Seeing is believing?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2020-09-22 08:17:48

A variety of multimedia communications platforms have proved critical in terms of keeping the workforce productive during the COVID-19 lockdown. Whenever normality resumes, will video conferencing have had its day, or is the combination of voice and video set to become a major feature of the new, or next, normal?

The numbers are extraordinary. A video conferencing market report published at the end of March/early April, by Transparency Market Research, predicted that, by 2027, the market would be worth $11.56 billion. A similarly focused report published by Global Market Insights in May, suggests that the video conferencing market will reach $50 billion by 2026. So, a pre-pandemic prediction of steady growth (I think a doubling from the current market size) and, two months later, a spectacular increase is predicted.

And, no wonder why. There are plenty of numbers out there, but it would seem safe to say that use of Microsoft Teams has increased by 500 percent at least during the pandemic, with an often quoted figure of 75 million daily users ( and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s many more). As for our ‘good friend’ Zoom? Well, the daily user number has shot up from 10 million at its highest level before coronavirus hit, to well over 200 million, with some suggestions that the figure is closer to, if not over, the 300 million threshold. And Cisco’s Webex solution seems to be equally popular. The company reports a thirty fold increase in usage since January 2020, and has over 100 million daily meet conference participants.

We are witnessing what might be termed as the resurgence of video conferencing.

Remember the ‘bad old days’, when the original video conferencing solutions were introduced, with the usual hype and claims as to just what a change the technology was going to make to the workplace, back in the 1980s and 1990s? They were very expensive to acquire, and, to put it delicately, the user experience was not that great. Poor image and voice quality were the hallmarks of these solutions.

Even post 9/11, when there was significant disruption to global travel, and many predictions as to how the world of work would change, with videoconferencing eliminating the need for much transatlantic travel, for example, the technology still didn’t gain any significant traction. Cost and latency were just two of the major obstacles yet to be overcome.

And here we are in 2020, where these very issues have been addressed, and video conferencing was very much a technology waiting in the wings. And COVID-19 has been the catalyst that has propelled video conferencing into the spotlight, as demonstrated by those eye-catching statistics above.

Oh, and don’t forget that many of us were already familiar with the idea of video calls, courtesy of WhatsApp. That surely has been an important contributory factor to the ease and comfort with which we have all adapted to voice and video combining in the workplace. Just one more example of BYOD or, more accurately, bring your own technology (BYOT).

But what of its future? As more and more people return to the office (or not), will the video conferencing bubble soon burst? Or, will the technology come to be seen as an increasingly important part of the digital transformation process - which has only gained in momentum during the current global health crisis?

I’d like to think that, for any number of reasons, video conferencing is here to stay. The voice/video combination really does produce a different, and better, communications experience from the simple phone call. It really does keep a whole workforce in touch when many are working remotely at home. And, although calculating the carbon footprint of the IT infrastructure required to support video conferencing versus that of the many journeys made to and from physical meetings is a complicated sum, one imagines that staying put makes more sense environmentally.

And, as the Government announces a major national infrastructure spend, has anyone stopped to consider just where this investment needs to be made, if travel levels are going to remain sustainably low thanks to dramatic changes in working practices?

Wrestling with digital transformation before the coronavirus arrived was already a complex issue for both companies and governments across the globe. And with the transformation process now seemingly accelerated thanks to COVID-19, it will be both fascinating, and a little bit scary, to see how all industry sectors adapt to the new, or next, normal. And government has a crucial role to play in this process.

Whatever the future looks like, I’m convinced that video conferencing is here to stay. Yes, there’s almost certainly more work that needs to be done to ensure that the data centre and IT infrastructure on which these applications sits is able to cope with hugely increased the traffic volumes. And 5G would seem to have a major role to play in this regard.

And our old friend ‘hybrid’ is going to be called upon once again. I don’t know of many organisations who have either developed their own video conferencing application and/or have a dedicated video conferencing room, complete with project, screen and the necessary IT. No, these applications are being provided as-a-service in almost all cases. So, organisations need to ensure that how, when and where they use video conferencing applications, their IT infrastructure – on-premise, colocation and cloud – provides the optimum user experience, both for employees and, over time, customers as well.

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