How do you make your Collaborative Meetings Better?
Today’s employee has certain expectations when it comes to meetings. If conference rooms are not up to date with the latest technologies, chances are companies will struggle to host valuable, engaging and efficient meetings. They will struggle communicating their voice. There are certain AV trends that you should consider incorporating into your meeting spaces.
Without collaboration, almost every meeting is the same: the leader is the sole presenter, and no one else contributes. Why? Because sharing screens and information is a hassle. Cords need to be unplugged and plugged back in, settings need to be adjusted, and half the time attendees can’t figure out how to make their screens or files visible to everyone else.
The increasing popularity of mobile technology in the workplace and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) company cultures favour the use of a mix of tablets, smartphones and laptops for collaboration purposes. If a wireless set-up is not in place, there will be a need for Apple, Windows and Android-compatible cables or adapters to ensure the ability to share screens whenever it’s needed to present content in business meetings.
Such a scenario can be overcome using a wireless presentation system which provides desktop mirroring, allowing users to cast and control what they share on the big screen completely wirelessly. This system enables users to showcase presentations, create engaging discussions and effortlessly switch between various computer platforms in any meeting space.
Wireless video presentation trends:
- Remote screen sharing and multi-site collaboration
Multi-site collaboration allows team members to connect to a currently running presentation or meeting from remote locations without having to be physically present. This enables a truly collaborative experience where everyone is seeing the same thing at the same time.
- Safe and secure dual-network mode
Companies should be able to leverage their existing network infrastructure by connecting wirelessly, over a wired network or using both at the same time without sacrificing network security, while also safeguarding the confidentiality of your data.
- Easy to use and “dongle-free”
Wireless presentation devices should be easy to set up and easy to use, enabling users to walk into a conference room and start collaborating through a mutual big screen without any hiccups or constraints. Users are connected wirelessly – without the use of any costly hardware – with their preferred device and, as such, are spared from unnecessary extra work or technological clutter.
Conference Room Booking
The Wall Street Journal reported that design flaws and poor scheduling frequently disrupt, prevent or stall meetings in many businesses today. When lacking room booking systems, employees run into scheduling problems and experience tremendous frustration daily. In fast-paced business environments, there’s a need to effectively manage the occupancy of multiple meeting room spaces so that every user can have appropriate allocated slots fit into his/her schedule. Nowadays, online meeting calendars at the entrance of meeting rooms or at reception desks are becoming increasingly common.
Conference room booking trends:
- Intelligent integrated room reservation
The room booking system should enable intelligent scheduling, fully integrated with online email calendars for real time updates on room occupancy, preventing double-bookings. Intelligent integrated systems allow for easy, immediate room reservations from a touch panel, as well as easy extension or cancellation of existing meetings from any computer or smartphone or directly on the room´s touch panel.
- Realtime room status
The touch panel should be able to show the current status of the room, reservation calendar, and more.
- Compatibility with a variety of email calendars
When choosing your intelligent room reservation system, it is important to ensure compatibility with different online email calendars like Outlook, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Exchange Server and Google Apps from Work. This will allow the system to be used despite future changes in the organisation’s email services.
Conference room automation and smart room AV control
Are you still searching for remote controls and the “right” cable to get started? Following the rising trend of automation and smart buildings, conference rooms are becoming more connected and automated than ever. AV systems, including projectors, sound, screens as well as lights and window shades, should be easily managed in a centralised fashion.
AV control trend:
- Accurately control every aspect of the meeting room
Allow users to prepare everything needed right at the start of the meeting, through Ethernet, serial, IR, digital I/O, and relay device control, locally or remotely. AV room controllers provide multimedia integration, lighting automation, security monitoring, and meeting and presentation control. This is especially suitable for meeting rooms, conference rooms, boardrooms, and high-tech homes.
The ability to collaborate different AV solutions is the key to office meetings with real value from beginning to end. It starts with seamless integration that easily accepts various devices operating on different platforms, a secure network for attendees working locally and remotely, and programs that let all meeting attendees share content.
People who are engaged in web meetings are having an experience!
Knowledge is wealth and so is technology. Let’s accept the fact that to create a better people experience, we need to create a digital workplace with a rich ecosystem of applications and content that needs to be contextual.
There is a rapidly emerging market for Meeting Experience Solutions, that is driven by the very real need of providing better meeting experiences for attendees and planners. The overarching force behind it all is the ever-growing momentum to support better conversational experiences to improve productivity in people’s work processes. Effective communication and collaboration is critical for business workflows, processes and creating conversational enterprises.
With regards to online meetings, for so long we looked at it as just a technology and forgot that the people who are in the meetings are having an experience. This experience can be horrible if the actual technology doesn’t work, or if it presents hurdles on entering, joining, or having productive meetings. We also forget that meeting planners and organizers are also having an experience that represents a continuum from the pre-procurement phase of choosing a solution, all the way through to its usage and measurable return on investment.
