Gmail talks to Outlook email. Verizon phones talk to T-Mobile phones. Why can’t Zoom conferences talk to Microsoft Teams conferences? In today’s modern technology world simple video conferencing interoperability between collaboration systems should be a given . . . but it’s not.
Video conferencing systems still don’t talk to each other. This is a headache for both IT and end-users. IT has to juggle the management of multiple platforms, while at the same time dealing with the threat of Shadow IT platform use. This is a time consuming and inefficient management process, not to mention costly. End-users are similarly frustrated, simply trying to get on a call to collaborate.
This post will explore the different types of interop for video conferencing as well as their respective maturity levels. We’ll go on to look at some of the inevitable and serendipitous reasons for why we are still frustrated with siloed video conferencing systems.
(Pre-COVID-19) 54% of the workforce in the United States take part in video conferences frequently. The growth rate of video conferencing is going to be substantially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with 2020 seeing an unprecedented amount of video conferencing usage than ever before
What is Interoperability?
The industry is unfortunately schizophrenic about both a) the definition of interoperability for video conferencing and b) how and when it is achievable. As early as five years ago, we had some vendors such as Logitech, writing publicly about the “Death of Video Conferencing Interop”, but just last year at Microsoft Ignite, the top three conferencing platform vendors (Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom) affirmed their intentions to make it work. As for the definition, what does interoperability really mean in the context of video conferencing?
At its core conferencing interoperability is all about easy connections. A user connecting to Zoom conference should be able to “dial-in” from her Cisco client and participate in the conference. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, lets break down the different types of interop in the UC world today:
Room system Interoperability
An all-too-common experience at work is a team all huddled together in a conference room ready to kick off an important project with a new client. That isn’t going to happen today because the client is calling from a Zoom Room, and your team is huddled in an incompatible Teams Room.
Given recent developments in the space, we have started to see one-touch Room System control panel access to a wide variety of meeting solutions (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Cisco Webex) to ensure your teams and guests can have a consistent and easy-to-join workflow, regardless of the service they are joining. Zoom and Microsoft have worked together to enhance conference room interoperability and simplify how you connect to third-party meetings. The companies are collaborating to provide video conferencing interoperability between both conference room solutions and streamlined meeting experiences.
Available in early 2020, Zoom Rooms will be able to join Microsoft Teams meetings, and Microsoft Teams Rooms will be able to join Zoom meetings, all without the purchase of additional licenses or third-party services. With the tap of a button, Microsoft Teams and Zoom users can join each other’s meetings on their room systems as guests with high-quality audio and video and have essential meeting functionality directly from their room systems. For Zoom customers, this means you can leverage Zoom Rooms to join Microsoft Teams meetings with a tap of a button. Microsoft customers can also have a one-click Zoom meeting experience from a Microsoft Teams Room. Microsoft and Cisco have an agreement, and Microsoft and Zoom have one too.
End-User Client Experience Interoperability
“Home systems” are the corollary to the Room Systems piece. How can a home end-user use a single client/platform to dial into any meeting OR will things remain like they are today, and will the end-user have to have a “client” on their device to dial into the conference that they participate in? Due to COVID-19 we have seen an incredible rise in the number of people working from home. Our internal data shows a surge of 496% video growth itself for Unify Square customers. Perhaps COVID-19 will be the nudge that was needed to make the client interoperability a workplace norm. If the home user is the increasingly high percentage usage target of the future, will today’s “client roulette” approach be acceptable going forward if the aim is to create a great end-user experience?
The video conferencing platform Zoom has seen 200 million daily meeting participants on average at the beginning of 2020, compared to the average of 10 million in December 2019
Device Experience Interoperability
Whether you are at your desk, using a virtual desktop, web, or on the go, you should always have the same flawless video conferencing experience. Increasingly more and more service providers have mobile phone capability as well as other devices for video conferencing. Some come with a full feature set while others have limited capability, such as missing content share features.
Phone users can make and receive calls using the Zoom Desktop Client or Mobile App. Each user can use up to 3 phones or devices. Microsoft Teams goes a step further, allowing end-users to join a meeting on multiple devices.
Due to the emergence of IT, the hardware segment dominated the market in 2019. This factor has enabled the rapid integration of hardware with each other and cloud-based providers. As a result, multi-device video conferencing interoperability has become a standard feature/capability across all platform providers in the space.
77% of people using video conferencing use a laptop or desktop computer for their calls, compared with 31% who join from their mobile
In-App Video Conferencing Interoperability
We’ve discussed video conferencing interoperability across VC providers for room systems. However, vendors are also adding In-App integrations that allow end-users to join meetings or create a meeting on a different platform from within their platforms. Examples include the Zoom and Cisco App integrations for Microsoft Teams.
Bridging Service Interoperability
Various third-party vendors are also offering video conferencing interoperability as a “workaround” for platform standards and cooperation. Companies such as BlueJeans (now Verizon), Pexip, and StarLeaf offer connections between disparate video software platforms. Bridging services work in a variety of ways, but all facilitate interoperability between services.
These third-party partners are beneficial to end-users who have an existing installed base of legacy conferencing systems (VTCs); they can continue to use the VTCs to join cloud meetings, while also transitioning to modern native room systems over time. In addition to 3rd party services, the platform providers themselves also offer a form of ‘gateway’ service. For Microsoft Teams it’s their Cloud Video Interop (or CVI) gateway services. For Zoom its a solution called the Conference Room Connector enabling any traditional SIP or H.323 endpoint to join a Zoom meeting.
The amount of remote workers telecommuting has increased by 115% in the last ten years and continues to rise
The evolution of Interoperability for Video Conferencing
According to Logitech, , the video conferencing market of 5 years ago was originally perfectly poised for the interoperability of services and devices. But that goal was sadly never achieved.
Initially technology leaders like AOL, ICQ, and others for IM started off adhering to standards to enable video conferencing interoperability. However increased interop significantly dumbed down the technology and slowed end-user adoption, so the industry abandoned standards pushes in favor of proprietary siloes and more user-friendly solutions.
Surprisingly, end-users also gave up hope for seamless integration across systems and the promise of interoperability when it comes to video conferencing. Companies like Skype, Vidyo, and Apple’s Facetime proved the business case for free or low-cost proprietary technology to provide better end-user experience vs. the chunky and inconsistent experience provided by giants like Poly and Cisco. End-users didn’t mind downloading multiple apps and using whatever service served their purpose. The other reason was easy and intuitive processes for each system since that became the norm and adoption driver in the market.
As technology continues to advance rapidly, young professionals expect high-quality results, with 75% said that they wouldn’t settle for low-quality video conferencing
The New World of Video Conferencing
The industry created and formalized many standards in the past. However, they got in the way of building easy and intuitive end-user experiences. Once again, we find ourselves in a world where people are craving interoperability; only this time, we have the technology that can get rid of the silo between different providers without hampering end-user experience and video conferencing capabilities.
The last year has definitely seen a resurgence of interop hope. The device and in-app experiences have been addressed and the room system interop experience is aligned for near term success. Although far from optimal or low cost, even bridging services have proven effective as a stop-gap.
However, both the management and especially the user-end experiences are still far from their required levels. As the workplace dynamic shifts toward a remote and distributed workforce, we can expect a concerted effort across all providers to create seamless video conferencing interoperability experience at the end-user client level that can support that shift. But if history has taught us anything, complacency and the competitive fervor of big-tech can easily slow interop or detour it into a dead end.
Proactive and predictive monitoring and management of existing conferencing systems, as well as machine-learning, led analysis is the best strategic approach to keeping a close watch on the interop dance.