On the subject of e-mail…

Recently my colleague Jan Hickisch shared personal experience and results on how Circuit has increased his personal effectiveness and it provoked me to think about how e-mail is used today and to what degree we still use it for the purpose it was originally designed.

The controversy of who really invented e-mail continues today with multiple claimants.

You might be of the opinion that e-mail began its journey in 1971 when Ray Tomlinson added a file transfer protocol (CYPNET) to the PDP-10 command SNDMSG – for the first time this enabled messages to be sent outside of the local PDP connections using ARPANET by using the “@” delimiter to identify external hosts. This iteratively evolved to a specification in 1978 for those outside ARPANET called Multi-purpose Memo Distribution Facility (MMDF).

Or maybe you suppose that it began in 1978 when 14 year old V.A Shiva Ayyadurai who, while volunteering in a Newark dental school, created a system designed for office workers to send and receive electronic versions of memorandums – using a taxonomy that included To, From, Inbox, Outbox, Attachments, Forward, Reply etc.

What they both had in common was the concept of the memo (memorandum).

So what is the definition of a Memorandum?
Well the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of Memorandum suggests the following
From late 13th century British sources – an introduction to a note, short for memorandum est “it is to be remembered” or “a note to help the memory”.
In modern English we can substitute these entries as “A short note as a reminder” or “A note for recording something for future use.”

So with this in mind, how many of these contemporary e-mail scenarios match the original concept design?

The finger pointer – A user wants time and date stamped evidential proof that something was said in written recorded form so that later they can throw that colleague or colleagues under the bus. (Regional variation)

The Indy 500 (Le Mans) – The notion of sharing large files between distributed employees or contacts for virtual team-working on countless content iterations and revision cycles burning as much bandwidth as they can ensuring many version conflicts in the process.

Escalation by cc: – a personal pet hate and considerable social no-no where users copy (cc:) blind copy (bcc:) a line manager or director of the recipient. If this happened in real life it would be called a betrayal of trust.

The Manuscript – sending someone an e-mail of such rambling and turgid magnitude that the average smartphone or tablet battery will be challenged by the download of the text alone. Tapping on the reply button often hides so much of the original text that responding in any meaningful way is almost impossible without inducing RSI in the scrolling recipients forearm.

The Scattergun (Shotgun, Yodel or default gateway) – Since it is too difficult to actually find out who is the most appropriate person to receive this request in the organisation, users will default to sending this to multiple recipients in the vain hope that minimal world-wide duplication of effort will occur during response.

The Unrealistic Expectation – A user transmits an e-mail in the full (but entirely wrong) assumption that someone will not only receive it instantly but also execute upon each and every action hidden within, straight away and without any further contact from the sender until the day of the deadline. Dear Bob, please invent time travel and come back to me with the proof point three months ago. OR Not buying a lottery ticket and then expecting to win the jackpot.

The Sacrificial Address (alias, fall guy, scapegoat or stooge) – In order to try and protect standard work and personal addresses, users set up and administer additional accounts to ensure regular addresses don’t become overrun by worthless spam, e-mail marketing, phishing or un-prescribed “relationship improvement” medications.
Okay some of these scenarios might be (slightly) exaggerated and but there is a serious point to be made.

Tools like Circuit provide us with high quality real-time and asynchronous services to seamlessly match the optimal type of interaction to the availability of our colleagues regardless of their location.

I’m not saying that e-mail should be entirely dispensed with today – I think if we used it for the purposes it was originally designed it could still provide some value in the medium term.

But recent history has shown us that there are far better tools available for the way we work today.
Just because “it can” doesn’t mean “we should”.

Reading List

Since LinkedIn dropped the Amazon reading list without notice and shelfari doesn’t work on Amazon.co.uk.

Here’s some stuff I’ve read and recommend.

Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
Does IT Matter – Nicholas Carr
How the Mighty Fall – Jim Collins
Empowered – Josh Bernoff & Ted Schadler
Wikinomics – Don Tapscott & Anthony D.Williams
Macrowikinomics – Don Tapscott & Anthony D.Williams
XLR8 – John.P Kotter


Stuff that’s been recommended to me :
Tilt – Dawar
Social physics – Pentland
Playing to win – AG Lafley
Simple – conquering the crisis of complexity – Alan Siegel
Elevate – Horvath
Moment of clarity – Madsbjerg
The Second Machine Age – Brynjolfsson
The Map and the Territory – the risk in forecasting – Greenspan
The Start-up Owners Manual – Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
The hard thing about hard things – Ben Horowitz
David and Goliath- Gladwell


Social CRM – What’s it all about ?

