Guide to Video Conferencing

Cisco Telepresence

Cisco Telepresence (Photo credit: Tom Raftery)

“Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American writer and activist

I recall many years ago how I used to setup video conferencing across ISDN lines and the fun of trying to make the video run smoothly. These days, video conferencing has become ubiquitous along with the availability of faster communication links, i.e. broadband etc.

With better connectivity, the downward spiral of costs associated with video conferencing (VC) and increased competition, even smaller businesses can afford much better VC systems. The cloud has assisted by many companies offering cloud based systems, including Telepresence that only a few years ago were available to large corporates only.

Here comes the technical bit (Skip this paragraph if not interested): H.323 & SIP seem to be battling it out on which will become the defacto standard/protocol for VC and I suspect that over time both will be absorbed by one another and eventually SIP may be the one that all VC systems use.

The next battle zone will be video on the move. i.e. across smart phones aka mobile phones. The technology is certainly there now and so is the connectivity. As data charges become cheaper, the need for multi national businesses and even families to view each other as they talk will drive the need for video calling on the move.

This is great for eco-friendly consumers, such as me and our planet as it will mean that people have to travel less to meet each other. Change established mindsets will however take time, as many people still think it pertinent to travel to meet!

I have done a series of articles on management styles of business leaders and would like one of my readers to recommend who I should select for the next article. So, without further ado, here is your chance to recommend your choice, just leave your recommendation as a comment to this article. Please send your recommendations by 30th April.


‘You’ The Brand and ‘Social Media.’

Social Media Iceberg

Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

James D. Miles (1830 – 1914) Steamboat Captain in the Northwest

Some of you may remember, the television shows of the 80’s where TV series/serials, used to start with, ‘Previously on xyx.’I felt a bit nostalgic today, so I will start the same way. Previously on my blog, I have written about Social Media (SM) in various contexts. I wrote about the effect of SM on a friend’s daughter – The ugly side of social media, the conundrum facing CIOs – The Social Networking dilemma and the CIO, a quick primer on SM – Social Media Primer – Succeed by using LinkedIn and blogs, Toyota and its failure to use SM – How Toyota became the werewolf and the three step process to embrace SM: Organisations “Don’t get” social media (UPDATED, RECOMMENDED READING FOR THIS POST, with ALL NEW SM monitoring tools for both personal and business use). It is becoming evident though that some organisations have become adept at SM, as witnessed by Ford’s recent Ford Explorer, campaign. “We couldn’t think of launching a vehicle today without launching it early using social media,”Jim Farley, Ford’s Vice President for Global Marketing – Courtesy of Social Media Explorer.

Senior management need to understand the business and how IT can be utilised to provide competitive advantage – Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? The problem these days is that many CEOs start working at new employer’s without taking the time and effort to understand and appreciate the business and its culture. Without understanding fully, their business, there is no way for them to realise the potential within their existing or future procured IT systems. In addition, many businesses still have their IT chief’s reporting to CFOs. Without board level representation, IT cannot deliver any benefits to the bottom line. Within that context, Terry Leahy fully understood the impact of IT and allowed his CIO, Philip Clarke to analyse and innovate. In effect, Philip Clarke, successfully created, ‘Philip Clarke, the brand.’ Can anyone create a successful brand, using the Internet and Social Media? The answer has to be a resounding ‘Yes’. I will now outline the steps. The secret to leveraging the success of SM is to integrate, disseminate and monitor SM (automate as much of this as possible, especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints).

Integration: If you are thinking of setting up a new business or personal brand, Google Apps could be the ideal platform for you. I covered this previously, Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality. Google Apps Premiere edition was recently named as  Google Apps for Business and now incorporates all the FREE apps that used to be available to personal Google/GMAIL account holders, such as my favourites, Google URL shortener and Alerts. Regardless, of whether you are a small business or corporate, the website needs to provide analytics to ascertain demographic analysis, page views, referrals (Which sites are referring your site) and statistics and words used for searches conducted, using tools such as Google Analytics. The website also needs a blog feature (Or if you are building your personal brand, enable a personal blog using WordPress/Blogger (Free)). The blog needs to auto connect with SM to deliver posts (Such as, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, MSN and YouTube) automatically.

Dissemination: A decision has to be made on which SM will be most effective in disseminating information (News/blogposts/articles) to your target audience. For example, with the launch of the Ford Explorer, Ford decided to use Facebook.  Appropriate profiles for various SM (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc) need to be created. There is plenty of information available on the Internet, to help in creating these profiles but the rule of thumb is that all of your SM profiles, need to be as similar to each other as possible, across all SM. Again, automate as much of this as possible, (especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints)

Monitor: Once SM has been integrated and dissemination profiles/channels are completed start monitor ing‘key people and blogs and setup appropriate RSS feeds’ for content/people that your business needs ‘to follow’ in order to keep abreast of trends in your field. Monitoring also needs to be setup for adverse comments, as the case with Toyota (See above) highlights. As SmartPhones are prevalent now, appropriate phone apps need to be setup to provide the ability to monitor, regardless of location.

