Determine the Need, First

tinerstake-apple-feat-1015A couple of time I have written on the use of video conferencing in higher ed. At my institution it has grown exponentially. Last year we supported over 200 individual videoconferencing “events.” Many of these were job interviews, done in blocks. So, while I don’t have an exact number, it is likely that we had over 400 web conferences during the past academic year — this having grown from about 20 conferences a year ago.

I bring that growth up because the growth is a major reason we needed to make some changes in how we support these events. When we were doing a few of them we were using Skype. People knew the application, most people had accounts and most importantly, it was free.

Over time, especially in the past two years, things have really changed. Our technicians were running into more and more issues with Skype. They reported these issues to me and as the number of conferences grew, so did the issues. Why did we wait so long to act? Money, of course. It is difficult to move from a product that is free, to a product that costs money. I pushed the team to think about how we could propose a new product and what that product should be. This was assigned to one of the techs on the team and he started to research various products. Cost was an immediate issue. No matter how many conferences we did, I felt that we simply could not get into a high priced service.

The first task of the technician was to clearly identify what the problems with Skype were. A couple things to note about the service. We used a single Bates Skype account. We felt this was easier than expecting each person to have their own. What if they forgot their password? Additionally, people did not want potential applicants having their personal Skype accounts. Based on that he listed the following issues:

  • The account was being used in multiple locations around campus. He discovered that the same account being used on multiple computers was messing up the contact list. Contacts added in one location would not show up in another.
  • Another issue with contacts is how fast the list grew. It was unmanageable because we would add or delete on one computer, then when we logged into another, they would get re-added.
  • A contact list that people could see raised privacy concerns.
  • On a few occasions people would use the account in places we did not know about, and we would therefore be using the account in multiple places at a time. This would be a problem when someone called the contact and it rang in a room where a conference was going on.
  • Our office ended up having to be at every single conference. We setup the schedule, and got the technology running. This was taking about 10-15 hours per week.
  • Skype would be updated on some machines and not others. The people we were conferencing with would have unknown versions of Skype, and unknown platforms they were connecting from. This posed the biggest issue when we would try and do group video conferencing.
  • It is just about impossible at this point to understand what Microsoft is doing with Skype.
  • The team started to zero in on a product called Zoom. It answered each of our problems.
  • Each user in our community would be given their own account. These accounts were tied into our systems via single-sign on. This solved the “forgetting password” problem.
  • Additionally, each user having their own account solved all of the contact problems, and the problems of using the account in multiple locations.
  • We purchased several “professional” level accounts. This allows one user to schedule a set of meetings, and then pass them on to another user. So, and administrative assistant, using their account, can setup and schedule all the interviews. Then, pass that onto the person’s account that will be in the room. This took our team out of the scheduling process.
  • Zoom sends out a single link for all participants. A quick, one-minute download at each conference gives you the latest version of the software.
  • Finally, the people at Zoom are very easy to deal with. We asked many questions and changed our mind several times. They happily continued to work with us and answer our questions.
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I detail these steps for two reasons. First, other people are likely working through the same issues in their organization. Whether Zoom is the correct product for you or not, you need to step through a very similar process. The second is for the integrators out there who are thinking about how to provide more value to their customers. As an integrator, you also need to step through this process. Determine what your customer is having problems with. Dig deep to really understand all the issues. Then, present a product that solves that particular customer’s problems. Too often, sales people get focused on a particular product or solution. Too often, the presented solution does not actually solve the problems that the customer has. Additionally, the product is probably at a very steep cost that it not necessary. Integrators must remember that a onetime sale gets them nowhere. They are looking to build value, and you do that by solving your customer’s problems. Above, I have detailed steps that you can take to help define those problems clearly, BEFORE presenting a solution.