Well since Gartner just released their first ever Magic Quadrant on Social CRM (July 3rd) I thought I’d put a few of my thoughts together and hopefully generate some discussion.

A quick few thoughts on understanding the drivers for Social CRM (SCRM)

Gartner Social CRM 2009 Forecast
• By 2010, 60% of Fortune 1000 will have some sort of community
• But 50% of those will fail to manage properly –losing customer value in the bargain
Gartner 360 Social CRM – Magic Quadrant
• Gartner predict $1bn spend on SCRM market in 2011.
Nielsen, Global Faces & Networked Places, 2009
• More time is spent on social networks than personal email
Cone Business in Social Media 2009
• 60% of consumers say they interact with companies on the social web
• 93% of consumers believe a company should have a presence in social media

While there are many areas that require important consideration when building a bridge between the social (public) and corporate enterprise, this short post will focus upon the integration points and elements that deliver the most value to the Customer Contact and CRM applications.

1 – Social Listening, Brand Management and Protection
2 – Call Deflection, Building Community Platforms
3 – First Time Resolution, Peer to Peer engagement, Social Search and Expertise
4 – Workforce Management and Optimisation
5 – Social Customer Support and Social Commerce (Sales) – Instant Collaboration Tools
6 – Crowdsourcing Innovation – Collaborating with the outside World

“IT is being driven by consumer technologies now. Social computing on the rise. We are socially connected and digitally enabled. The power of consumers rising through their ability to choose. The social customer rules the business landscape.” (Ed Thompson – Gartner)

Social Listening – Who’s talking about your company and what are they

The first and most tactical application of  Social CRM tools is provided by gaining awareness of the pubic social networks where your brand is discussed and being able to find and react to customers.

The second stage (and somewhat natural progression) of this approach is to become more strategic and engaging about your brand on the social web, and to employ software tooling to build brand awareness, monitor trending and increase acknowledgement among customers and partners.

This can be realised (for example) by rewarding influencers, top contributors and leaders in on-line communities. Knowledge analytics within the software provides deep analysis and insight provided by your customers and partners in these social circles, which can lead to product or service innovation and meaningful and real customer requirements.

The current most widely adopted applications in this space are those from Radian6, Pluck,
Awareness, Jive and now Lithium Technologies with their acquisition of Scout Labs provide
tighter integration with Genesys.

Scenario – Major airline (during the recent volcanic ash cloud and strike action) were able to better protect their brand by making contact with those customers that were unable to get through to the Contact Centre due to over subscription – by reaching out through the social public network.

Cost Benefit – Automation can provide significant savings in marketing and brand activities due to the automation of scanning, measuring and reporting.

Call Deflection – How to reduce the number of most expensive of

Once an enterprise has developed an understanding of the important social questions and networks surrounding their brand – such as
What are people talking about?
Where are they spending most of their time?
Who are the net contributors?
…It becomes far less complex to build effective user communities and portals.
These customer, partner and possibly developer community portals can not only deliver great value to the users, but can also reduce the number of first and second line contacts to the enterprise dramatically.

One of the major reasons for this is that they are viewed as somewhat independent of the provider.

User communities are considered a trusted resource since they are generally adopted and run by those people with keen interest and experience with the product or service, and therefore the knowledge held within is not viewed with the same level of natural human criticality (commercial interest, conflict of interest, axe to grind) as information given by ”the manufacturer”.

There is no doubt that building communities amplifies enterprise efforts in almost every direction.

“The community network and Social CRM can empower your customers to innovate for you, to support each other for you and to promote and even sell for the organisation.
Companies such as Best Buy are seeing 40%-plus increases in sales as a result of their
customer communities – HP and Linksys are seeing tens of millions of dollars in support
savings because customers are answering questions for each other.
iRobot and Sage Software are seeing millions of dollars in new revenue each year from ideas
that come direct from the community network.” (Lithium)

While there are multiple examples of unpaid community influencers or “external employees”
who are thousands of dollars of value to companies like Logitech there are other benefits to
such user communities.

During the recent natural disasters to befall Asia Pacific region on Christmas Day in 2006 , Linksys (Cisco) suffered a critical infrastructure failure. However, customers were able to switch from the non-contactable Contact Centre to the on-line forum and community area on their busiest day of the year.

