The X-YOD Factor: Pros and cons of personal devices

We all know the acronym BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Increasingly, however, I’m starting to see “CYOD” (Choose Your Own Device) and – particularly in government, where security issues remain paramount – “DBYOD” (Don’t Bring Your Own Device) as well. There is no shortage of folks debating which policy is best for your company.

But you need to consider how video conferencing will be affected by your policy. And I’ll tell you how it will be affected in a bit. First, the three policies.

BYOD: Letting your employees bring their own devices to work is fine for a lot of organizations. Your employees show up with his or her device and plug into your network to work. Most of the times it’s limited to their smartphone or maybe now tablet. (Generally laptops fall into the next category, CYOD. More on that later.)

The major pro to BYOD is cost containment. A small company doesn’t have to buy smartphones and tablets for every employee.

The con (there has to be a con when the pro is saving thousands of dollars) is the question of who is responsible when things go wrong. If the company never bought the smartphone but it malfunctioned on the job, is the company liable for it? If an employee’s smartphone brings a virus into the company’s network, is the employee liable for damages?

CYOD: You know what your employees need to do their jobs, but you also know that some people want an iPhone and others want a Droid. So you give them a list of devices the company provides from laptops to phones, they pick it and you buy it.

The pro is you control what devices are used and what software is on them. And you own the devices, so you can monitor them and make sure they stay out of trouble.

The con with this is cost. For a 500-person company, you’re talking about at least a couple thousand dollars of technology for each employee by the time they are equipped with a smartphone, a laptop or a tablet and a maybe a printer.

DBYOD: We’re talking about high security concerns here – as I said earlier, most likely in the federal space or among companies that work with federal agencies. You’re basically telling folks to leave the devices they use for work at work. Don’t bring in your own; we’ll give you what we want you to use.

I’m not going to go into pros and cons of Don’t Bring Your Own Device because, quite frankly, it’s a small group of companies and organizations, and they do what they do because they have to. There is no room for debate.

In general, I’d wager that 99 percent of the private sector – from small businesses to Fortune 500 firms – are actively discussing their policies on employee technology use.

It’s not like the old days when a company supplied employees with a laptop or a desktop and said, “There you are. Deal with it.”

So where does video conferencing technology fit into this debate? Fortunately, it’s all good news.

For the most part, video technologies are device-agnostic. A web-based video conferencing system just needs to have devices on either end that are capable of accessing the web and putting video on a screen. What devices are used and who owns them or picks them isn’t that important to video conferencing systems today. The concerns are further minimized when you settle on a system that’s based on open standards, rather that any proprietary technology.

That’s certainly a plus when it comes to the debates that -- if they have not already – will be going on inside your company as you deal with the X-YOD Factor.

What is important to remember is that putting the best devices for the job in the hands of the people doing the work should be your top priority.

Traffic, video cameras and staying off the road

Can video save you money and keep you out of traffic? It most certainly can, and I’ll tell you how.

I know a fellow who owned a small copier repair operation in London. He serviced and repaired printers for copy shops. He also rented those giant printers used to make banners and signs.

He had about 28 copy shops as clients, all over the city. And all these customers had some sort of service contract that said when there was a problem he needed to fix it within two hours. Because he had customers all over a city the size of London, he had a bit of a logistical nightmare on some days. (I’m not sure how many of you have driven in London but it’s not the ideal place to find yourself if you’re in a rush to get from one end of town to the other end. Not that Washington is easy, but traffic in London is daunting, to say the least.)

Another challenge was staffing – not at his company, but at his clients’ businesses. Copy shops tend to run through employees on a fairly routine basis. What has this to do with the repair guy? Everything. New employees were always calling the service and repair line on the phone with some sort of printer problem. A repairman would have to race across London to the copy shop. On a good day the repairman might make it there in two hours. Once he was in the shop, the average time spent “fixing” the “broken” copier? About six minutes.

It was always something basic. A new employee put the magenta cartridge in the place where the yellow cartridge was meant to go, or the paper was inserted the wrong way.

Finally, my friend decided to use video to help keep his repairmen off the streets and those copiers up and running more quickly.

He installed cameras to monitor the copy machines at his clients’ businesses and covered the costs. By using video to look at a machine, a repairman -- without getting into a van and stuck in traffic -- could take a look at the problem and more often than not solve it. His clients paid nothing and got much better service. In fact, they actually saved money because of less down time for the machines.