So, let’s take a look at what we’ve traditionally called web conferencing, video conferencing, online meetings and newer terms such as meeting solutions, video and visual collaboration, just to name some of the prevalent terms out there. The terms themselves were good at describing the technology and what it does but didn’t go all the way in addressing how it would accomplish that from the user’s perspective. Make no mistake, it has always been about the meeting experience itself!
The products and providers themselves come from various backgrounds, including the traditional web and video conferencing areas. However, users don’t really care what the technology or product is called per se, as long as it supports the experiences they are trying to have. It has to support the outcomes they are trying to arrive at. That outcome can be a collaborative internal meeting among colleagues, to arrive at a critical business decision. Would video be critical in order to get visual cues in that meeting? It could be a webinar or webcast to an external audience or large corporate communication to an internal audience. The meeting experience users want to have requires the technology to be seamless, flexible and super easy to use.
The market is going through a tremendous amount of consolidation and technology convergence simultaneously. Features and capabilities can no longer be thought of as silo components. People shift through different modalities throughout their work day and need to keep context. The need for a screen sharing use case can quickly evolve or escalate to requiring a whole geographically dispersed team to get on video for collaborative content creation and decision making. In that scenario visual cues will enhance the collaboration experience. So, the technology has to be flexible and able to support a wide variety of experiences without friction.
What if there are existing investments in video hardware infrastructure, can a provider’s solution integrate into that environment? The idea of breaking down product and provider evaluations into the desired experiences you want, will minimize the risk of getting too lost on features at the expense of solving real people communication and collaboration issues.
With the emergence of team messaging, such as Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, Cisco Spark, RingCentral Glip, Unify Circuit, Atlassian Stride and Zinc, the overall collaborative experience can start from a chat session and may need to be moved to a live meeting in real-time with the right stakeholders. This requires a deep level of integration between collaboration applications to support a seamless experience.
In that vein, recent moves by RingCentral and Google to merge messaging and meetings with RingCentral Meetings and Glip and Google Hangouts Chat and Meet respectively, speaks to this growing trend of supporting conversational experiences. Providers such as Cisco with Spark, Unify with Circuit and Microsoft with Teams have already been going down this path to some extent. Again, since people continually shift modes from real-time to asynchronous interactions throughout their work day, they require tools that support conversational experiences, that integrate into their critical business applications and keep the context of their business workflows.
So, evaluations into Meeting Experience Solutions, have to take into account their level of integration into other collaboration and business applications. That integration can be between applications within a single provider’s portfolio as well.
The focus for your evaluation has to be on the meeting experiences you are trying to support. If a provider is deficient in one required area, it would behove you to remove them from your short list. Understand the provider’s roadmap for the product, in regard to support for additional use cases and integrations. Make sure they have a real story around meeting experiences and the customer references to verify that. To create better people experiences, think of digital workplace communications and collaboration as a lifecycle and continuum, with a rich ecosystem of applications, people and content that needs to be contextual.
Maximise Unified Communication success in your organisation with investment in end user training
Technology an essential ingredient in any business strategy. Investment in IT systems and software is a necessary requirement for business progression, offering a means to support growth and workforce productivity. Whatever the industry, there appears to be a technology available that promises to enhance your business performance and drive results however all too often organisations that commit to an investment in state-of-the-art technology, fail to see the dramatic returns they expected.
With budget constraints a common feature in many of today’s decision-making processes, return on investment (ROI) is not only an expectation but is increasingly viewed as a prerequisite of the project. When little or no return is seen, it can be frustrating and embarrassing for those in the business who pioneered investment in the new technology. Business leaders can be left scratching their heads wondering why the promised results haven’t come to fruition.
Investment in training
The answer to the problem can often be found in the decision to forgo additional investment in end user training. For projects involving the integration of Unified Communications (UC) into a business, end user training is often under-valued being a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. Often the reason for choosing to omit end user training is down to an overall misunderstanding of the UC product. A simple telephone replacement project where the system will easily integrate into the business is a common misconception of UC. This view does not account for the extensive features and applications available to users including video and conferencing, telephony, presence information and collaboration apps. UC is a user friendly, intuitive experience meaning it can be delivered in part without the need for training however this approach can leave users confused and unaware of the many new supportive features available to them. Incorporating any new IT system into an organisation can be very disruptive and challenging for staff. The task of replacing well established legacy systems that have been in place for many years, can be particularly challenging as the workforce struggle with the shift to a new system they simply don’t know how to operate.
The overall commitment to UC integration should always incorporate some element of staff training.