Finally, I wanted to leave you with some Twitter cheat sheets that also include other SM tools etc as well (Courtesy of the following):

@gminks of Adventures in Corporate Education’s Cheat sheet

The Social Media’s Cheat sheet

The public and Rich Sauser’s Cheat sheet

Globalisation and management

Updated 9.12.12

Globalisation is an interesting word for me as being British, I spell it with an ‘S’ and Americans spell it with a ‘Z’. Proof that even languages, such as English (currently, the global language for business) have become affected by globalisation. I also find it fascinating that in the land of my fore fathers (historically known as the Indo/Pak sub continent –currently, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), the word, ‘anyway’ is always spoken as, ‘anyways’. These permutations of language also affect how we trade, live and interact as a global society.

Globalization or globalisation as we know it was termed, in 1983, by Theodore Levitt, a former Harvard Business Review editor who used the term for an article about the emergence of standardised, low- priced consumer products. Globalisation has been fuelled within the last 10-15 years by IT. That includes hardware (HW), software (SW), connectivity (falling costs of HW, SW, ever larger pipes globally and VOIP solutions), cheaper travelling costs and a truly global workforce. As a result, CEOs and boards have used successful globalisation case studies to convince their businesses that it would lead to profitability and competitive advantage. For example, a software problem submitted at close of play (COP) today could be solved by the time America wakes up the following day (arguably saving costs and solving problems while sleeping).

The decisions that need to be explored in great detail are the reasons for deciding to go beyond your own border with a view of going global. I would categorise the reasons as one of the following:

  1. International opportunity
  2. Saving costs
  3. Skills shortage
  4. Legislative requirements
  5. Social and Corporate responsibility (CSR)
  6. IT Challenges

1. International opportunity:

This decision is usually taken when management realise that there is a demand for their product in another part of the world or that a demand for their product can be created. There are many examples of this such as Coca Cola. Coke as it is also known as is a trendsetter as it firstly; created a demand for their product (Did our grandparents know they needed to drink Coke?). This was followed by then satisfying the international demand. Recent success stories are led by Apple and the iPhone.

2. Saving costs:

Arguably, many would argue that this is an opportunity. I will discuss this later but for now let’s take it as it is. I would term this as ‘cost savings’ that can be realised through leveraging access to cheaper materials, labour or anything else that costs less than the local equivalent within a business’s own borders. Again, there are many examples of this such as Nike and Primark who outsource manufacturing facilities to countries such as India, Pakistan and South Africa etc.

3. Skills shortage:

Many businesses need to take this step and it is particularly true for IT led businesses, such as, software. Sometimes due to, for example, a skills shortage  a business may be forced to go beyond its borders. In my Indian software example (Para 2 above), it is recognised that another reason/advantage to outsource was the time difference.

4. Legislative requirements:

Countries allow international trade but will, for example, place a restriction on the amount of a product that can be imported by legislating import tariffs etc. For example, Toyota got around that problem in the early eighties by opening manufacturing plants in the US.

A business that wants to take advantage of this global reach has to consider the social and corporate responsibilities of globalisation and the IT challenges.

5. Social and corporate responsibility:

Anita Roddick of the body shop set the standard for being one of the first to prove that ethical business could be done globally. She pioneered the ‘green movement’ as we know it today by including only natural ingredients in her products, sourced globally at fair trade prices while protecting the local workforce, both at Littlehampton where she was born and bred and internationally where her products were used, sourced and produced. Businesses also need to ensure that a balance is struck between moving jobs abroad just to save costs against investing in the local workforce. Arguably, all businesses need to save costs and the rule to apply in these situations is that if a business is commercially profitable (for example, in millions of dollars) is to appreciate the effect of moving jobs abroad (in many cases referred to as outsourcing) against training workforces locally and producing a skilled workforce for the future.

In the short term that may translate to fewer profits but in the long term the business will benefit from a truly dedicated workforce and an investment in people that transcends the short term skills shortage. Globalisation should not be at the expense of a lack of investment in local people and infrastructure. Short term competitive advantage ( in a situation where saving costs is the primary driver) is usually lost to the outsourced country in the long term.

6. IT Challenges:

Connectivity costs within IT are falling daily and newer areas of the globe are becoming easier to connect. IT challenges still remain and businesses need to involve Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in the decision making process when they start to think globally. The earlier the business involves the CIO, the quicker the eventual deployment of IT enabled business becomes. In an earlier post on competitive advantage, I have emphasised the importance of the direct connection between the CEO and the CIO and that has to continue when businesses have global aspirations.