So in the end, video saved my friend money and kept him and his repairmen out of traffic.

And this was several years ago. Now we have smartphones and smart video. We can view images in high definition in the palm of our hands. Our cameras can see better than we can now.

How we use that technology to improve our lives and our businesses is all up to us. And while I’m sure there are more noble pursuits out there, I think keeping anyone out of traffic is a great goal for us all.


Yahoo’s telework ban doesn’t stand up to scrutiny

 Yahoo’s   recent decision to ban working from home  raises some interesting business questions: What do you need to make a corporate culture work? How do ideas propagate through a business? And most importantly, what are the necessary tools that bind corporate culture and the free flow of ideas?

Many observers see Yahoo’s telecommuting ban as a retrenchment for the beleaguered company, which has recently reduced its workforce by nearly 20 percent — down to 11,500 from some 14,100 at the end of 2011.

For Yahoo’s corner office executives, it’s an issue of corporate culture that’s driving the need to keep employees on-site. In a memo written by Yahoo EVP of People and Development Jackie Reses, the HR chief says, “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will need to be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," the Reses memo continues. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

It’s ironic that a company with its own branded IM product, video channel and web engine – tools many use for telecommuting – should feel that its own people can’t be adequately creative outside of the Yahoo hive. More to the point, the idea is patently non-scaling.

Yahoo simply can't expect all employees to work from their offices. After all, Yahoo has offices in 20 separate countries, and it is not unlikely that many of these employees work cooperatively on projects. Conversations among offices have to be at least as important as conversations within offices.

For employees working together on teams but not necessarily located within the same facility, the alternatives to teleworking are fairly slim. Certainly Yahoo is not going to spend more money on travel to bring people from their far-flung offices together for frequent meetings. Even if the company could afford it, it’s simply impractical.

More to the point, if Yahoo wants people to work harder and smarter, doing away with telecommuting is not really the answer. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a survey concluding that telecommuting has “become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers needs for additional work time beyond the standard workweek, and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands on their salaried employees.”

In short, telecommuters actually work harder because they are seen to be always available.

Yahoo’s argument for banning telecommuting seems to hinge on the notion of meetings, both formal and impromptu. Fair enough. Let’s consider why people actually go to meetings. Meetings allow people to share information with others, ensure that there is a mutual understanding of that information, and to develop strategies and tactics based on that information.

In fact, sharing information is not the main point; that can be done easily enough by email. It really is the give-and-take of using that information, providing direction and making sure that direction is plainly understood. Yahoo knows that cannot be done effectively over e-mail or web conference.

If Yahoo accepts the fact that audio conferencing, web conferencing and e-mail are not enough, I’d argue that the missing piece to connect people in an effective collaborative work environment is video conferencing.

Today’s video conferencing solutions are focused on creating a collaborative environment as close to in-person as makes no difference. Meetings can be set up formally or ad hoc. The visual benefit of in-person meetings is not lost. And documents can be exchanged virtually in real-time, so information is always at everyone’s fingertips.

In fact, although Yahoo’s argument of the benefit of work on-site seems well-reasoned, it doesn’t really bear up under scrutiny. Whether from the standpoint of corporate culture, the creative benefit of meetings, or communication and collaboration, the proper technical tools exist to make teleworkers as effective as their desk-bound brethren.


Use technology to make the skies friendlier for business

Now that Congress has lifted the furloughs for air traffic controllers, it’s back to business as usual for vacationers — and back to the same old grind that business airline users have seen for the past 30 years.

The marketing gurus in aviation have historically focused on the fun you and the airline are having. Only one company — Trans World Airlines, which merged with American in 2001 — ever really tried the business-first approach, with the quasi-military sounding, “They have just one mission … yours.”

These days, slogans are less ambitious, like Delta’s campaign from 2010, “Keep Climbing.” That sounds like something you might whisper to yourself at take-off, rather than a real statement about the effectiveness of air travel.

Small wonder, then, that the changes aircraft manufacturers have in the works are aimed at saving money for airlines or distracting passengers from the true drudgery of flying. They really have very little to do with the business user.

The BBC recently reported on changes Airbus predicts for the aviation industry by 2050. Among the ideas Airbus has brewing for the aircraft of 2050 are gliding landings to improve fuel economy, biofuels to reduce carbon emissions, and fancier cabins with features like virtual reality and transparent ceilings so that passengers can see the stars.