End user training is available in many forms from computer-based training , user guides and handbooks, to hands-on instructor led classes and one-to-one support. Businesses can also choose to avail of Train-the-trainer courses which offer the opportunity to arm the workforce with in house system experts who can learn from the providers expert team and then develop and deliver in-house training to staff. Developing staff to provide this level of in house expertise reduces reliance on the provider help desk which can be an expensive way to handle simple trouble shooting issues. In-house experts can offer ongoing support to colleagues with extended user knowledge and problem-solving skills.
When evaluating the best training plan for staff, the technical skill of the workforce should always be considered. The technical knowledge of some staff may be limited, and the choice of training should be tailored to the audience with various levels of support for the more and less ‘tech savvy’ of the group.
When users receive little or no training for UC systems, they can become disillusioned, confused and frustrated even feeling nostalgia for the old system. In this case, users tend to lean on the features they can access easily while ignoring the rest; failing to make use of the enhanced tools UC offers.
When creating a business case for a new IT system, end user training can sadly be viewed as an unjustifiable cost however the reality is that without training, user time and system usability can be limited which can have a direct impact on ROI. When employees don’t understand how to use the product, they can waste time trying to resolve issues with little or no user knowledge. This also drives further frustration with a system they feel does not operate efficiently or support them in their role
Harness the power of unified communications
The introduction of UC has the power to transform how a business and its workforce operate. It provides an opportunity to unify email, telephony, web conferencing, instant messaging and communication systems. It provides flexible and agile workers with the ability to gain full access to company data and communication systems from remote locations anywhere and on any device. The role of UC is to enhance communication and collaboration with customers, partners and across a business enabling better usability and providing easy access to company data bases and remote staff. These features allow organisations to enhance the performance of staff while reducing overall costs but like any technology, it is only as powerful as the people who use it. When users are unable to access the UC platform, they fail to see these benefits and can feel frustration with company leaders for investing in the new system in the first place. The result can be an investment in technology that users do not understand and therefore choose not to use.
Underestimating the value of employee training can be the downfall of a business project. This applies to the introduction of any new system, IT based or otherwise. When choosing to integrate UC into an organisation it is important that businesses consider not simply what technology to invest in, but how best to build the system into the company culture. When adopting any new technology, the people behind the IT, the users, ultimately hold the key to driving results. Effective end-user training will result in increased adoption rates, more confident users and enhanced operational efficiency. Empowering staff with user knowledge and a thorough understanding of the product through structured initial and ongoing training support is the key to ensuring UC success.
Don’t get stuck with your old PBX system, start afresh with Cloud Based Platform!
There are so many things to take care of while shifting to a new office. And usually PBX systems are the last thing on your mind. Faced with the countless headaches around moving into a new space and signing a new lease, office telephony tends to be overlooked. And when the question does arise, most business owners turn toward their existing PBX system – and investigate how to move it into the new space.
Many business owners soon discover, attempting to move an existing PBX system is not only complicated, but also very costly. Firstly, PBX suppliers have little to no interest in assisting clients to move PBX systems. When providing a quote, they will quote high. Why? Because these are product-based businesses, so they would rather push business owners into an upgrade/new finance contract than arrange to move an existing PBX system.
To solve this issue (and avoid getting stuck in the same scenario the next time around) business owners should consider a cloud-based PBX system. Cloud-based PBX providers are inherently service-based businesses, with a solution driven approach. As a result, questions around uptime, handling and diverting call traffic, and of course, making a smooth transition to new premises, can all be answered with ease. Indeed, cloud-based PBX providers have dedicated account managers who have every incentive to ensure that office telephony requirements are met – around the clock, during and after a move. These solutions are designed with mobility in mind, hence removing all the usual headaches associated with moving into new premises.
While there are many attractive reasons and substantial benefits to switching to a cloud PBX, there are a few considerations that businesses must make if they have decided to switch from an on-premise PBX to the cloud
Costs & Budgets
What is a business’ budget and what options will work within that? Cost is one of the big factors to assess when upgrading equipment and technology in an office. It is important to look at the different costs that will be associated with the cloud PBX solution, including setup and support costs. Also, businesses must decide if they are going to be upgrading phones or will need to purchase new compatible devices. While these expenditures must be part of the cost analysis, remember that initial start-up and/or equipment costs generally are a one-time expense.
Where are the cost savings? PBX phone saving studies show that cloud PBX systems can save companies up to 50% (in comparison to other PBX solutions). Cloud-based phone systems are known to have relatively limited upfront costs. Additionally, the need to install, maintain, reconfigure, and upkeep a premise-based PBX, which can lead to unforeseen future costs, is removed from the equation. Cloud solutions also have a tendency to have low set-up costs, call rates, and subscription fees. When completing a cost analysis, do not forget to include the monthly Internet service fee.
