Is this the future of video conferencing?

It’s all about connecting. With the distances involved for telecommuters and far-flung members of your staff, calling a meeting ought to be more complicated than ever. Instead companies are finding that with cloud-based apps that meetings are easier and more productive, and that more staff are engaged and contributing. Kiss the room based system and its intensive upkeep good bye, and find out what lighter, more versatile cloud systems mean to the hard and soft costs of meeting culture.

It’s a Simple Question

What would you rather spend your company’s money on? A telepresence suite with a five figure price tag that needs a dedicated IT guy to run it – or a top notch coffee service and pastries from that chic patisserie for everyone every Monday for a year? Going for the Opera cake and Napoleons? Smart choice! A flexible, scalable, go-anywhere system is an investment where a big room full of hardware is a depreciable expense. While having good equipment is a good idea, blowing cash on a system that doesn’t have the capacity to meet flexible needs or draw in distant personnel is a liability. Frankly, 2014 was not a banner year for the big video conferencing hardware companies. According to IDC, major dealers like Cisco, Polycom, and Huawei saw a dent in their bottom line, though they’ve woken up enough to join the scramble to offer Cloud based solutions, cross platform and device connectivity, and lower cost premises based solutions.

According to ZDNet, Cisco spotted the trend, but in the way of entrenched and inflexible institutional cultures, didn’t move as fast as it should have to adapt to the emerging market trend that it noted back in 2013. Projecting 7.7 zettabytes of global cloud usage by 2017, or 19 trillion hours of video meetings, they seem to have missed the bus to the cloud themselves, instead allowing upstart video meeting companies such as Blue Jeans to shoulder into the market by offering cost-effective, cloud-based services.  Cloud-based offerings such as the Blue Jeans Network began to offer high quality video meetings, scalable, and in the era of slashed budgets, more companies began to take notice.

Why Cloud?

The reasons that companies move to the cloud are as individual as the companies themselves. Reasons vary from greater portability and scalability of services, to a greatly reduced expenditure for previously costly software and services. Forbes’ recent survey opened up the box a little with regard to companies’ rationale, citing the need for sharing data across applications, improving collaboration and integration across departments, and innovating existing products and services on the fly. As computer use shifts from desktops and laptops for tablets, smartphones, and ultralight laptops like Chromebook, the market for expensive “boxed” software is shifting to “software as service” providers.

Leading software companies have plunged in with a will, with Adobe’s Creative Suite available as a monthly subscription instead of a lump sum well over $1,000 – with upgrades extra. Microsoft has also followed the same path with their bestsellingOffice productivity suite. While the big companies feel secure in their niche, lower cost or free offerings are nibbling at their market share. Tablets and smart phones are becoming equivalent to laptops in size and processing power, while laptops in turn have become the equivalent of power-user desktops. In all cases, cloud based apps have opened up new abilities in terms of users being able to work – or have a meeting – anywhere.

Getting Your Heads in the Cloud

Think about what you need and want from a meeting app, and what your people feel are the necessary features. Boosting engagement during meetings is vital, especially in terms of preventing staff disengagement. The older, more experienced, and better educated the staff member, the more likely it is that they are among the 73 percent of workers who are simply disconnected from their work environment. There are lots of reasons for the disengagement, but addressing the situation takes work and efforts. Giving the people the tools to connect and collaborate goes a long way towards remedying the isolation that disengaged staff seem wrapped in. Phone calls, emails, and messaging goes only so far; there are times when nothing but a meeting or even a video chat will do. Giving your workers face time allowed relationships to develop, and networking opportunities that office hermits might otherwise miss.

Bringing everyone in and getting them to use video meetings is worth the effort, even solely based on giving employees the chance to feel included and a part of the company’s success. Opening up meetings to bring in fresh perspectives and voices can shake you out of hearing the same old things from the same old people, and give a company in the doldrums a fresh breath of air.

This article is published in collaboration with Smart Data Collective. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Anand Srivastava is a contributing writer for Smart Data Collective.

Image: A large cloud gathers over the skyline of San Francisco, California December 12, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith.

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