(For my money, a virtual-reality transparent ceiling might be enough. I’m not sure I’ll feel particularly secure with a Jetsons-style clear bubble overhead instead of a good old-fashioned roof.)

Responding to Airbus’ airplane of the future, the Beeb pointed out that the only real innovation in aviation over the past decade or two was a shift to lightweight composite materials to cut fuel costs. They questioned, rightly, whether the next 30 or more years will see only superficial changes to aircraft when the same period previous saw the development (and the demise) of the Concorde and supersonic transport.

Look: Better cabin appointments and fuel efficiency are all well and good, but they make very little real difference to the business user. The only way for aviation to keep pace with the speed of business is to cut down the amount of time it takes to get from point A to point B.

And yet, speedy travel is still not enough for today’s business. Let’s look at our previous example of the Concorde. The Concorde is the only truly fast plane ever built, and it failed ultimately because it still was not fast enough for the market that needed it — bankers flying between New York City and London.

(The French Concorde was more of an act of vanity, with far too few departures to make it anything other than a white elephant.)

Even in that very focused undertaking, the flight was just too slow. The banking business — in fact, most business — is now routinely conducted almost entirely electronically. Electronic technology has made massive leaps forward in speed in the same time that airplane builders are thinking about things like clear roofs for star-gazing travelers. It’s practically a billboard that the industry is giving up on business users.

This isn’t the time to give up. In August 2012, the Labor Department reported that U.S. labor productivity grew by 1.6 percent annually at the second quarter, up from a negative 0.5 percent in the first quarter. This past March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased at a 1.9 percent annual rate during the fourth quarter of 2012. We’re bouncing around at a rate that hasn’t changed much in years.

How does this tie in to air travel? If we are going to get out of our economic growth miasma, we have to think differently. Doing what we've always done is not sustainable.

Now, what matters is not at the edges of the technology. The very fastest or very slowest means of getting there are irrelevant. It's the middle that makes the difference. If we are going to become more efficient, it's not supersonic aircraft, bullet trains, or self-driving cars that will get us there. Nor is it tricked-out airplane cabins and other distractions that offer a superficial sense of progress without actually offering a useful benefit. We need to make use of technology while in flight.

A number of airlines are toying with paid WiFi on aircraft. To their surprise, few people are willing to pay for the high-speed access. I don’t know why they’re surprised. After getting to the airport hours before departure time, paying baggage fees and enduring frequent runway delays, I don’t want to part with more cash for high-speed Internet. And I especially don’t want to do it when I know that Google could offer 10 MB to my home in Austin, Texas, for free.

Instead of looking at it as yet another revenue stream, airlines should consider offering WiFi for free. Then business users will get the most of their flight time. That’s far better than supersonic flight. It’s flying as we all know it, augmented with the speed of the Internet.

And while we’re at it, how about more power ports onboard? It’s such a simple thing. If I can turn my seat into my workspace, I’ll get a lot more out of my flight. I really don’t want to stare up at the night sky through a transparent ceiling, or wear virtual-reality glasses to pretend I’m not late for a meeting because of flight delays.


The Internet: Great selling and the human connection

Back in ancient Internet times, there was a company called Adsavers. Adsavers had an idea to put interactive ads on computer screen savers. They raised millions of dollars in venture capital for this idea. Unfortunately, the idea did not take off and the company folded.

Despite having some very smart people backing the company, Adsavers was missing the mark. Think about when you use a screen saver. It is normally when you are away from your computer. This kind of advertising was just shouting into the void. The human element was missing.

Fast forward to today, and the same thing is happening. The Internet has cut out the importance of human connection almost entirely. Lead generation, prospecting, even qualifying those prospects has been reduced to mathematics. While mathematical analysis has always been important in both marketing and sales, we cannot expect math to take the place of seeing and hearing people, passionate about what they’re doing, to persuade us to their way of thinking.

At the risk of sounding like a caveman, the ability to connect with people through sight and sound is what’s missing in Internet advertising. The human element is – and as far as I’m concerned, always will be – the hallmark of great selling.

Great selling is consultative. Few people will buy a high-dollar enterprise solution just by clicking a link. That’s a tactic for a low-end impulse buy, not for high-end systems. For sophisticated sales, it is better to speak to 10 qualified people and persuade them to purchase a product rather than trying to target blindly on social media.

The Internet is a knee-jerker. As a sales tool, it’s still a sledgehammer, not a scalpel. Historically, the response rate on direct mail is roughly 3 percent. This is considerably lower than the conversion rate in consultative sales based on relationships. Response rates on email spam are so low that no matter how you slice and dice the demographics and push information to Internet shoppers based on their likes, it simply doesn't work as a sustainable revenue model for sophisticated sales.