Providing IT internationally always has challenges and I would suggest that for globalisation to be successful, the CIO needs to be a visionary, businessman and a leader. The CIO will have to deal with issues where the IT capability may have to be imported, sourced locally (as importing IT may be too costly), have to deal with poor infrastructure, connectivity (in many parts of Africa) and have to deal with local legislation. Successful global CIOs will be the ones that can provide ‘out of the box’ solutions, have created great teams locally and globally, stay connected with their global staff, understand the different cultural variations and their impact to the business and have a network of advisors within and outside the business. CIOs have a great overview of how IT works and how it can assist the business but CIOs will never know everything, so they need to have access to peers, other CIOs and a network they can turn to and learn from without reinventing the wheel. If a CIO doesn’t have global exposure prior to a business going global it can sometimes be an advantage as it’s a clean slate and the CIO can utilise their own experience gained in various other industries.

To conclude, as the Coke slogan says, “Think globally, act locally?” Do you agree?

Mobile Payments – Coming to a phone near you

At the end of August 2009, I wrote a post – The future is bright but is it mobile? In that post, I mentioned the fact that in the developing countries mobile phones were increasingly used for a wide variety of tasks, including banking. Meanwhile in the developed world affluent consumers were purchasing increasingly powerful mobile phones, including smarut phones and were looking for more ways in which to use them. Mobile commerce hadn’t taken off in the developed world due to the availability of other payment methods available to the relatively affluent customers such as credit cards and contactless cards. The move to using mobile phones for commerce is akin to where we find ourselves in terms of laptops morphing to smart phones, as this is where traditional wallets will be replaced with electronic digital wallets operated by mobile phones.

Let’s first take a look at the history behind the scenes to understand where we are today and the importance of the latest report released on 14/1/10 on this new technology, Near Field Communications (NFC). NFC happened as a result of the NFC Forum and its members, founded in 2004, recognising that evolution meant a new, short-range wireless connectivity technology had to be created. This article on the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation’s website (ITSO) provides a good introduction and will bring the reader to where we are currently and the new NFC adoption by the mobile industry for mobile payments in the future. In the UK, the movement towards contactless cards was initiated by ITSO in 1998, a non profit sharing organisation owned by its members. This led to the first contactless RFID Oyster cards being issued to the public in 2003 for the London Underground by TFL. As we moved closer to mobile phone NFC, other initiatives such as prepaid cards and prepaid contactless cards used by retailers such as Pret a Manger and coffee republic were developed.

Over the last few years, banks and payment vendors have tried different technologies with a varied success rate, including the latest contactless cards. The reason that mobile phones can be used with NFC now is because finally different standards have come together to support one another and make these payments secure. So, what we now see is that ITSO supports NFC as even the UK government is prepared to fund the switch to NFC compatible transport ticketing and the various card issuers have agreed the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Trials of NFC technology in London revealed that Londoners wanted to use their mobiles to travel and shop. Mobiles will start replacing cash as the technology is rolled out within the UK from 2011. “Decisions made in 2010 will be critical in determining which mobile network operators, which banks, which industry suppliers and which service providers become the leaders in the field,” says Sarah Clark. “Ultimately, only two or three companies in each country will succeed in building a major new business providing NFC services to businesses and consumers. The winners could be banks or mobile operators, or even a new entrant to the market.” As the technology becomes widely adopted, NFC based payments could reach $30 billion by 2012.

The following excerpt courtesy of Sourcewire. “NFC technology will be used to replace everything from credit cards and loyalty cards to bus and train tickets, library cards, door keys and even cash,” says Sarah Clark, author of ‘NFC: The Road to Commercial Deployment‘. “What hasn’t yet been decided, however, is who will win the battle to provide consumers with their new hi-tech mobile wallets.”

Consumers with NFC-enabled phones will be able to simply touch their phone to a ‘smart’ poster or product label containing a RFID chip to sign up for a loyalty programme, collect a money-off coupon, download a trailer for a new movie, access the latest travel information or go straight to a product’s website to read customer ratings and reviews and compare prices.

Social networks will also get a major boost as with a NFC phone, you can exchange details of someone befriended online by simply touching your phones together when you meet them in the real world. Or touch your phone to a smart poster as you go into a restaurant to automatically update your Facebook status and get an offer coupon from the venue as a thank you for telling your friends you’re there.

Commuters will be able to store their travel pass on their phone and mobile versions of airline boarding cards, hotel room keys and even passports will make it quicker and easier to get from place to place. Paying bills will become much simpler, too. Simply touch two NFC phones together to transfer money to a friend, buy a drink or pay for a service.