Forum members, advocates and experts were able to answer most of the annual spike of customer inquiries without Linksys incurring any cost whatsoever.

Those solutions that can enrich these community platforms by expediting the most efficient contact mechanism between the agent and the customer or partner and also offer instant collaboration solutions such as web based voice and presence controls will do well.
Dependant upon the type of community, video and web collaboration (which provides clearer understanding for more
complex inquiries) and therefore more timely resolution, could really deliver value.

Indeed adoption of H.264 SVC codec could provide a lever here since many customers are likely to be on the end of lossy networks.

First time Resolution, Peer Engagement and Social Searches

Many organisations are looking to increase first time resolution rates through better use of the tacit knowledge of their workforce, regardless of whether they are full-time CRM agents in the contact centre or back-office workers in their home or satellite offices.
In order to locate the best resource to expedite the customer interaction to conclusion, it is first necessary to understand how organisations find and locate the subject matter expert or most appropriate person.

There are currently two approaches available

Personal Profile Pages
Personal Profile pages are an employee’s mechanism for providing the corporate social network or directory with a freeform text description of their role, duties, skills, expertise and experience within the enterprise.

Current Social Enterprise Networking portrays IBM with their Bluepages profile system (an element of Lotus Connections) and Telligent Systems as having the more capable solutions in personal profile features.

With IBM, this is no doubt due to the know-how they have derived from using the system internally for many years to profile and locate the expertise within their own company.

However, there can be several drawbacks to the employee profile mechanism.
• Employees only enter what they believe to be pertinent to their current company and
job role.
• Profiles tend to not capture the employees’ full skill and experience profile.
• Profiles are very often not kept up-to-date.
• Employees rarely enter skills or interests in external subject matter.
• Employees do not disclose all expertise to “avoid contact” which may seem to make
them less productive in their current position.

Automatic Expertise Harvesting – Social Search
Information harvested from e-mail subject line, Wikis, Blogs, Forums provides a far more rounded approach to expertise transparency in the tacit knowledge world.

It provides greater insight in what the employees may be involved in outside of the work environment as well as within it.
It provides powerful analytics back to the employee who can see where they spend more of their time, who they communicate with the most, and what was discussed, enabling them to quickly identify further people who share the same interests and build better and more effective virtual teams.

This data can then be auto embedded and updated within personal profile pages (as tag clouds etc) as well as searched from the Intranet portal or stand alone web enabled applications.

This will truly drive an increase of first time resolution in the contact centre / Social CRM environment, as the organisation will better understand the knowledge held within their human capital regardless of position, geographical location or personal profile – and be able to match their customers’ inquiries in a peer to peer model.

Workforce Management and Optimisation – Cost Reduction
One of the major benefits of the insight that the analytics provide in the social space is as follows –

If we know what people are talking about, who they are from a group perspective and how much time they spend discussing and collaborating on certain topics, we can better proactively drive that behaviour and better and more effectively align the social interaction of employees with the corporate strategy.
Starting with simple cost reduction examples –

Real World Scenarios

New Sales – A potential customer questions whether they should buy your product or service on an
independent user community forum or maybe on Twitter.

This is picked up upon by the enterprise employee / agent who responds and brings it in to the enterprise user community forum as a new discussion thread.

A previous community user sees the question and responds – prompting the potential customer to be drawn toward the enterprise community forum – which is connected to the CRM application.

A sales agent learns about the discussion thread through the CRM connection and proceeds as a potential lead.

Positive responses from your existing advocates to the thread on the user community forum can be re-tweeted by social marketing to the Global audience promoting positive brand awareness.

Can the Social Community be leveraged as a support asset?
Many unpaid individuals will create content that is of high value to your existing customer communities in the form of repair guides, warranty information, Frequently Asked Questions etc.

This content can be grabbed and injected in to existing Knowledge Based articles within your Web Presence (such as RightNow) and the enterprise can credit the authorship of the article to the community user. (Reward systems, Discount Vouchers and Kudos systems are available – dependant upon the market – to ensure that the advocate understands you value their contribution and input)

This knowledge can now be leveraged by all customers who will benefit from the collective wisdom of the community, and maybe improve upon it over time.

Moreover the quality and relevance of the content will drive support costs down.

So where do we focus the enterprise agents now they have less costly interactions?

One use case that should not be underestimated in both the reduced cost of customer acquisition and increased loyalty is within the scenario of agent outbound contact initiated by incoming or captured social inquiry – This provides a very powerful user experience when performed successfully.