Business Needs & Feature Sets
What are the overall business and associate-level needs? It is imperative to assess whether or not the cloud solution comes with all the advanced features (or more) that an on-premise PBX would have. Ask if the solution has all the management capabilities needed, such as import/export of extensions, troubleshooting, and provisioning. Does the business rely on a third-party chat and collaboration program (Slack, Teams, etc.) or does the cloud PBX need to have a chat feature built-in? What security features are a must-have for an organization? It is not safe to merely assume that all cloud PBX offerings are the same, so feature needs should be outlined and then compared with feature sets.
Some of the top key features include:
- Business Features: Blacklist/Whitelist, Custom prompt, distinctive ringtone, music on hold, one-touch recording
- Call Features: Attended transfer, blind transfer, call detail records, call forwarding, call monitor, call parking, call routing, caller ID, conference, DND, queue, speed dial, SIP forking, video calls
- Management: Backup & restore, import/export extensions, multi-level user access, phone provisioning
Multi-Locations & Branch Offices
Does a business need a multi-location solution? If business spans different geographical areas and is not contained in one location, it makes sense to gravitate towards a cloud PBX. Many cloud PBX options can connect employees on the opposite sides of the globe, offering all employees access to the exact same features. Easily utilize these options to transfer calls between different offices. One other consideration is to assess the cost of long distance calling, which may already be rolled into the package price.
Access on Mobile
One cannot ignore the fact that business extends outside of the four walls of the office. A quality cloud PBX solution will possess the capability to fully function on a mobile device. This is perfect for those employees who have home offices, telecommute occasionally, or even travel frequently. To ensure that this is possible, choosing a cloud PBX with a comprehensive mobile client is a must. In addition to calls being properly routed to mobile devices, a mobile client needs to offer full access to all features.
Internet & Networking Requirements
When setting up a cloud PBX system, determine whether the current Internet connection speed is high enough, both up and downstream. Also, check that all basic networking equipment is up-to-date (routers and switches). Ensuring a high level of call quality can be done by having a QoS-enabled Internet connection. Certain equipment, like an Edgewater router, can prioritize your traffic over data.
Workplace Collaboration, Video Conferencing, and Unified Communications Are About to Collide
From a single source on your desktop, you can survey your entire working world. The opening sentence of an email from your team leader fills one corner, a discussion thread from your colleagues scrolls down in real-time on the opposite side. Your own project status sits neatly in the middle, ready to update as you check off another task, and a video call icon is flashing in the bottom right corner, letting you know a teammate wants a quick face-to-face.
That was part of the promise of unified communications pushed by high-end video conferencing and IT providers. It demanded complex infrastructure and dedicated, expensive hardware, but would seamlessly bring together every aspect of a company’s digital communication.
Instead, however, the scenario above was made reality by a single app, Slack, that came out of nowhere several years ago to create a new genre of business tools under the banner of workplace collaboration. The resulting friction between workplace collaboration, unified communications, and video conferencing will shape the modern office. In fact, all three are about to meet in an industry-defining collision.
A Simpler Digital Workplace
Slack isn’t the complete answer that unified communication was meant to be. It isn’t as elegant, nor does it properly stitch together the internal and external business worlds. It might be, however, close enough and user-friendly enough to make the average business stop searching for high-tech perfection.
Its popularity is undeniable. It has 4 million daily active users, and 1.25 million paid subscribers. More indicative of its importance is the rash of copycats it has inspired–and these mimics are some of the biggest names in tech. Microsoft’s version, Teams, has been sold to 30,000 businesses, and Facebook’s clone, Workplace by Facebook, is being used by 14,000 more.
In fact, Slack operates a lot more like the traditional Facebook than it does any unified communications wizardry. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can integrate all the software and hardware (simple items like webcams, not complex in-room hubs) needed to do everything from create a document to attend a video conference. That simplicity is why industry experts think workplace collaboration will change the very meaning of the term unified communications.
The Future of Workplace Collaboration
What we may be left with is a crude approximation of what unified communications could have been. While Polycom creates state-of-the-art telepresence displays, and Cisco delivers new ways to interact during a video call, employees on the ground in offices are messaging and video calling from their desktops with Slack and its descendants.
The simpler solution lets employees collaborate in real-time from anywhere, including home, without moving from their desks. If they need to be on the same side of a video call they are preferring to decamp to small, shared huddle rooms that conserve space and don’t require any IT department support to operate.
The new challenge, under Wharton’s vision, will be to continue innovation within these almost DIY conditions. Next generation video and collaboration technologies like augmented and virtual reality will have to be intuitive and non-invasive so as not to disturb the workplace flow–having to don a pair of goggles every time you make a video call isn’t practical. Whatever comes next will also have to include the rising Bring Your Own Device movement. And finally, a bridge needs to be found between the desktop and the external business world. It could be as simple as patching into group video calls, with in-camera green screening to clean up callers’ backgrounds, or as complex as creating an entirely digital meeting place, as some virtual reality specialists.
