Over the past couple years in my role as Product Manager for Rich Media in Sametime , I’ve been excited about the great new video capabilities we were introducing in Sametime 9 and the business value the continuous presence experience could bring to our customers. However, I must confess that I was less than enthusiastic about using it myself. Certainly not the endorsement you would expect from the Product Manager – but hear me out.
Like many people, I don’t particularly like being on video. Maybe it’s due to feeling self-conscious or maybe it’s just a generational thing. Face it, I’m not only over the hill – but I’ve made a good start down the other side! However, sometimes in life you’ve got to do things you’re not comfortable doing – and as Product Manager for Rich Media, this was one of those times.
I started using our new video platform as soon as it was ready – okay, even before it was ready. In the beginning, the main purpose was testing. We would initiate a video call, wave at each other, ask the proverbial question “can you hear me?”, and hang up shortly thereafter. We were still falling back to telephone calls and dialing into an IBM conference bridge for most of our discussions.
As we got into the beta stage, within our Product Management team, we started using it more frequently for real conversations. The discussion might be as adhoc as “Are you seeing this behaviour in the Sametime 9 client?” – but instead of simply IM’ing or making a Sametime Unified Telephony call, we actually initiated an AV call. With the Sametime 9 Connect client, it’s a single click to escalate a group chat into a multi-way video call.
It wasn’t long before we were using Sametime 9 Meetings with AV for our regular team meetings. I would typically undock my video window to move it to my second monitor, allowing me to maximize the shared content pane on my laptop screen (perhaps another generational thing...). As a team that’s distributed across the US and Canada, we don’t “see” each other regularly. With video, the experience became more personal - we had a chance to see each other’s workspaces, we learned who talked with their hands, and we were able to quickly see when someone was in agreement or possibly confused. Most importantly, our interactions became more engaged.
Like many people in other organizations, IBMers are guilty of multi-tasking. When talking on the phone – or participating in an audio conference call – it’s common to try to respond to that urgent email or polish up that slide deck needed by the end of day. It takes resolve to ignore everything else – and truly focus on the current topic and conversation. I found continuous presence video can quickly have a big impact on reducing the multi-tasking and improving the focus in the discussion and result in more effective meetings. There are a couple reasons - first by seeing the speaker and other participants, one’s attention is drawn to the meeting and visual cues and body language become part of the communication. The other reason? Well when one is on video, one is less likely to multi-task as others on the call will detect the lack of attention. In some ways, video is an added dose of resolve!
John Del Pizzo and I started using Sametime 9 video for our weekly 1x1. The more we used video, the more natural it became – and the experience was much like we were sitting across the table from each other.
We even conducted our Sametime 9 Analyst Briefings on the Sametime 9 Beta platform in IBM Greenhouse using video. The new browser support allowed analysts to join from their Mac or Windows machines as guests. After installing the Sametime plug-in, the analysts were able to participate in the continuous video experience with John, Kramer, and me. With Sametime 9, Mac users can choose to use Apple Safari or Mozilla Firefox – and Windows users can choose between Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome. The new browser support combined with the new built-in extranet model also enables Sametime customers to include external participants in video meetings.
The new video capabilities in Sametime 9 are something you need to experience! I’ve provided personal examples of the value it can bring, but don’t take my word for it. A recent survey by Polycom and Wainhouse is worth reviewing (find it here: http://tinyurl.com/nfbceve). A couple key points to note from this survey. First, the biggest value most respondents attributed to video was the ability to improve productivity and to increase the impact of discussions. Second, the survey showed that those users that use video conferencing are likely to use it on a daily or weekly basis.
Clearly, my experience supports that second point. Once someone begins to use video, even a skeptical user like me, the value of the experience quickly overcomes the hesitation. Eventually, even I stopped glancing at the preview window – and put my focus on the other video participants – and the “real face to face communication”.
Let me share a few observations from my personal experience with Sametime 9 video in IBM.
Don’t underestimate the experience of interacting “face to face” with your globally distributed organization!
Initiating a Sametime AV call is easy and quick! You will not have time to swap that heavy metal t-shirt you’re wearing for that light blue button down shirt hanging in your closet, so think ahead.
You never know which executive or customer may be on the other end of that “video call” invitation you accept (… in your role as Product Manager for Rich Media)… dress appropriately.
If you are someone who likes to pace while you are on a call, you may want to invest in a wide angled camera for your laptop.
It’s amazing how many people wear baseball caps at their desks!
I will be following up in the next few weeks with some additional entries about the Rich Media capabilities in Sametime 9, so please check back. If you’re curious about what’s coming on our mobile platforms to support these new video capabilities – see Marc Pagnier’s post earlier this week which shared a video with some sneak previews – and stay tuned on this blog for more details coming soon!