Another powerful re-use of resources could be by bringing you field engineering force to bear as virtual or back office agents. Presence / availability could be automated – set by geo location (back at depot) etc.

Social Customer Support and Social Commerce

“CRM is no longer just a model for managing customers but one of customer engagement.” (CRM Media)

The social network and user communities can now be used to automatically identify and raise service tickets.

It is far easier to track these issues through to completion both for the customer and for the enterprise due to tagging and social search tools.

This in turn deepens customer relationships, as the blend of social and business interactions provides better responsiveness while allowing the prospect or existing customer to choose their preferred media.

Crowdsourcing Innovation – Collaborating with the outside World

Real World Example

An idea portal in the user community has a list of customer driven ideas and changes for the enterprise portfolio of products and services.

Users make recommendations which are then voted on by the community at large, which allows tracking of the top ideas at any time.

These may be considered for implementation and forwarded to the relevant department in the organisation.

This has been taken one step further recently where companies that rely upon innovation have set up web portals with varying degrees of cash rewards for ideas to solve current problems or challenges.

An example is Eli Lilley who funded the formation of a web based innovation company Innovention –
but there are many more.

Imagine if we leveraged our social communities and those of our competitors in the same manner ?

Submitted by Darren Gallagher (@dgallagh)

Social Networking Meets Openscape UC at Voicecon 09

Adrian VoiceCon

Just  a quick reminder post –

You can see Mark Straton’s keynote and the Openscape / Twitter demo  repeated  at Voicecon TV

You can also catch the interview with Adrian Brooks covering Social Networking, Cloud and Useability by clicking on their On-Demand service.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

OmniPresence – The Martini Principle…Again

My ideas on the next wave of UC developments…

There seem to be so many articles on which will win… but let me throw this out there – it’s not about UC vs Social Networking applications – they compliment each other perfectly.

Social networking applications provide the context for Unified Communications, and those that segregate and build a wall between private and public social applications are missing a major trick.

What if we were able to make use of hashtags and contextual information within social applications ?

After all, hashtags are widely used within communications applications  and are merely a mechanism for cataloging and enabling the ease of location of like-minded individuals, colleagues that work on the same customer account, subjects and topics and therefore subject matter experts.

The move from Presence to OmniPresence – Intelligent Unified Communications – Connected Everywhere

If we were able to harvest the presence information made within these social applications then “Unified Communications (UC)” could actually begin to mean just that !

Integrating blogs and Wikis is great too – but these information sources are contextual by their very nature.

True Unified Communications will include intelligence gleaned (and harvested from) all the new modalities – microblogging and rss news aggregation , bookmarks, friendfeeds, forums, waves, tag clouds, images and video – and will have the knowledge analytics to let you know who you should be communicating with at any given time based upon the applications view of the corporation.

Just imagine – a communications device that tells you who you need to speak to as well as the best medium and mechanism to contact them.

All interfaces will (of course) be 2.0 enabled and available on any device / anywhere.

ROI will be far easier to prove than typical IPT or UC deployments – since the above functionality will destroy the traditional barriers that slow down certain business processes today.

This is highly differentiated with other unified communications vendors whose products make the assumption that you know who you need to contact within the organisation by name or position, and can find them in the directory.

So there we go – lets see what the next 12 months brings us – it should be fun.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

The technology leap to CBPA – the CEBP bypass

image_business_processCEBP is about the partial enabling of automation of a business process, or embedding a communications capability in to a business application.

It seems to do parts of the process in a fully automated way, but then you discover at some stage that someone gets an e-mail telling them to do something….a kind of halfway house to full automation .

In my mind, CBPA is the actual automation of the process and provides real process related tasks or work parcels to the associated  individuals or teams.

In other words, all parts of the process that can be fully automated –  really are.

Example Analogies

We could almost subtitle it as “Taking back our time spent in self-service applications” like Travel Portals, Expenses Systems, Facilities Management Portals.

You could also consider this distinction as pull (CEBP) versus push (CBPA) technologies.

Or as I prefer, the difference between a facilitator or  someone who actually delivers something, and goodness knows (in my humble opinion) – the World does not need another facilitator – human or otherwise…

Rather than receiving an e-mail or IVR call suggesting you have “something to do” –  I will try and describe what I believe to be the difference with the following example.

Example of CBPA

Imagine a product development meeting, either by video or web collaboration with voice / video.

