What is Unified Communications?
May 20, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Ken Kurz

At the most basic level, Unified Communications, or UC for short, happens any time one of your communications tools becomes “aware” of any of your other communications tools. If your phone has a built in directory that you can browse to find someone’s phone number, that’s UC. If your calendar application has a button to add teleconference joining instructions to a meeting invite, that’s UC. If your voice mail system sends you an email with an audio file of a recorded message attached, that’s UC. If you can click a link and seamlessly join a meeting using voice, video, and web…that’s UC.

If you let your imagination go down this track, it could go in many different directions. So let’s do some categorizing and grouping to build a vocabulary that will allow us to answer “what is UC?” in one concise sentence:

• First, let’s take anything that does the job of a phone, in that it allows you to talk to someone else in real time using your voice, and call it “Telephony.” Lots of people want to limit this to Voice over IP, or IP Telephony, but I reject this as unnecessarily limiting – we’ll stick to a ‘user experience’ perspective for now and ignore any discussion of how the voice gets from one person to another.

• Next, let’s take everything that involves non-real time voice, text, image, or multimedia message transmission between people and call that “Messaging”. In this bucket I would include instant messaging (IM), email, fax, voice mail, and texting.

• As the third category, let’s take anything that involves multi-party real time communications, whether it be audio conferencing, video conferencing, web conferencing, or all three, and call it “Conferencing and Collaboration.”

• Finally, we have “Presence,” which is that thing that allows you to see who is available and perhaps even give you shades of just how available they are.

Now that we have those terms, we can answer the question. What is UC? Well, UC is Telephony, unified with Messaging, Unified with Conferencing and Collaboration, and enabled by Presence. It really is that simple.

UC can be something you get piece by piece over time, or something that you get all at once. Either way, UC is a key springboard to the next big buzzword, namely “communications-enabled business practices”, or CEBP. You heard it here first, and believe me you’re going to need it. Along the way is this thing called UC, and so UC is something your business needs to have a strategy for. Because many businesses and business people cannot afford, either in terms of dollars, in terms of focus, or in terms of information technology priority, to bite off the whole UC thing all at once, next time I will talk a little bit about ways you can grab big chunks of UC without a big budget or a big project.

Warren_2 Warren Baxley is the Senior Director of Product Management & Development and the “Unified Communications and Collaboration” blogger. The holder of five patents in the conferencing industry including reservationless conferencing, Warren is building out InterCall’s global infrastructure for secure, reliable and rapid integration of new productivity solutions.

The Basics of Video Conferencing – Part I: The Equipment
May 13, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Brian Trampler & Sara O'Rourke

Video2_5_2 So, you’ve decided to look at videoconferencing because everyone is talking about Telepresence, HD, travel restrictions, and lower corporate budgets.  And just to throw one more in, don’t forget the person who mentioned that “green” videoconferencing will allow you to track your carbon offset.  But the information out there is daunting.  How do you cut through the mix?  Have no fear; some basic info about the equipment, the technology, and the terminology will help you wade through the sea of information out there.

This time around for the blog, let’s start with the equipment you need.  There are really 3 categories of video gear.  They are:

• Desktop systems: Desktop video can mean software that can be installed on your laptop or desktop and used in conjunction with a high-quality webcam, but it can also be a separate piece of hardware that uses a flat screen with a built-in camera for display.  The price range can be anywhere from $250 for the software plus webcam to $8,000 for an HD quality unit.  And if you want to step up to an even higher level, there is a new class of personal telepresence units that take both quality and price to a new level.

• Small group systems: This type of system usually allows for 1 to 3 participants to be comfortably viewed on each end of the video conference.  These systems are usually an all-in-one type of system that includes the video hardware, a built in camera, and a display that comes in a slim form factor.  They are typically a single screen display, and the view is split on the screen to allow multiple locations to show.  The price ranges start lower than the hardware based desktop systems, around $3,000 to $5,000 at the low end, but can be around $20,000.00 at the high end.  It all depends on the quality of cameras, resolution and size of displays you choose.  .

• Large group/boardroom systems: Provide the highest-quality video, typically 2 42” or higher flat screen or projection screen displays are installed to allow for “life-size” views and multiple locations on the screens, but they also come with the highest price tag, with systems starting at $10,000.   High end telepresence suites that covers entire walls in the room, with all the bells and whistles, can run upwards of $300,000.  These systems must be seen to be believed, as the quality really does allow you to feel like you could reach out and shake hands at the end of your meeting.

Telepresence can be counted as either a high end solution or a solution in each category. Some people classify these systems in a different category due to the special high end type of white-glove service that is bundled in, but in reality they are coming out with very high quality video conferencing solutions at all ends of the spectrum.

One last thing to think about while you’re doing your research – Is there anything out there that would allow someone that is just entering the videoconferencing market to get a taste for the technology without that size investment? 