Ultimately, we’ll get a clearer vision of our workplace future once the dust settles from the impending collision between high-minded unified communications and practical workplace collaboration.
Audio Conferencing vs Video Conferencing. Which one should you go for?
Sight or sound? Video or audio? A human face or a human voice? If these were the only questions that confronted you before your next planned conference call, the choice would be obvious–a video conference is more personal, more engaging, and more dynamic than an audio call.
Things aren’t that straightforward though. A video call requires cameras and a screen. It makes much higher demands on your internet connection than audio. Connecting a video call means checking that the people on the other end are using the same video conferencing providers–for all their advances VC vendors still refuse to cross-communicate with each other.
So, do you settle for audio only? Luckily, the video conferencing industry is aware of the extra burden video entails. And they’re trying to make things simpler. If they succeed, then video conferencing vs. audio conferencing will no longer be a debate–because video conferencing is audio conferencing–just upgraded with human faces.
Video Conferencing Vs. Audio Conferencing
In truth, we live in an age of messaging in which the conference call is one of the few areas where the clash between audio and video even matters. The average adult is 2.6 times more likely to send a message than make a call. No one calls from the train to say they’re going to get home a little late–they send a text. No one jumps on Skype to show off their new shoes–they just send a Snap. Even in the office, workplace collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft’s Teams are replacing calls with message threads.
Messages won’t cut it, however, when it comes time for a big presentation or office-to-office meeting–times when you want a more personal touch and a greater ability to present and discuss information.
Now the decision becomes: Audio or visual?
The Ease of Audio – The hardware side of the debate is where audio has it over video. The reason why is obvious. Audio only requires a conference bridge, so multiple callers can call in over a network or the internet (VoIP) through a central control hub equipped with microphones and speakers. Video, at a minimum, needs all that plus screens and cameras to display and convey images.
The basics required for a video conference–a smart 4K webcam, central hub, and speaker mics. All those necessary peripherals also make setting up a video conference-enabled room much more complicated than its audio-only cousin.
The Complication of Video
There’s only one thing you have to worry about when setting up an audio-only conference call: Can everyone be heard? Generally, this involves placing the main hub in the center of the room and then scattering around some attached microphones, or ensuring the central phone is sensitive enough to be used by the entire group.
Video, on the other hand, requires you to think about how each person appears on camera. Traditionally, this means seating everyone in a horseshoe shape around a central screen and camera. There are some great active-speaker, automated cameras available that will track from person to person around the table as each person speaks, but these are expensive and still require thoughtful seating.
While both audio and visual solutions must combat in-room noise, video has the added bugbear of having to account for lighting. Again, there are solutions around, such as technology built into webcams that can adjust to compensate for a change in light levels, but it’s an added problem audio doesn’t care about.
As we mentioned before, video will also make far more demands on an internet connection than audio ever will. While it’s safe to assume most companies are on unlimited corporate data plans, having to push through a signal that’s many times heavier than audio means many connections can’t handle high-end streaming, especially 4K visuals, at all.
So, why go to all this trouble and expense to host a video conference? It’s nature. We’re visual creatures, and we understand through our eyes just as much as through our ears.
Video Offers a Better Experience
In general, most people prefer the real-time reactions and emotions of a human face when conducting a meeting over a disembodied voice. In addition to better mimicking the human side of a meeting, video conferencing also lets callers exchange media-rich information–you can display videos and photos, share your computer screen, or watch third-party content like YouTube. Also, you can share files and documents instantly without having to consult a BYO computer as you would with audio only.
Video conferencing vendors are trying to make things easier for their users to capitalize on this natural superiority. Microsoft recently unveiled a new range of Skype Room Systems, which act as central touchscreen hubs to make starting a video call simple. Larger room systems are being expanded to provide control over everything from the webcams to the air conditioning and the blinds. VC is also going portable with all-in-one webcams that can be deployed quickly and that cater for small huddle room groups.
Comparing the experience of an audio conference with that of a video conference is not like comparing a Honda Civic with a BMW 4 Series. It’s like comparing a bicycle with a car. Yes, bikes are a lot cheaper and they’ll get the job done, but come on…for most things, a car is just a more convenient and complete solution, even if it’s a little more complicated to operate.
Collaboration made easy with IP enabled Video Phones
A VoIP phone is a hardware- or software-based telephone designed to use voice over IP (VoIP) technology to send and receive phone calls over an IP network. The phone converts analog telephony audio into a digital format that can be transmitted over the internet and converts incoming digital phone signals from the internet to standard telephone audio.
