By John Howard, Executive Director, EMEA, Unified Communications & Collaboration, Logitech for Business

For all the hype and investment, unified communications (UC) is only now starting to deliver the benefits it promised a decade ago when enterprise leaders were initially sold on its transformative potential. However, the capital investment needed for a UC deployment is now well within reach for SMEs as well, due to competitive cloud offerings and the wide availability of good bandwidth connections, both in the office and on the move through tablets and smartphones.

UC delivers the collaboration which enhances decision-making and teamwork, allowing organisations to become much more nimble. Important decisions in large business are not made over IM, or even phone. People want group collaboration, and according to Frost & Sullivan research in 2013[1], there were 60-70 million physical conference rooms globally, but less than five percent of these meeting rooms have the ability to do video conferencing. Video is coming and employees are asking for it, so SMEs are finding themselves in a position where they need to establish how they will effectively deliver it to staff.

1. Choose high quality, user-friendly video calling equipment
Although many laptops have integrated webcams, they’re unlikely to produce an adequate video conferencing experience for your employees. People are used to a high-definition (HD) experience in the living room and now expect this in the workplace. High-quality external webcams and headsets can dramatically improve the overall video-calling experience, making it much more lifelike and enjoyable so that those involved quickly forget any initial inhibitions about using this technology. Some key features to look out for include HD-quality webcams, which make everything look so much sharper, allowing you to show the text on a flipchart, for example. Also, look for webcams with H.264 video encoding allowing it to process the video within the camera itself, improving quality, and freeing up PC bandwidth (subject to the video client). A wide angled lens with zoom functionality will improve the webcam’s versatility, allowing multiple people to participate and allowing you to zoom in on particular details during a product demo.

2. Ensure you have the right infrastructure in place
Even with the optimum hardware, you need to ensure you have a fast internet connection with high bandwidth and low latency to stop the video stream from stuttering and freezing, especially for full HD. Equally, when using video conferencing you need reliability, so a wired Ethernet connection will always be preferable over a Wi-Fi or mobile internet. Try to pick a room where you can control the levels of natural sunlight, as an over-bright room can make the picture look washed out and unclear, unless you are using some of the very latest web cams which have “right light” technology which compensates for poor positional lighting. For video conferencing software, there is a wide range of quality and cost-effective choices available, from Skype or Google Hangouts to subscription-based cloud solutions like Microsoft Office 365, plus business quality unified communications solutions from Microsoft, Cisco and Lifesize. Video conferencing delivered through unified communications solutions such as Microsoft Lync and Cisco Jabber brings together voice, video and instant messaging within the software and the ability to collaborate with larger groups internally or externally to your company, along with a secure connection.

3. Tailor the experience to the person and their role
Whatever hardware and software solutions you choose, that decision has to be informed by whoever will be using them and their job role. For example, someone regularly making video calls from their desk, will benefit from a high-quality wireless headset so that they don’t need to leave their desk to make video calls. A wireless headset also helps to keep a clutter-free desk. On the other hand, where larger groups are involved in a video call, a wide-angle webcam set up in a meeting room means spontaneous small group meetings can be accommodated. Ultimately this is about facilitating a great user experience that closely matches people’s needs. With high quality video conferencing hardware, employees will be armed with the right tools to improve communications and enhance productivity, which means those companies utilising video conferencing will have a business advantage to those that are not.