Meeting participants agree  actions and these actions are input to the CBPA enabled business application together with owners that are taken from the corporate directory or partner company directories.

Many of those actions could be embedded and signed as hash-tags / keywords etc.
eg –
Action 1 –  David Smith to contact Phil Baker regarding the business case for security feature Stonewall of project Gotham within 5 working days.

Action 2 – Schedule a meeting with the Stonewall project team in Vienna no later than 10 days post Action 1.

Immediately action 1 is typed in to the meeting action minder, the application initiates diary matches to schedule the call with the two action owners, and adds a task to their personal organiser requesting the outcome of this future event and resolution status, and copies the Stonewall project teams organiser with the date.

Any dependencies can be added during the future call which may or may not adjust timescales, but business rules will ensure that the milestone cannot be broken or extended without higher level authority.

When the future meeting is due to take place the application will initiate the collaboration between Phil and Dave and remind them of their agenda.

Any other team participants (collaborators) and dependencies that rely upon the successful outcome of this event will be automatically notified of the results, and further meetings maybe autonomously scheduled.

For example – if the meeting on Action 2 mandated travel, best geographical location would be understood, diary entries would be made to contact the travel agent for flights and the facilities department would be communicated with for meeting room resources – conferencing requirements, such as seating arrangements, food requirements and menus.

Those not required to be there in person would automatically have resources pre-allocated on the most appropriate videoconferencing MCU and details populated in their calendar.

From the travellers perspective – details such as flight preferences , home airport, aircraft seat preferences , and dietary requirements should be harvested from the travel agent’s employee profiles.

The important thing to distinguish here is that the application does the work, the people just agree their selections as required.

A third process path may be opened to the procurement application to pre-authorise the budget for the meeting including cost centre numbers, air fare policy,hotel locations and tariffs.

Finally to ensure that the meeting owners submit their personal expenses on time, the CBPA may schedule a suitable time in the future for the process, thus ensuring that large claims are avoided and that expenses are settled in the appropriate time.

The expenses system will have had the appropriate cost centre codes automatically entered by the procurement process for the prior approved project name – Stonewall, just so long as they still have budget….

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

Video Conferencing News

Just heard that Lifesize have just released their Lifesize desktop product for XP and Vista clients and claim that  it will only take 40% processor of a typical Core 2 Duo system – which should leave enough spare capacity to run other apps and be able to collaborate succesfully.

Radvision are taking a different approach and are partnering with Samsung to jointly deliver the VC240 – a  24 Inch monitor with internal DSPs for video offload, speakers, a camera and an echo cancelling microphone.


This way they effectively overcome the whole CPU issue.

Tetco Voxpilot have also announced today an entirely browser based SaaS videoconferencing solution supporting both H.264 and lower rate codecs.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

VC 101 – The Current Technology Landscape of Video & Conferencing

We’ve certainly come a long way since the first recognised use of videoconferencing (as opposed to CCTV) when NASA used two radiofrequency channels to communicate with the astronauts during the first manned space flights.

Advances in digital camera (CCD) and projector technology (Contrast and Brightness) , coupled with the lower cost of high-bandwidth connections are driving amazing results.

“Holographic” Telepresence


At the high end – Holographic telepresence (Musion) can project life-size high-definition hologram style images on to a specially designed “film” which allows remote participants, or animated participants to interact with live performers on stage. The “peppers ghost” effect is truly mesmerising as anyone who has witnessed Madonna performing live with The Gorillaz, or been lucky enough to be escorted through the Disaster attraction at Universal Studios in Florida will attest.

Participants who are not really “there” can and do walk in front of and behind props that are present on the stage both obscuring and revealing the objects as their image passes.

Stage sets can be built that can be as meagre as a 2m square of the Musion “eyeliner” foil type film, or as large as 20m by 100m to re-create giant life-size images of trucks for example.

The current Musion technology is being widely used for press events and launches, corporate conferences, concerts and more recently tv news channels.

Room Based Telepresence
Room Based Telepresence
The next level of High Definition conferencing can be best represented as custom room based installations.

Such technology such as Cisco Systems CTS3000, HP Halo and Tandberg T3 even includes the furniture required to ensure high quality sound and video to the meeting participants, and is usually configured in the “split table” layout – where conference participants are effectively looking at their remote colleagues on the “other side of the table”.