VoIP phones, also known as IP phones, include features and capabilities not found in traditional analog phones. They also have additional performance requirements because phone calls are placed over the internet instead of the legacy public switched telephone network (PSTN).
How does a VoIP phone work?
Some VoIP phones require A/C adapters for power, while others use Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE uses an Ethernet cable instead of an A/C adapter and removes the need for separate power and data cables.
Several networking components are required to make VoIP phones work. Phones are assigned IP addresses through the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which automatically configures the network and the VoIP parameters. A domain name system (DNS) tracks the IP addresses to enable devices, such as IP phones, to connect to each other.
VoIP phones require a number of protocols to facilitate the delivery of voice communications over the internet. H.323 is the most commonly used VoIP protocol that supports audio, video and data communications across IP networks. It provides several VoIP functions, including bandwidth management and call control.
Session initiation protocol (SIP) is a signaling protocol that sets up VoIP connections and is used as an alternative to H.323. Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) is used to send and receive multimedia information between two devices. VoIP services use RTP and SIP or H.323 to stream multimedia content. The Simple Traversal of UDP through NAT(STUN) protocol is used on some SIP-based VoIP phones to enable communications behind network firewalls, which can sometimes block SIP and RTP packets.
Some providers use their own proprietary protocols for VoIP phones. For example, the Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP) is a proprietary Cisco standard for communicating with H.323 VoIP systems.
Types of VoIP phones
The two main types of IP phones are hardware-based and software-based phones.
Physically, a hardware-based VoIP phone resembles a traditional hard-wired or cordless telephone. These phones include physical features such as a speakerphone or microphone, a touchpad, and display hardware to show user input and caller ID. VoIP phones also feature call transfer, multiparty calling and support for multiple VoIP accounts. Some VoIP phones can transmit and receive image data during calls, so they are considered video telephones.
Software-based IP phones, also known as softphones, are software clients installed on a user’s computer or mobile device. The softphone user interface often resembles a phone handset, with a touchpad and caller ID display. A headset with a microphone that connects to the computer or mobile device is encouraged, or sometimes required, to make calls. Users can also make calls using their device if it includes a built-in microphone
Softphone clients offer similar capabilities to hardware-based IP phones, such as voicemail, call conferencing and call transfer. Some clients may offer additional capabilities, such as video conferencing and instant messaging, however.
Traditional analog phones may also be converted into IP phones by connecting to an analog telephone adapter (ATA). Analog phones can be converted by plugging the Ethernet network jack into the ATA, which then connects to the phone. The analog phone will connect to the internet rather than the PSTN, and it will appear to the phone system as a VoIP phone.
Advantages and disadvantages of VoIP phones
- Organizations can reduce calling costs by switching to VoIP services. While traditional analog phones can have lower upfront costs, they are more costly to support, upgrade and integrate with communications applications. IP phones also offer cheaper long-distance and international calls, as VoIP phone calls are charged at the local rate of the call’s destination.
- VoIP phones offer greater mobility and scalability than traditional handsets. If an organization moves to a new location, it doesn’t need to acquire new phone lines, which it would with a traditional phone system. Adding new phones to a VoIP system is only limited by the available bandwidth on the organization’s network. Softphones also provide increased mobility, as the clients are not tied to physical locations like they would be with hard-wired phones.
- VoIP phones can also integrate with other communications applications. For example, organizations can integrate their customer relationship management (CRM) software with VoIP phones to enhance caller ID and keep records of call information.
- VoIP phones, however, do have disadvantages. For example, VoIP phones require a reliable internet connection and are susceptible to bandwidth constraints. With insufficient bandwidth, phone calls may experience latency, which can result in delays and dropped calls. Additionally, if an organization has a power or internet outage, users cannot make calls from their VoIP phones.
Telemedicine – A life Saver!
What is Telemedicine? Telemedicine uses video conferencing and other telecommunication tools to deliver healthcare at a distance. It promises patients greater convenience and time saved. For medical clinics and hospitals, it delivers time, money, and resource savings. In rural areas with fewer medical facilities, telemedicine promises better healthcare for residents.
Telemedicine provides access to healthcare information and records, enables access to specialists, improves communication between doctors and patients, and helps professionals gather and share important health data.
Technology supports telemedicine
A number of technologies make telemedicine a practical reality. Video conferencing plays a key role, together with secure, low-cost mobile communications that support real-time collaboration through tablets and smartphones.
Video conferencing is available on mobile devices with a high-speed Internet connection and softphone, a software application. Because video conferencing reach any location with Internet access, a mobile collaboration between doctors and colleagues or doctors and patients can occur inside hospitals, medical centers, and anywhere in the country, even remote rural areas.
