Five years ago, video conferencing was seen as the next big things in enterprise communications. Fast-forward to 2012 and this part of the communications revolution for businesses is still evolving.

Many large organisations have implemented video conferencing systems, with all the promise of face-to-face video meetings replacing unproductive conference calls. However, a new challenge has reared its head. How do organisations integrate video conferencing with a unified communications platform such as Microsoft Lync without causing the IT department a real headache?

Video conferencing over a unified network: the benefits

Before discussing the challenges and solutions, its important that we understand what the tangible benefits are for a business of integrating existing video conferencing systems with a unified communications network:

Services such as Microsoft Lync provide a ‘Click to Call’ service, allowing employees to communicate via high quality video at any time. By combining advanced presence awareness and video functionality across an IP telephony network, high quality live video meetings are as easy as a phone call. This allows users to meet face-to-face and enables more efficient decision-making.

Research from Regust shows that flexible and part-time working options are being offered by 81% of businesses. Remote workers can stay connected over a unified network and, with the integration of video conferencing, carry out face-to-face meetings and be detected by rich presence software by contacts requiring their input or assistance.

Connecting dispersed locations also becomes far easier. Large organisations are likely to have teams and departments with expertise in specific areas that work in different offices and even regions. To increase dynamism and cross-pollination of ideas, regular video conferencing in an effective way of connecting dispersed skill sets within an organisation.

This also reduces the need for employees to travel extensively to meet with colleagues and customers. With the ability to hold a face-to-face meetings at any time, employees can reduce travel costs and wasted time, increasing their creativity and productivity. This is also crucial to maintaining healthy customer relationships.

Talking face-to-face is a far more productive method of communicating with customers, and is important for relationship building. The wider impact of unified video conferencing on an organisation leads to employees working more efficiently, meaning customers are simply more likely to get a high quality service.

Video conferencing can also save organisations time on administration processes such as recruitment, training and internal marketing. Holding initial interviews, providing training sessions and C-level updates using video means employees can attend sessions while sat at their desks. The use of video for interviews and training is far more engaging than a phone interview or a webinar too.

Overcoming the challenges of integrating video with the unified network

In order for video conferencing to streamline communications within the organisation, initiating a high-definition video meeting or conference should be as simple as making a phone call. When combined with a unified communications service such as Microsoft Lync, video conferencing should be available on a ‘click to communicate’ basis.

This service must also take employees that travel frequently into consideration, and be compatible with Lync client applications supporting video conferencing on mobile devices. The growth of mobile video and rollout of powerful broadband and wireless has led to a new range of connected devices being capable of supporting bandwidth heavy communication methods such as video.

However, before these developments, video conferencing was largely confined to room-based services, meaning that many organisations already have a video conferencing network in place.

Naturally, IT managers will be keen to integrate these facilities with a unified communications platform should they invest in one. There are a number of qualified integrations with Microsoft Lync that make this a possibility.

The three main ways of integrating Microsoft Lync with a legacy based video conferencing system and running video over a unified network are:

  • Video teleconference (VTC) – Use a video endpoint that registers directly with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and provides a seamless user experience so that Lync users can connect to the VTC systems
  • Multipoint control unit (MCU) – Install a multipoint control unit that allows for multi-party conferencing. Users are provided with a virtual room or video bridge where multiple parties be connected
  • Gateway (GW) – Using a gateway allows connection with different networks and provides Microsoft Lync access to different protocols to make video calls. These gateways are optimised for IP phones, headsets, conference room systems and other devices to offer a rich, integrated experience.

The challenges of implementing video conferencing with a unified communications platform such as Lync are certainly not insurmountable, but it is critical to understand the specific requirements of your own organisation and invest the skills and expertise can guarantee success in deploying, maintaining, and upgrading a UC platform that leverages the power of video conferencing.