Consider the significant volume of email marketing offers that disappear in your email inbox. You receive a spam email, which then is picked up by filters and placed into your junk folder. Someone generates the email and your computer automatically gets rid of it without you even noticing it.

That’s not to say that the whole of Internet marketing is useless, but it has to be much better at targeting. By grabbing a couple of hundred Twitter feeds, based on hashtag conversations, a company can do targeted marketing much more effectively than by carpet-bombing the known Internet universe – no matter how sound the math is for creating offers.

You simply need to have some degree of human interaction if you’re selling anything other than a commoditized product.

For big-ticket, sophisticated sales, give me the human element any day. If I can see your face, hear your voice and understand why you’ve come to me, I’m much more open to hearing your offer. That’s true for most people who make enterprise-scale purchases. The Internet is still a research medium for them

Just because you can sell advertising on the Internet doesn’t mean it will scale to the enterprise level. Without the human connection, you just don’t have what you need for great selling.


Using video to build relationships with clients

I recently spoke with Patricia Hursh, chief client officer and founder of Boulder, Colo.-based SmartSearch Marketing, to find out how she was putting video-conferencing technology to work.

Here's what she had to tell me:

How does SmartSearch use video conferencing?

SmartSearch Marketing specializes in search marketing solutions for our clients. Our whole business is about people. We’re not making and selling widgets; we're selling people, processes and knowledge. We’re essentially a virtual agency. Not everyone is located in one office—or even one state. Video conferencing works beautifully for us even simply internally. This technology enables us to be a consistent, coherent team, even when we are not located in one office or even one city. As a virtual service business, it is not uncommon for a mid-size client who hired us to have never met us in person. Video conferencing gives us a cost effective connection with prospects, current clients and partners – bringing the “people” aspect of our business to life.

What are the business benefits of the technology?

Video conferencing enables trust. The biggest decision factors in hiring an agency are compatibility with your organization, and whether your organization trusts the agency. Video goes much farther in building trust than a voice on the phone. As an example, we have a core team of five people serving one client in another state. Once a week, we will have a live video conferencing meeting with the client. It's a great way to develop a trusted multi-party relationship on a periodic basis. That kind of relationship could be done effectively one-on-one through occasional client visits, but when you think of a core team of five individuals, the expense becomes cost prohibitive.

Of course, there will be times when we’re traveling, in a crowded location or simply at home and not feeling well. At those times it may not make sense to be on a video conference. So it will not completely replace the way people do business now. It is safe to say, however, that it will grow in acceptance because it builds closer connections, enables collaboration and streamlines operational costs.

The most obvious operational cost savings is in reduced travel expense. An even more important cost savings, however, is associated with time. When you're working with team members in far-flung areas who have to coordinate with clients in yet another area, the time that would have otherwise been spent in coordinating physical meetings is reduced to almost nothing with video conferencing.

What advice do you have for other business people making the move to video conferencing?

Having a multifaceted video conferencing experience is essential. Video conferencing can compress the amount of work done in a single meeting, as compared to physical visits, because all the participants have access to all work materials immediately. We already share documents in video conferencing collaboration. In time, it seems logical to see that collaboration becoming more interactive, with live brainstorming and multiparty updates to documents and projects.

Another possibility would be updating project plans, tapping directly into applications such as Microsoft Project to make on-the-fly changes to timelines, schedules or other breakdowns. We also see real value in video conferencing for developing client rapport, and even shortening the sales cycle in client acquisition.

With video conferencing, you get a better sense of the person. You begin to understand body language and mannerisms better. It conveys personality much more effectively than it any other electronic medium. In a people-focused business, personality is vitally important.


Robots and video conferencing: The rise of the avatars?

Are robots the next big thing in video conferencing? It's definitely an industry trend as more companies tout these robots as a new means of mobile collaboration.

A video conferencing robot, or “avatar,” looks like a tricked-out Segway with a video conferencing screen on top.

But is this a practical solution for businesses? Certainly, the device allows for mobility. No longer does a video conference have to be stationary. The avatar allows for remote collaboration anywhere from a cubical to a hallway.

The avatar allows for freedom of movement. It can be programmed so that obstacles are avoided as it moves about. A remote user thousands of miles away can scan their long-distance surroundings and engage in conversations.