“No more rummaging around for the right change, card, keys or paperwork and no more texting your location to your friends — with NFC everything can be handled by your mobile device,” says Clark. “And, of course, NFC is a highly secure technology. Consumers will be able to instantly lock all the mobile wallet services on their phone if it is lost or stolen and then get them automatically transferred onto a new phone as soon as it arrives. They will also be able to use their phone to make payments even when the battery is flat.”

Global digital communications, VOIP and Unified Communications

Even a few years ago, connecting international offices was a nightmare in terms of complexity and associated cost. The attraction to connect many offices has many advantages. It helps cut the carbon footprint of employees through less travelling, enhances communications security, as files are not required to be kept on the laptop/removable media, it can save telephone costs by using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, allows collaboration of employees globally through Unified Communications (UC) technologies and creates an infrastructure that is scalable according to the requirements of the business.

The technology that is increasingly being utilised to setup this global infrastructure is Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). MPLS utilises both Class of Service (CoS) and Quality of Service (QoS). This means that data is prioritised according to let’s say, video/voice. For our example, if Video/Voice carries a CoS of 7 that would mean that it has a higher priority for transmission to let’s say data files and then the QoS could reflect that further by fine tuning other parameters such as latency etc.

When creating an international communications strategy, it is advisable to identify the requirements very carefully and to choose a global service provision partner that has experience of enabling international communications such as BT, Cable and Wireless and others.

The improvement that most businesses require immediately is to connect their employees remotely to their internal business network for reaching their business documents, presentations and business applications. The way this is achieved is through ensuring that the headquarter (HQ) or business data centre site has a larger capacity link compared to other sites, as this will be the link that will be the most used by all other sites and remote workers. A few years ago, many businesses used to host all their data and business applications at their headquarter sites. Now, increasingly, as businesses are growing and capacity (bandwidth) is becoming cheaper, they either have their own data centres or use Cloud Computing services.

Next, each remote site’s data requirements are mapped out and the required capacity agreed and enabled. In parallel, most remote workers are granted access to the business systems by using secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections and associated solutions such as iPass and RSA SecureID .

Once, the global infrastructure is setup, businesses can start to think about moving away from their Private branch exchange (PBX/PABX)’s telephone network and to start utilising VOIP for Internet Protocol Telephony (IPT). It is also worth noting that VOIP is not allowed in many countries as these countries would like their own country’s Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) carrier to carry the VOIP voice traffic and thus make money themselves. Many VOIP solutions, get around these by breaking out voice transmissions locally, in country, and if, for example, they have their own international VOIP system, to utilise their own network for the international traffic only.

An immediate transfer to a complete VOIP system is not required by most vendors and is facilitated by the introduction of VOIP gateways that link the legacy PBX to the new VOIP system. That ensures that investment in the current PBX is realised until a transition to the eventual VOIP benefits and system is completed. The largest disadvantage of VOIP systems is their inability to cope with electricity blackouts (Design consideration can overcome this) and tracing emergency VOIP calls (potential solutions currently being offered by vendors). Most VOIP vendors also sell UC solutions as well. This is where the power of the digital communications strategy starts to pay dividends. VOIP, for example, allows the user to have one extension globally. The power of unified communications is that it starts to utilise presence awareness (Where someone actually is/logged in to a computer/device) and starts to present that information to anyone who wants to connect or collaborate with that individual. This allows geographically diverse teams to connect anytime, anywhere globally. This could be via email, instant messaging, web conferencing, voice, SMS, Fax and even through collaborative technologies such as SharePoint. Now, follows an example:

Peter Smith was reluctant to go to the US but sales were down and a major potential client beckoned. Peter logged off his computer and phone system and made his way to Heathrow airport. Once checked in, he decided to make some calls to colleagues. A quick conference on the laptop ensued that meant he was discussing the project with a global team that he could view and discuss the final phases of a project with, across three offices globally. He was now walking to board the plane and quickly transferred his call to his mobile and continued walking. The call had ended and he had an urgent message to leave another colleague. He knew his colleague was in a meeting and would be checking his emails on his laptop frequently, so he left a voicemail (Voicemail would be emailed as text to his colleague). Once at the US office, he logged in to the system and had instant access to all his files and his personal phone extension.

I am intentionally not discussing VOIP or IP technologies in general as I feel that Unified Communications is where businesses should be making an investment. According to Gartner’s 2009 magic quadrant for Unified Communications, 2011 Microsoft’s UC solution is considered to be the leader, with Cisco, IBM and Siemen’s communications following closely. It was interesting to see that Avaya is only a strong contender and it is noteworthy to inform everyone that Avaya completed its acquisition of Nortel recently (the quadrant does not reflect the acquisition). There are quite a few VOIP/UC vendors currently and I would suggest that the one’s to watch are Microsoft, Cisco, Mitel and Avaya.