Video collaboration: is it a cultural thing?


This blog post is sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network and Avaya.

Believe it or not, video communications systems have been around for a long time. And ever since the invention of the telephone, people have conjured up ideas of merging pictures with voices. Obviously there were many technological obstacles to overcome back then, but our desire to see a face along with hearing a voice has never diminished.

Here in the United States, the AT&T Picturephone debuted in the 1960s and the company installed its first commercial videophone booths in New York, Washington, D.C, and Chicago, in 1964. Some tech firms also put in Picturephones in its offices, but the cost of buying and using the service really limited its adoption.

AT&T would try again in the 1990s with the color VideoPhone 2500. Here’s somebody showing off this wonderful piece of 1990s tech:

The first thing that came to mind? It sure looks a lot like some of today’s videophones…

But I digress. Fast forward through the PC revolution and the mobile revolution. Instead of being tied to our desk phones at work, we can now work anywhere at any time, thanks to our laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And because of this, effective collaboration has become a challenge in the corporate world, hence the push for UC&C, or Unified Communications & Collaboration.

Email and voice communications are ubiquitous. I dare say that instant messaging (IM) is near ubiquity as well among enterprises. But those are no longer money makers for vendors. The next holy grail is video collaboration. What’s not to like about selling video services? Be it videoconferencing or video collaboration, it usually means more bandwidth and more equipment (minimally, a webcam is required, no?).

(So don’t be surprised to see flashing dollar signs from the eyes of your AT&T, Avaya, Cisco, Google, LifeSize, Polycom, Sprint, Verizon, or Vidyo salesperson.)

However, think back to your last video interaction experience… Was it at work in a videoconference session, or was it at home in a videochat with a friend or relative far away? Does your company issued PC/laptop even come with a webcam, or if it does, is it enabled? (Surprisingly, my company laptop is actually cam-less.)

Look at your tween or teenage children, too. What the first thing they do after logging into the computer? It’s probably not email. It’s probably Skype, iChat, ooVoo, Tinychat, Google Hangout, or something similar. They may just be chatting away, but they could be discussing classwork as well. But they’re comfortable using it — it’s like second nature.

It’s a cultural thing. Have you seen the video collaboration demos given by baby boomer CXOs on stage at some industry conferences? Kind of awkward at times, eh? Here’s a use case, let’s see the workflow, bask in the glow of higher productivity, thumbs up. Audience members lose interest and start checking their emails and IMs.

It’s a cultural thing. The audience absolutely knows the benefits of video collaboration, but they don’t prefer it during work. They’re dressed in t-shirts and shorts because they telework; but their office worker counterparts are in suits. The corporate VPN cannot handle video. IT calls whenever there’s a video-capable application installed on the company computer. Nobody else uses it.

It’s a cultural thing. The sales pitch should be that in the near future, the Millenials, the generation of young digital wizards who are the de facto family IT helpdesk, will enter the workforce. They would love video collaboration during work. In fact, they may ask you, the interviewer, what the corporate standard videochat app is. And if the answer is, Sorry, your laptop won’t come with a webcam, then it’s time get used to rejection. By somebody that’s your kid’s age.

UPDATE: Recent research shows that as much as 40% of teens videochat with their friends regularly.

This blog post is sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network and Avaya.

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