Video robots are not supposed to replace in-person interaction or even conventional videoconferencing. Instead, they're supposed to be the next best thing to being in the office or workplace.

Will this be a lucrative or sustainable business model? Most likely not in the foreseeable future. First, the price entry point pretty much rules out small businesses as prospects. Second, it could be seen more as a distraction than a convenience.

Video conferencing is completely portable and mobile already. You can have high-definition multiparty collaborative video conferences right from your smart phone or tablet. You don't need a robot to enjoy the benefits of locating and working with a person via video conference. Your entire universe of contacts is already arguably in your pocket or purse – and you in theirs.

Finally, there is a bit of Big Brother in this approach to video collaboration. Rather than being a tool to get real work done, these robot avatars seem best for wandering the halls, checking up on staff or retrieving wayward meeting participants.

There are applications where this makes perfect sense. Military medical diagnosis in forward combat areas springs to mind, where quick triage of injuries could be done in areas too dangerous for unarmed medics.

In business, this intersection of video conferencing and robotics is less of a collaborative tool than a management device. While I'm wholly in favor of video conferencing and telecommuting, if you need to have your physical presence at your place of business so badly that you're considering a robot facsimile – well, maybe you should really be at your office.


Marketing’s IT buying boom

When you think about your company’s marketing department, IT doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. Surprisingly, the people building your company’s brand and generating sales leads may also be at the bleeding edge of technology purchasing – and using video conferencing to transform almost every part of how your business touches the outside world.

I had time recently to sit down with Megan Lueders, vice president of global marketing at LifeSize, where I also work, for a few questions about video conferencing and marketing.

Where is the marketing profession heading today, technologically-speaking?

Laura McLellan, research vice president at Gartner, recently conducted a webinar in which she predicted that by 2017 the chief marketing officers will spend more on IT than the CIO. Eighty-three percent of marketing organizations surveyed by Gartner indicated they had total control over choosing and managing marketing services providers. Choosing and managing marketing technology providers? Seventy-one percent.

Already, about 30 percent of named marketing-related technologies and services are being bought by marketing, and almost half of all purchases are being influenced by marketing. Video conferencing is often one of those purchases.

What does this buying trend mean for marketing and IT departments?

The marketing professional is cooperating more closely with IT. The alliance between IT and marketing has to be tighter than in any other part of the organization because of marketing’s dependency on systems. It’s critically important that marketing technology applications and services work flawlessly with back-end systems.

The growth of these applications and systems is also requiring marketing to be more of its own IT operations department. The marketing department is now typically staffed with its own personnel responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the company’s web presence, and virtually every other part of its technical operations. The only real exception is keeping the servers and back-end systems running.

As a technology budget line item, video conferencing can be among the biggest expenses, right?

That actually depends on the capabilities and sophistication of the system. But it also often generates among the broadest returns on investment for the organization.

Video conferencing has created new opportunities for things like product introductions, corporate news events, even customer training. That has elevated the role of the marketing professional beyond sales lead development to a corporate communicator allied with many other functions in the business—including human resources and general business communications. Because it is now blending into other functions and departments, the role of marketing is becoming much more central to the organization than it had been in the past.

How is video conferencing technology elevating the work done by marketing?

Take press briefings, for example. Anytime a video conferencing option is available—that is, whenever a reporter has access to a broadband Internet connection—we prefer to do a video call, when it might otherwise have been done by telephone.

Video press briefings are much more effective than the audio. With video conferencing, both sides can be certain of having each other's complete attention. The temptation to multitask is minimized. You gain a keener awareness of body language and acceptance of what's being communicated. This is particularly true when speaking with people for whom English is not the primary language.

Even internally, though, video conferencing is becoming increasingly important – and this ties back to the original discussion of alliance between marketing and IT.

How so?

As we said, the marketing department is now downloading and installing a wide range of applications and services from a variety of vendors. The integration among the various applications and services must be seamless, with no points of failure along the way. Using video conferencing to share data, and information ensures complete communication between the marketing department, the IT department and your vendor—and among the vendors themselves.

It’s interesting that the video conferencing IT investment is also one of the most effective ways of getting the best value from the rest of your IT investments. Of course video conferencing costs money, but in the grand scheme of things, when you're putting thousands of dollars into each of your systems, a video conferencing purchase is nominal insurance to guarantee that your integration and implementation plans will work as designed. And it's a lot more affordable than hiring consulting firms to do the integration.