Telepresence as a term is usually differentiated by the use of horizontal lighting to deliver more realistic colour reproduction, 1080P cameras, spatial microphone technology with multi channel sound, and large 1080P monitors.

While arguably delivering an immersive experience this system requires significant investment by the customer. An average CTS 3000 system like the one shown above from Cisco or the Tandberg T3 equivalent, will be in the order of $299,000 per room. (not including painting both rooms similar colours, installing blinds or the cost of seating)

Bandwidth required is usually between 6-8 Mbps (3  x 1080p streams) but up to 10Mbps if it was a “busy” meeting with lots of movement.

Pure Video Software Clients

Standard Definition software clients are plentiful, and there are good reasons for this that we’ll aaddress later. Some use proprietary technology such as P2P software or codecs like Skype, others are “sign-up for for feature rich service” models like ooVoo or iVisit.

High Definition Video clients are a little more rare, probably due to the standard problems of processor, memory , video card, sound card and microphone quality available to the standard desktop or laptop.

Those developers that already have solutions that use H.264 or H.264-SVC are Mirial, Radvision with their SCOPIA offering and Vidyo (who Cisco Systems recently came to a licensing agreement with).

Most of these allow point to point via SIP or H323, or point to multi point via an MCU  (multipoint Conference Unit) such as those we use by Codian from Tandberg. Some MCU devices can accept ISDN connectivity either by way of expansion modules or built in to the main unit, enabling IP to ISDN conferences to take place.

So why is HD so tricky on laptops and desktop PCs ?

Well, leaving aside the bandwidth requirements – here are the top issues with  current software HD clients

Lights, Camera, Action !

HD requires a camera that is at least 720P or 1080P.

Now many laptops are desktop monitors are supplied with webcams built-in to the bezel, but these tend to be 1.3 or 2.0 Megapixel CCDs.

This is fine for VGA, but they rarely deal with low light conditions or display colours very well.

External HD cameras are available but at considerable cost, since they are generally sold as Small Business conferencing solutions rather than personal or individual systems.

Examples of better quality webcams are the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 and Quickcam Sphere (with Pan and Tilt) unless you are lucky enough to have the new Samsung LCD monitors which have the high quality optics built in to the bezel.

Echo & Noise

Most sound cards in business PCs use analogue 3.5mm jacks to connect microphones and speakers – which is fine for everyday usage and the occasional tollquality VOIP call.

However these analogue microphone and speaker connections really are not up to coping with standard or wideband voice codecs and don’t compare favourably to digitally connected professional grade components.

Full duplex audio is a must for multi-party conferences to avoid clipping and constantly missing the other party’s input.

Some software clients try very hard to overcome the echo and delay by employing noise cancelling techniques, AGC (Automatic Gain Control) and echo cancellation, to varying degrees of success.

If you are stuck with using the embedded sound card in your PC – and want to maintain hands-free participation then generally it’s better to purchase a headset.

As headset technology progresses a quality USB headset (Plantronics) with inherent sound card and DSP processing is far superior to an analogue alternative.

If you are likely to spend a lot of time on conference calls, personal conferencing speaker and microphone sets are available – such as those from Polycom or ClearOne.

These provide full-duplex audio (some support wideband) with hardware based echo cancellation and noise suppression.

Processor, Memory and More Processor

Any of the HD software clients require real power to be able to encode and decode even a single HD Video stream.

The minimum would be an Intel Dual Core, and finally these are being made available on laptop PCs without the battery draining in less than a few minutes.

As another example of the processing power needed, a single H.264 call to an MCU on a 1.7Ghz Pentium Mobile shows a Processor Utilisation in Windows Performance Monitor of 47-50%, and once connected to the called party this moves to around 80%.

Frequent processor alarms were appearing in the video window and no other applications were running.

Video cards are available that support H.264 offload processing but these generally aren’t readily available in laptops (due to the cooling required) or business PC configurations.


So how much is your download, and more importantly your upload capacity from your current ISP ?

What is the contention ratio ?

Do you have a monthly allowance on traffic with a capped service ?

All of the answers to these questions suddenly become vital when considering whether you can employ HD while working from home – which of course in these periods of economic uncertainty is exactly what you should be doing ! Reducing travel expenses and carbon footprint are top of mind for many organisations right now.

Despite H.264 efficient compression algorithms it is still subjet to the usual challenges – Compression, Complexity and Visual Artefacts.

A rough rule of thumb is that a 720p camera sending a “talking head” type scene will require between 1.5 and 2.0 Mbps of guaranteed bandwidth.