Yes!  Look for a virtual or shared office space that has a videoconferencing room and equipment for rent.  These rooms are available globally in most major metropolitan areas and even in some smaller cities as well – InterCall’s network covers about 9,000 locations, so there is likely one near you.  They are typically able to be rented by the hour, and it may just be the way to get a taste for video conferencing.  After a few meetings, you’ll see the value and will know whether it will help your project or initiative.  And that might be just what it takes to make that move to purchase a reality for your organization.

So how do you explain the technology behind videoconferencing to the folks that pay the bills at your organization?  Let me know what questions you might have on that subject and we’ll discuss them the next time around on the InterCall Blog!

Brian_2 Brian Trampler is the Sr. Product Manager of Strategic Video Solutions & the "Video Conferencing" blogger. Throughout his 10 years in the conferencing industry, he has successfully launched numerous web, streaming, and video services.  Prior to making the jump to conferencing, Brian was involved in gymnastics both as a competitor and coach.  If you’re lucky, you might also find Brian performing musical theatre throughout the Denver metro area.

How to lead a Web Conference like a pro
May 8, 2008 @ 07:30 AM | By Dan Uhlmeyer

Iwm_screen_shot_2 It’s all the rage to “do a web conference" these days, especially with the increased costs of travel and fuel…virtual meetings make much more sense.  Of course, we think that’s a good thing!  But we also have a lot of customers who are a little afraid of this new way of meeting virtually.  So for my first blog entry, I wanted to address some of the top concerns I hear about getting started with web conferencing, and give you some good ideas on how to overcome them.

If you are interested in leading a web conferencing meeting and are new to the technology, you should choose a platform that is easy to initiate and intuitive to run.   After all, you are collaborating in order to accomplish tasks associated to “your business”.  So you should be thinking about that, not which icon to click to bring up the file you’re trying to show. 

You should choose a service which brings focus to your meeting and content, versus the web conferencing tool being used.   Think of the web conference as a virtual location where people come to connect with each other in order to get more done in an efficient manner.   Just like choosing a meeting place at a physical location, choose a service that provides easy accessibility and appropriate amenities for the tasks at hand. I’ll make no secret of it, my favorite is InterCall Web Meeting.  But InterCall offers several different services, so you can pick the right one for you.  Over the years I’ve worked with all of our services, and each one has its own strengths and is suited to different people in different ways. 

When web conferencing started out, it was usually a system you had to install on servers at your office, and required a big hassle to get set up.  But nowadays most systems are hosted by the provider, so at a minimum you will need a computer, an internet connection and a phone line.  In order to use features like video and audio streaming (internet based audio), you just need a standard webcam and computer speakers, which you can get just about anywhere.  Most services recommend a high-speed internet connection when using web conferencing; however some products will work with an adequate dial-up connection.  Some services require an initial download before you use it the first time, so the initial install time will be extended on a low-speed connection. 

After you’ve picked the right service and done the intitial test/setup, scheduling and launching a meeting should be as simple as booking a time in your calendar and sending out invites via email (i.e. Microsoft Outlook).   Depending on the meeting type, steps to get started will vary.  With Web Conferencing, you can literally start a meeting and send invitations in just a few easy steps.   Formal or “virtual event” type meetings (i.e. “webinars”) will require a bit more coordination to set up registration and other cool tools, but again is fairly simple in relevant terms. Remember, the alternative – booking a public meeting place, flights and other logistical coordination.  Even in your office building, it is not always easy to book the conference room. 

Integrated offerings will also provide you an automated link to telephone conferencing.   This means you no longer have to dial your phone; the service will store your numbers and call out to you upon logging into the web conference.  Once you’ve started the meeting, don’t over do it your first time out by attempting to use every feature available.  Like everything, tasks become more difficult once you have an audience standing by.  You can easily get intimidated or overwhelmed with the vast amount of features available with the service you choose to use. You can get creative and start to utilize advanced functionality when you become more comfortable with this mode of communication.   

As you research web conference products, find an offering that ties or enhances what you already do on a regular basis. 

  • Do you use Microsoft Outlook to book and coordinate your more traditional meetings?  Find a platform that provides a plug-in for Outlook. 
  • Do you use Audio Conferencing?  Find a platform that integrates with your audio conferencing account. (Yes, all the services InterCall offers have audio account integration!) 
  • Are you interested in replacing some of your face to face meetings with a lightweight, “easy to use” video feature?  Find a platform that pulls in video from a standard webcam. 

Running successful meetings more efficiently and more often has never been simpler.  If you’ve never tried running a web conference, I definitely recommend you explore the options  (get demos from live trainers for any option at this link…).  If you find the right service, you and your meeting attendees will not be disappointed.

