• Type: Whitepaper
  • Date: November 2017

By Tim Kridel, Special to AVIXA

Video CollaborationCompanies and organizations have embraced video collaboration and conferencing solutions as value-creating investments that reduce operating costs and increase the speed at which business is done. There’s also qualitative and anecdotal information showing such solutions are popular with employees — particularly younger ones.

And organizations have been increasing their spend on videoconferencing products and services. Worldwide, sales of videoconferencing hardware and software systems are expected to grow 5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to AVIXA’s AV Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA). The amount of time spent using video collaboration is also growing. In a 2015 Vyopta study, the median was 1.9 million minutes per organization, with 6 percent of those organizations each using 30 million minutes or more. 

This growth is because businesses, government agencies, and other organizations are realizing financial and competitive benefits. For example, in a Polycom survey, 96 percent of respondents said it improves productivity. That’s partly because the survey also found that attendee attention spans are 35 minutes when a meeting uses video versus 23 minutes on an audio-only call. 

An additional factor driving adoption of this technology is the declining cost of video collaboration tools, a broad category that includes telepresence, videoconferencing and unified communications. For example, although videoconferencing systems in conference rooms still abound in many offices, they’ve been supplemented by software-based solutions, such as Microsoft’s Skype for Business and WebEx, that leverage webcam-equipped devices that employees already have: laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones. These software-based solutions cost significantly less than purpose-built desktop videoconferencing hardware, so more companies can afford to roll them out organization-wide. 

This democratization trend is having a snowball effect because more devices mean more colleagues, customers and business partners with which to collaborate using video. The shift away from conference rooms also means workers can collaborate whenever they want, instead of having to reserve a room days or weeks in advance.

In short, video collaboration is prominent example of an AV experience that yields positive business outcomes. Such as:

Outcome: Efficient and Effective Communication 
According to a March 2017 survey of businesses in Europe and North America, companies lose an average of $11,000 in productivity annually per employee due to difficulty collaborating. Commissioned by Mitel and conducted by Webtorials, the survey also found that: 

  • Nearly 15 percent of employees’ total work time is wasted on inefficient communications. “Businesses are faced with many choices for enabling employees to communicate,” the report says. “This often leads to a mashup of conflicting and incompatible applications and tools. The result — productivity suffers and teamwork breaks down as silos appear and galvanize across organizations.”
  • At businesses with more than 500 employees, the annual loss could be greater than $5 million.
  • Most employee communication still centers around email even though alternatives such as video collaboration keep increasing in selection while decreasing in cost. “Lack of interoperability across platforms continues to make email the ‘go-to’ mode of communications, even as it is being stretched beyond its initial purpose,” the study says. 

Deploying an intuitive, reliable video collaboration system goes a long way toward addressing those problems. It can be particularly effective for improving the productivity of younger workers, whose use of FaceTime, Skype and other social video services sets their expectations about what’s possible and preferable in the workplace. In that respect, video collaboration also can be a way to attract and retain younger workers. 

These are among the reasons why, in a March 2017 IHS Markit survey of North American businesses, 86 percent of respondents said they plan to add videoconferencing to their unified communications (UC) environment by early 2018. “Videoconferencing through PBX and UC systems is on the uptick, as they provide a more cost-effective, high-quality experience over dedicated room-based systems,” the report says. “Video has become a viable mechanism for enhancing employee interactions — and as videoconferencing becomes more readily available, businesses are using it to communicate more effectively throughout their organizations and with partners and customers.”

Outcome: Reduced Travel Expenses
Reducing the expenses and productivity losses associated with employee travel historically was a major reason why organizations implemented video collaboration, especially for executives and professionals whose time is worth a lot of money.

“One of our clients, a law practice, is using video consultations to reduce solicitor travel time, thereby making them more productive and profitable,” says David Willie, head of communication and collaboration technologies at Saville Audio Visual, a U.K.-based AV integrator. “They are able to consult with clients via videoconferencing by sending them meeting invitations to our virtual meeting platform. This allows the recipient to meet the solicitor using a computer via a standard web browser. 

“Another client, a rural county council, allows colleagues the ability to meet from their own location rather than all driving to one location to meet. Again, the benefit here is two-fold: financial and productivity.”

For example, BAUER, a European manufacturer of irrigation and wastewater equipment, deployed Cisco’s cloud-based Collaboration Meeting Rooms solution to facilitate meetings between its Austrian and German teams. “You don’t need to spend six hours in a car to attend a meeting,” says Andreas Schitter, BAUER CFO. “When people get together the discussion is interactive and effective. Travel costs have dropped by 50 percent.”

Iberiabank, whose UC platform includes video and has directly cut travel expenses by 25 percent. 

These savings benefits are also realized by employees who still do travel because software-based solutions enable them to collaborate from the road using their laptop, tablet or smartphone just as effectively as if they were in the office.

Outcome: Faster Decisions
Video collaboration also can give businesses a competitive edge by enabling them to make business decisions faster.

“We look at whether we can get better and faster decisions out of them by enabling that collaboration,” says Mike Hancock, Vice President at Mechdyne, a U.S.-based integrator. “That’s probably the biggest payback for many of our clients because the travel time is assumed now. That’s a savings they expect. They’re really looking for the more meaningful savings that aren’t just about the dollars for travel but are about them being a better business and a better competitor by enabling their teams to make better and faster decisions that can change the company’s direction.” 

Outcome: Improved Workforce Utilization
Some organizations are using video collaboration to transform geographically dispersed employees into a single pool of resources. For example, the U.S. Social Security Administration has administrative law judges who review applications for disability benefits. Each judge has a regional “containment area” for in-person hearings, but they also frequently use video collaboration — including document sharing — to hear cases from around the country, such as containment areas where there aren’t enough judges available to review applications in a timely manner.  

This strategy has several bottom-line and competitive benefits that apply to any type of organization. For example, businesses can use it to provide customers with access to staff faster than if they had to wait to interact with a much smaller number of people dedicated to their city, county, or other geographic territory. That helps their brand reputation and in turn their bottom line because satisfied customers are less likely to churn.  

Two additional, often related benefits are lower overhead costs and greater operational flexibility. For example, suppose a business or government agency often has big regional fluctuations in workload. Now they don’t run the risk of having more customer-facing employees than one office warrants because video collaboration enables to them to shoulder some of the other offices’ workload. In that sense, video collaboration does for a workforce what cloud computing does for IT: create a pool of resources that scales up faster and operates more cost-effectively than a system where each office has dedicated resources that are underutilized for periods of time.   

Outcome: Meeting Employee and Potential Employee Expectations
Younger employees grew up using video to chat with friends and family, and many of their older colleagues do the same at home. These consumer experiences influence their expectations about what’s possible and preferable when it comes to workplace interaction. So, part of the business case is that when employees have access to tools that they like to use, they’re more productive.  Having video collaboration tools helps organizations attract and retain employees who value those capabilities. 

Financial and Competitive Benefits Abound
Video collaboration products have been around for decades. Over that period, the technology has evolved in ways that enable more and more businesses to justify not only implementing it, but doing so organization-wide. For example, although a lot of video collaboration still occurs, and always will, in conference rooms and executive suites, the technology has been democratized with cloud-based services and software-based endpoints that run on PCs, tablets and other devices that organizations already own. This trend significantly reduces the cost of providing video collaboration tools to more employees beyond executives. 

In the process, video collaboration’s benefits — including lower travel expenses and more productive interactions than audioconferencing can provide — now extend across more of the organization. This maximizes the ROI.