I recently did the opening keynote on The Future of Business at the Tandberg Summit 2008, which brings together the clients, distributors and partners of the global videoconferencing firm, and stayed for most of the first day. I found it extremely interesting being among a large people who were concerned with implementing video in organizations, as these are almost entirely different people to those concerned with Enterprise 2.0 approaches, though their objectives and issues are very similar. More thoughts on that in a moment. It’s probably worth setting the scene with a review of the conference by CRN Magazine, titled Tandberg Summit 2008: Video killed the radio star. The entire article is worth a read – I’ve excerpted below the section covering my presentation:
A highlight of the conference was a keynote by Ross Dawson, chairman of Future Exploration Network, who provided insight into the dynamics within an organisation and the video communications market. Referring to internal business practices, Dawson stressed the importance of collaboration between employees and identifying personal qualities that may help foster growth.
“You need to be aware of individuals who are highly competent, people you can draw on who offer something that is useful to you. You also need to be visible yourself,” he explained. “Those who have more diverse personal networks are more successful.”
Dawson then took a thoughtful look at ‘energy’ projected by individuals that can influence the productivity of an organisation – and you would have been forgiven for confusing the keynote for a New Age motivational seminar.
“When you think about an organisation as a network, there are some people who are energisers, out of which energy flows in all directions. Then there are people who are de-energisers, the black holes who suck all the energy out of everybody they touch,” he explained. “Energisers are collaborative, they want to work with others and want to get the best job done and these are the things we need to consider when we bring people on board.”
To simplify his philosophical musings, Dawson listed a few key actions organisations can adopt to facilitate collaboration, which he linked to Tandberg technology.
“Make it easy for organisations to engage, video conferencing is absolutely a really important part of that, it’s the foundation. Also being able to collaborate, work together and build relationships makes it easy for people to make connections.”
Dawson went on to speak more generally about the economy and how the current unstructured climate is mimicked within organisations. Using Web 2.0 to illustrate his point, he provided the analogy of Wikipedia and its predecessor Nupedia. The structured nature of Nupedia, which provided a methodical means of contributing content, resulted in the platform’s demise whereas Wikipedia has thrived based on a more unstructured framework, he stated.
“By not being so structured, this extraordinary thing developed,” he said, referring to Wikipedia. “Those organisations sticking to a very dogmatic structure are clearly failing. More and more we’re going to see the difference between those organisations where executives understand that to be able to grow and develop and be successful in an unstructured world you can’t control things, a structure will emerge on its own.”
Dawson’s central message combined his initial discussion surrounding collaboration with the importance of embracing an unstructured methodology to add more value. However, he cautioned that to determine the degree to which a Web 2.0 collaborative environment is beneficial or harmful to a business is dependent on its skills base and culture.
“We need to redefine an organisation’s boundaries. In a modular economy you can start to become more innovative,” he said. “However, the infinite players play with boundaries and it’s not just the boundaries within an organisation but how will we draw on our strengths to move into new areas and new domains.”
According to Dawson, Tandberg video conferencing offerings are designed to help organisations fulfill these aims by providing tools that will bolster productivity in an unrestrictive way.
“[Through video conferencing] they are able to extend their senses, extend their reach and build stronger relationships while still being highly efficient,” he said.
The essential perspective I was presenting was that of the networked organization, in which being more effective at ad-hoc communication and collaboration underpins organizational performance. It was in fact one of the audiences the most attuned to these messages that I have encountered, and my presentation got a fantastic response.
What I found intriguing is the mixture of technical and cultural disciplines in the room. While there were many people concerned with the mechanics of setting up video across large, geographically distributed organizations, there were many who were trying to get people to use the video. It turns out that people don’t necessarily come when the videoconferencing facilities are there.
One consultant who was working in a large bank told the story of how they set up video terminals in glass meeting rooms, and made the company video directory come up immediately when people came in to have a look. People went in, poked at the terminal, then pulled out their mobile phones to call colleagues in other offices so they could try it out. However many senior executives express doubt over the value of videoconferencing, and sometimes try to actively impede uptake.
A key dynamic in the videoconferencing industry is competition from free video calling, notably on Skype. That notwithstanding, the industry is growing extremely rapidly, illustrated by Tandberg’s recent 50% year-on-year revenue growth, and the success of more recent entrants into the market such as Cisco and HP’s telepresence offerings. The conclusion I came to is that there is a real difference in enterprise-grade applications, including in videoconferencing, and that for many companies the cost of installing dedicated video infrastructure and facilties is absolutely worthwhile. However the competition for free will definitely intensify in coming years, requiring new forms of value-add.
I’ve done a fair bit with videoconferencing myself, including running the world’s first cross-continental panels over video at our Future of Media Summit 2006, which was held simultaneously in Sydney and San Francisco. However I’m now energized to do a lot more, including more consulting and speaking over video. I’ll report back as I experiment more with video, and in particular see how Enterprise 2.0 and video can be merged to help transform how organizations work.