Dan_2 Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger.  He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall’s proprietary unified communications tool.  When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.

 

Welcome to the InterCall Blog!
May 6, 2008 @ 07:38 AM | By The InterCall Team

With business changing and expanding so rapidly, chances are collaboration and virtual meetings mean more to your day-to-day than ever before.  As the world’s largest provider of conferencing and collaboration tools, InterCall is called upon for innovative solutions to help businesses connect, from small enterprises to our Fortune 500 global clients.  Making the most of our services means better work-life balance, less environmental impact for your business, lower travel costs and most importantly getting more done to keep business moving.   

Our customers consistently tell us, ‘I didn’t know you offer that’ or ‘I didn’t know I could do that’.  So we thought a blog the ideal forum for discussing new products, industry trends and sharing best practices that can help you really use this technology well.  Our bloggers will consist of InterCall employees from various departments such as Product Management, Customer Service, Operations, Marketing and our Executive team, as well as a host of industry and customer guest contributors.   

The InterCall blog won’t just promote why InterCall is the best and the biggest (ok, had to get it in there again), but rather deliver value to those who rely on remote communication services to connect with people, get more done, avoid the travel nightmare and oh yeah, help save the planet! 

Here’s a quick look at our upcoming bloggers:

Warren_2 Warren Baxley is the Senior Director of Product Management & Development and the “Unified Communications and Collaboration” blogger. The holder of five patents in the conferencing industry including reservationless conferencing, Warren is building out InterCall’s global infrastructure for secure, reliable and rapid integration of new productivity solutions.

 

Cam_2Cambria Vaccaro is Director of Marketing, Corporate Communications and our “Industry News” blogger.  Cambria has been in the conferencing industry for nearly fifteen years, and has seen it evolve from traditional video bridging services to cool web features and remote communication services.  She is an avid runner, cook, wife and mother of two gorgeous girls.

 

Doug Doug Utley is Director of Audio Conferencing Product Management and the "Audio & Events" blogger. He currently manages all Audio Conferencing products and provides strategic direction for VOIP evolution and support. Doug is also very involved in the mobile services arena.

 

Dan_2 Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger.  He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall’s proprietary unified communications tool.  When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.

 

Brian_2 Brian Trampler is the Sr. Product Manager of Strategic Video Solutions & the "Video Conferencing" blogger. Throughout his 10 years in the conferencing industry, he has successfully launched numerous web, streaming, and video services.  Prior to making the jump to conferencing, Brian was involved in gymnastics both as a competitor and coach.  If you’re lucky, you might also find Brian performing musical theatre throughout the Denver metro area.

 

Sara_2 Sara O'Rourke is the Associate Product Manager for Strategic Video Solutions and will be a contributor to "Video News". She has been with Intercall for over 4 years and has specialized in the video product for the majority of those years, starting in sales. She is not only an accomplished professional of the video industry, but a fine singer as well.

 

Make sure you are alerted when new postings hit the InterCall blog by adding our RSS feed or subscribing via email.

We welcome any questions that you might have about the world of conferencing or industry news that you would like to see discussed.  Just send us an email and we’ll reply or post about your question!

Survey says: Companies at all levels of green, but most are trying!
May 2, 2008 @ 09:45 AM | By InterCall Blog

So for all of you who took the Green Quiz, and wondered what we learned from it…here’s some good intel!

This survey shows that while companies are all at different phases in their green missions, environmental initiatives are certainly on everyone’s radar these days and reducing business travel has become a major focus of many corporate efforts.

Now we have to say we’re impressed with your choice of “going green” policy changes…when we asked what your company is doing to cut back on it’s carbon footprint, the top response was providing conferencing tools to cutback on travel (66%).

Just how involved are the employees in their companies' quest to be green? The survey found that to cut down on travel, teams are using telephone conferencing (76%), web conferencing (63%) and video conferencing (50%).

Greengraph_2

Telecommuting was also a big hit with respondents. Seventy-one percent said their companies enable employees to telecommute on a full or part-time basis. Of those supporting telecommuting, 25 percent say their companies actively encourage the practice. Other popular responses for how companies are becoming “green” in the workplace include recycling (61 percent) and working with environmentally-friendly vendors (29 percent). When it comes to awareness of green issues overall, only 31 percent of employees know their company’s carbon footprint and another 31 percent reported that their company is planning to complete a carbon footprinting project within the next year.

Businesses are an important group to target with green issues. Avoiding travel by using conferencing is a change businesses can make that is immediate and easy to implement. They can easily reduce their footprint without expensive changes to their product or processes...it’s simply a change in behavior.

And that’s what it’s all about. Since we started this blog, we’ve wanted to make sure you know the choices you can make to be green, and that it’s all about little changes in your behavior that make the difference!

Carolyn Campbell
Senior Director, Marketing Communications
InterCall

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