC system or, increasingly, a tablet device. Making all those systems talk together seamlessly can mean the difference between true UCC and technology silos.

AV integrators run into more interoperability issues than they would like, but they come up with inventive ways to battle them. Voice over IP — one possible piece of the UCC puzzles — often presents the worst case scenario, because VoIP systems offer hundreds of settings to choose from, according to Unified AV’s Scott Wood.

“With the interfaces we use, VoIP is just a card that goes into our processor. It gets its settings from the customer’s VoIP PBX,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is finding the person who knows how to choose the correct settings so our system can communicate with it,” says Wood.

Sometimes, interoperability issues come down to a discord between product marketing and functionality. For example, Winde cautions about what he perceives as Lync’s inefficient interoperability within a Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) environment. Those are two major UCC platforms that AV pros are likely to encounter in client deployments.

“Cisco adds an additional layer of call control to cohabitate with Lync and video,” Winde says. “This has an effect on the experience as it relates to screen sharing and utilizing different monitors. There are simple applications, such as Pexip and Acano, that make this work much more effectively and in-line with the client’s expectations.”

According to Jennings, interoperability issues should be part of the needs assessment when AV professionals gather their clients’ requirements. “You have to understand what legacy equipment they have,” he says, “And understand other parties they will communicate with.”

The adoption of H.323 and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standards for universal communications has lessened the inhibiting effect of interoperability on technology adoption. Consequently, interoperability issues have had less impact on room design, as VTC and telepresence systems have become more of a supportive appliance than the center of a solution.

Bisset says that customers with the largest deployments of video technologies inevitably have mixed environments to deal with, and major manufacturers have responded with solutions that include application-specific gateways and cloud-based solutions to ensure interoperability.

“For example, one of our key partners Vidyo, which has led market development for SVC [scalable video coding], provides user-transparent, seamless interoperability with standards-based videoconferencing and telepresence systems,” says Bisset. “Interoperability is no longer a common inhibitor to being able to take advantage of the benefits of a modern UCC-focused strategy,”

Challenge 5: Network Security

Finally, AV companies working on UCC deployments will have to understand clients’ concerns over IT security. Almost by definition, UCC requires communication across and between networks protected by devices such as firewalls. And it should be easy to appreciate why customers, specifically banks and similar institutions, wouldn’t want certain traffic going in and out of their firewalls.

There are a number of products available or under development that allow firewall traversal without posing a security threat, according to Wood. “It takes a lot of people reading a lot of whitepapers on the dos and the don’ts on those types of products,” he says.

On the issue of security, perhaps more than on any other, an AV professional must communicate clearly with the customer’s IT department. “When it comes to security and things communicating in the cloud, we have a pretty detailed conversation with the client and their IT department and our engineering group to make sure we’re providing a solution that will work within their parameters,” Wood says.

When putting a UCC system — or any AV device — on a network, it’s important to clearly document the components, their network addresses, the ports they’ll need access to, the protocols they’ll use to communicate, and more. Always offer a networked device inventory to the IT counterpart to make sure all parties are on the same page.

“A lot of AV companies hide from the IT organization,” Jennings says. “We embrace them. They can become our best friends. Once we build trust with them, we have a partner for a long time.”

In part 3 of our special report, we’ll share AV integrators’ thoughts on what is required to deliver an exceptional UCC experience.