It’s the Convergence, Stupid

First, let’s address the title of this blog. It’s a follow-up to my article in this month’s rAVe ED about using Skype and other consumer level video conferencing software. In reviewing comments that I received online and in email, the point of my article synthesized in my mind even more. You see, it does not matter whether you use a high end VC system, or Google Chat, you NEED to work with your network administrators. The stupid person in the title is me, because I did not draw that out better in the first article.

Sure, if you buy a $10,000 video conference system, you are going to get features and benefits that you do not get with a piece of software — not the least of which is hardware encoding. However, the best system on a poorly designed network, or a network that just treats it like another computer, is not going to give you any benefit.

Something that I realized while writing and thinking about that article is that this type of discussion is the true convergence of the IT and AV industries. If we go and purchase a VC system, get an IP address from our network administrators and think we are all set, we will be sorely disappointed. Our customers will be disappointed as well. Simply sticking a VC unit on the network and controlling it via IP is not convergence.

We need to understand that those devices need to be configured to work with our network and our networks with them. We need to understand the technology, like QoS and routing. We need to understand how our networks determine which Internet feeds our connections go out on. All of these things help us identify problems and fix them.

We also need to understand the limitations of our systems. So, while you may have a network which is configured perfectly (because your IT and AV departments have converged), if you are calling someone who has just stuck a device on their network, you will still have problems. Also, if you both have networks that are configured perfectly, you are still going out over the Internet. Do you know how much bandwidth you have to the Internet? Do you know the busy times of the day for your connection? Do you know if you have Internet connections from multiple vendors? Do you know if you have an Internet2 connection, and if so, how to utilize it?

All of these issues matter right now with video conferencing. Many of them also matter right now with other technologies and those are only going to grow. Convergence is not simply sticking a processor or a touch panel on the network (please don’t tell me you are still not doing that). Convergence is UNDERSTANDING how all your devices of today and tomorrow will WORK on your network. So many of us have been afraid of convergence, because we believe it is an organizational restructure and we all hate those. It does not need to be an organizational restructure, but you can be guaranteed that if you don’t find some happy place with convergence, your organization WILL find a structure of which you are not a part.