Disclaimer – This obviously depends on numerous factors such as camera and lens quality, the encoder and the complexity  of the scene.

If you wanted to send a constant 1080p quality stream you would require more like 6Mbps to sustain a high quality image.

So while download may be possible of a 720p stream in some areas,  for most home workers (who don’t have a guaranteed 10Mbps duplex connection) the choice of transmission quality tends to be more economic, such as CIF (240p) or 4CIF (480p).

And most people believe they “look” better at these SD rates too, I know I do.

Magic Wand

H.264 SVC Extension – Scaleable Video Codec could be a reasonable solution to the bandwidth issue. Without going in to huge depth here (Google is your friend) it allows for varying frame rates, quality and resolution by using layering techniques.

This means that rather than seeing immediate packet loss in the form of artefacts and picture break-up, it smooths out the speedbumps in an “elastic” way.

As mentioned previously there are only a couple of software clients available right now , but the results are impressive when viewed over lossy networks (like the Internet) in comparison with traditional H.264 AVC clients.

Since writing this piece Radvision have won TMC’s Communications Product of the year 2008 with their Scopia solution that champions H.264 SVC.

Software as a Service – Hosted Video Conferencing

Since the H.264 SVC extensions can cope with lossy networks, early adopters can provide a chargeable “portal access” VC bureau service over the Internet.

One such example being the latest service offering (launched May 15 2009)  from a UK based company called Videocall.

Their MyPresence “personal telepresence service” allows conferencing on-demand with desktop collaboration (based upon the Vidyo software platform) for as little as £3 per week.

Megameetings has a slightly different model with a monthly charge based upon the capacity required (maximum number of participants in the meeting at any one time).

This includes the ability to share applications, presentations and screens.

Tiered pricing ranges from $45 per month for a 3 person capacity limit to $499 per month for a 100 person limit.

Presumably the larger capacity is for less interactive classroom monologues or CEO broadcasts. (EGO TV)

Pricing for larger capacities are available upon application

Fuzemeeting offers a similar up-front payment based service that utilises cloud computing and virtualisation in their browser based solution.

This also means that people can take part in the web-conference via mobile devices such as iphones , symbian , palm or Windows CE – but maybe not with HD video.

The Future – 3D without the glasses ?

While processor technology takes a vacation, camera and display technology is making Moores Law look under powered.

Companies like PureDepth are ramping up production of their 20.1 and 12.1 inch 3D displays, and these don’t require those polarising glasses.

By layering LCD screens inside a slightly deeper casing, they can superimpose the stereo components of an image within one unit to provide the depth of field experience.

Alioscopy has a different approach by utilising autostereoscopic imagery in it’s 42inch plasma displays.
alioscopy eye_separation

The displays are equipped with an array of lenticular lenses that cast different images onto each eye dependant upon the viewing angle.

At the moment the consumer / home 3D tv market still requires polarising glasses.

Until  the technology becomes more cost effective, we’ll have to make do with walking past occasional 3D advertising concepts like the one at 750 7th Avenue at 50th Street in New York .


For most people with contended cable and adsl connections, HD Video is a “nice to have” but by no means necessary.

Perfectly engaging video conferencing sessions can be executed with a good quality camera at VGA quality (30 frames per second), and until bandwidth becomes more affordable and everyone has refreshed their existing computer estate with HD offload capability, monster processor and ram specifications …

I would invest the additional money on ensuring that the audio quality is the best it can be.

Related Technologies

HD Voice

I may be writing a separate positioning article on HD Voice very shortly.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

When Unified Communications meets Social Networking

Social meets Unified Communications
So just imagine some of the features that will be necessary that we haven’t even thought about yet.

Imagine what would happen if all of Stephen Fry’s tweeple notice that his presence has changed to available and try to dial him at once. Kaboom !
Not even sure the cloud could cope with too many flash crowds of those sizes.

Microsoft – Will they or won’t they allow integration with OCS2010 ?
What if Microsoft really go as proprietary as they are threatening to with OCS 2010 ?
Recent articles suggest they are softening from their recent  hard-line position of zero integration with other VoIP and traditional telephony provider platforms.

Why haven’t Google become the largest UC provider in the World ?
Having said that , they have just asked their provider (Level 3)to reserve 1M numbers for Google Voice, so maybe they have been working on the Grand Central acquistion in the background..

Submitted By Darren Gallagher