Healthcare professionals transmit data such as electronic records and other documentation securely. In addition to real-time video collaboration, doctors use recorded video content to support patient education, aftercare, and wellness programs in the community
Improving collaboration within hospitals
In hospitals, doctors and nurses frequently move between wards, visiting patients. To seek advice or collaborate with specialists, they connect and share patient information via the hospital’s internal wireless networks using smartphones or tablets.
Increasing access to specialists
To see and assess a patient over live video within minutes of arrival at the hospital. The faster a patient receives stroke treatment, the better chances they will recover without permanent disability. Video collaboration is accelerating ‘door to needle’ treatment by minutes, sometimes even hours, time-saving that could change a person’s life forever.
Changing the pattern of patient visits
As an alternative to a home visit, doctors may video or Web conference with patients with less mobile or medically unable to visit a health center. Doctors discuss the patient’s condition and recommend medication or treatment.
Remote monitoring systems grant access to critical patient data, like those with heart conditions or diabetes. This reduces home visits for routine assessments and provides timely alerts of changes in patients’ conditions that may require urgent attention.
Reducing hospital readmissions
Many hospitals find that readmissions put further pressure on their already limited resources. Although patients receive aftercare instructions before being discharged, when problems occur, patients are readmitted for further treatment or support. There are five areas that frequently lead to hospital readmissions:
- Hospitals creation and implementation of effective discharge plans.
- Patient non-compliance with medication and care instructions.
- Compromised follow-up care due to poor collaboration.
- Family caregivers not connected or informed to assist with care.
- Patient condition deteriorates and necessary care not accessed.
Video collaboration and content management solutions help hospitals to deal with these challenges.
To improve patient discharge plans, hospitals can offer live, collaborative video at the time of discharge. A live conversation ensures patients, caregivers, and family members participate in the creation of a discharge plan and fully understand what action to take as the patient returns home.
Hospitals may also create a video recording explaining the discharge plan for the patient and family. The information explains what to expect in a normal recovery, compared to symptoms that represent a risk to the patient.
If patients forget the care instructions or have difficulty with their medication, the hospital sends reminders via real-time video collaboration or a pre-recorded video library. This makes reviewing patient care easy.
As part of the recovery process, patients and caregivers benefit from the support of their assigned healthcare providers. They can have virtual access to their primary care physician, case manager, or other professionals via live video. These video follow-ups help long-term patients benefit from feeling connected to their continued care.
Video collaboration assists the patients’ family who may live outside the area but want to participate in the care process. Family members can participate in video calls to create home care plans, learn to recognize risks, and assist with communication.
If a long-term patient’s condition changes or deteriorates, video collaboration enables access to their care team without resorting to readmission. Real-time video interaction helps case managers, nutritionists, physical therapists, primary care physicians, and others adapt treatment plans as changes occur in health and behavior.
Improving access to rural healthcare
In remote areas with limited medical resources, telemedicine provides local doctors a higher standard of care for their patients. Besides the opportunity for virtual home visits, telemedicine gives local professionals access to specialists anywhere in the country.
Local doctors gain insight into cases and procedures beyond their own experience or skills. It assists the diagnosis of complex cases, even allowing surgeons to conduct complex procedures with live video under the direction of a remote expert.
Supporting preventative care in the community
Telemedicine is playing an important role in preventative medicine. As part of the National Prevention Strategy, video conferencing enables hospitals, clinics, health departments, community health centers, community colleges, and facilities like rehab centers and skilled nursing facilities to collaborate and provide community-based services that contribute to the health and wellness of the public.
In smoking cessation programs or alcohol and drug abuse prevention, community teams utilize pre-recorded educational content or hold live interactive video sessions. They hear from experts in the field and discuss issues with doctors and nurses as well as peers in the community who struggle with similar problems.
Despite the promise and recent accomplishments of telemedicine, barriers to its wider adoption remain. A study by The Economist Intelligence Unit found 49 percent of respondents believe patients would be concerned about the risk of data breaches.
Although video collaboration is capable of providing benefits throughout the healthcare industry, professionals must be aware of privacy issues. Any organization providing doctors, nurses, and other workers with remote access to patient data must ensure the security of data transmitted by video or other communication channels.
Some insurers refuse to support telemedicine due to increased costs for fewer perceived health benefits. And, State medical boards impose differing telemedicine laws and restrictions on doctors. Procedures for telemedical treatment are not standardized across State lines.
Looking to the future, telemedicine has the potential to transform the way doctors deliver care, promising improved treatment, and saving more than time and money
Digital Signage for effective retail marketing
Digital signage solutions are being exploited by most business owners today to give them an edge over their competitors. There are many different benefits digital signage will have on your business, which can help you become more successful within your industry. Digital Signage is made up of a variety of technologies used to replace traditional print and other media in the retail environment in a visually dynamic form..
The importance of creating customer experiences in the retail environment is well-documented and has been proven to influence consumer decision-making at the point of sale, as well as helping to enforce branding and enriching the overall shopping experience. Today, more and more retailers are beginning to recognise and reap the benefits of using digital displays and bespoke in-store music as part of their branding and customer shopping experience. It allows shoppers to visually interact with the brand’s products or promotions whilst still in the store environment, where actual purchasing decisions can be made.
Here are 4 ways in which digital signage can be used in-store for effective retail marketing:
- In-Store Digital Advertising
Advertiser driven digital signage networks allows advertisers to buy airtime in order to inform customers about their products and services and in turn drive more sales at the point of decision. The placement, size of commercial screen, type of content and other circumstances in store can vary quite a bit, but the most successful networks are always treated as any other in-store medium. That is to say, digital signage is like any other form of point-of-purchase advertising that can be bought by marketers and used to the reach customers on the sales floor.
- In-Store Digital Signage and Music
Retailers can utilise effective retail digital signage to promote their products, brands and services to their customers and also attract potential customers with strategically placed screens in storefront windows. In-store music has also added to the customers’ shopping experience and when these powerful channels are integrated, a retailer can efficiently deliver their marketing message visually and audibly to the customer right at point of purchase. The X2O Media Platform, now available in South Africa, enables users to communicate key messages in real time to target consumers via a range of digital devices– all from one solution.
- Employee Training and Skills Management
Digital Signage has been successfully used to display employee training videos, health & safety and other corporate messages before and after trading hours. Employee training can be further enhanced to include Training on Demand (TOD), which allows training videos to be played at times set by the individual store management and it allows for the videos to be paused, rewound, forwarded and stopped. TOD is a revolutionary bolt-on product that allows enables effective training of staff whilst having a huge cost savings for any distributed company.
- Touch Screen Kiosks
Self-service touch screen kiosks have been around for a long time, but as newer applications are being adopted by retailers, there has been a new resurgence of the technology. The new cutting-edge technology includes additional functionality, such as: self-service credit applications in-store, interactive product information and guided selling, wayfinding systems, product locators and price checking units, loyalty programmes and customer satisfaction.
The effect of the visually appealing display gives retailers the opportunity to improve their customers’ shopping experience, make each employee more productive, reduce the load on customer service staff and, if possible, offer a supplementary form of income
Why huddle rooms should be part of your collaboration strategy?
Huddle room video conferencing is more than setting up a webcam and speakerphone in a small room. Why huddle rooms should be part of your collaboration strategy?
For decades, collaboration technology has been limited to larger, integrated, and expensive meeting rooms. But next generation workers, and the need for companies to complete on a global basis, will drive demand for collaboration solutions throughout the organization. Workforce is embracing a new way of working where connectivity, rich media and access to content across devices and locations are a given. Modular and flexible solutions allow teams to transform their works paces. Over the next few years, advanced audio-visual and collaboration products and services will make their way into the millions of existing smaller meeting rooms (huddle rooms).
Video has only recently become a mainstream option for businesses. If your organization does not have a forward-looking video strategy, then you’re probably entrenched in legacy-based and hardware-based systems for dedicated use in a boardroom. Additionally, you’re probably thinking of video as a stand-alone application, rather than integrating it into a broader collaboration vision.
When considering today’s collaboration needs, video is far more pervasive and practical than conference room scenarios. While conference rooms are still important, huddle rooms have emerged as equally important for collaboration. Huddle rooms are typically smaller meeting spaces that suit different use cases and need to be part of your strategy, whether for video or your overall collaboration planning.
As workforce become more distributed, the need for collaboration becomes more important. Informal and ad hoc meetings are becoming more common, especially among small teams. Huddle rooms are ideal for this mode of working. To support that workflow with business-grade tools, you need to consider purpose-built video services. Video vendors are tuned into this shift in the market and now offer right-sized services for huddle room video conferencing.
There’s a big gap between costly telepresence systems for large groups and consumer-grade applications that anyone can grab from the web. Huddle rooms need to support serious collaboration — and that means having reliable connectivity, high-quality audio and video, full integration with other applications, a consistent user experience and, of course, ease of use. You can’t get that with a patchwork approach using somebody’s webcam and a noisy speakerphone, especially if two or more people are on the call.
Huddle rooms are ideal for those in-between video collaboration needs. If you’re adding huddle rooms as purpose-built collaboration spaces, you need to think strategically about the tools. Organizations have a wide range of video services to choose from based on cost and quality. You need to plan your video choices in tandem with planning for your huddle rooms. This strategic approach provides employees with a holistic service for small-scale collaboration. Once deployed, the benefits should be evident immediately.