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Interview: Interoute’s Mark Lewis on challenges video conferencing faces and how cloud impacts communication

We catch up with Mark Lewis, VP of Communication and Connectivity Product Solutions for telecommunications specialist Interoute to discuss about the state of the video conferencing market, the company’s new SmartPoint product, challenges high on the CIO agenda and the next big thing in Enterprise.

Why do you think the market for video conferencing solutions is on the rise?

It’s no secret that enterprise budgets across Europe are still tight, leading management to look for cost savings. The rapid adoption of video conferencing is also being sped up by devices equipped with cameras. These are becoming ubiquitous, cheap and integrated into IT infrastructure – driven by the consumerisation of IT and BYOD. Smartphones, tablets and laptops with built in webcams have led people to look for solutions that let them use the now familiar video capability, in a secure business environment. With solutions on the market that facilitate seamless integration of voice, video, messaging and content sharing across mobile devices, desktops and video conferencing rooms, the market will continue to grow at pace.

What challenges can video conferencing solutions still present?

Deploying enterprise video conferencing involves a certain level of complexity, making it a potentially expensive up-front investment. Installations require time and resources for everything – right from understanding the available technology and creating usage projections, through to working out which components go together and implementing the intricate installations. The reality of 21st century business is that the complexity is rapidly increasing. Some people will be dialling in from a mobile at an airport, some from their laptop at home, a group from a video unit in a meeting room and finally some others from another vendor system in another company location. The opportunity for providers is to reduce the complexity and integrate private and public networks in a secure and affordable way.

Why is Interoute SmartPoint being brought to market now?

The consumerisation of IT and mature products have driven a growing shift in the market from a heavy technology emphasis to “plug and play” solutions that require minimal set-up and little assistance from experts to install. SmartPoint allows the installation to be taken care of by facilities managers rather than AV specialists. That’s why we feel now is the right time to bring Interoute SmartPoint to market. We can reduce the cost and complexity involved in deploying enterprise video conferencing by integrating all of the key elements into one ready-to-use solution. Combined with the lower cost, every meeting room could potentially be a video room.

How does Interoute SmartPoint address the key challenges enterprises with video conferencing systems?

Interoute SmartPoint is an all-in-one, out of the box video conferencing solution. We’ve taken care of all the hardware and software configurations, and all of the key elements are integrated into one simple to install solution. However, no business is the same. That’s why we’re giving organisations the freedom to specify the components of their pre-configured package. The screen, camera and codec can all be chosen and the fully integrated system comes with our own universal display stand. We are confident that enterprises will be able to set up Interoute SmartPoint immediately and get on with their video conferences quickly and efficiently.

What are enterprise customers looking for when it comes to video conferencing solutions?

Enterprises don’t want to waste time or money on choosing and installing their video conferencing equipment, and they shouldn’t have to worry about hardware or software configurations. Instead, they’re looking for something that comes ready to use, so that they can begin conducting virtual meetings almost immediately. And of course, it needs to be cost effective.

Do video conferencing solutions need to scale up or down?

We only see scale going in one direction: up. Take Interoute as an example, where we have quite a sizeable setup of tens of immersive telepresence suites spread across Europe, and you can add to that somewhere around 50 video-enabled meeting rooms. These numbers are dwarfed by the new generation complementary solutions like Hosted (Microsoft) Lync, which has put the power of video conferencing, IM, VoIP and content sharing in the hands of every single one of our thousand+ employees. With volumes like that there is only one place to put video conferencing infrastructure: into your network – and Interoute just happens to have the biggest cloud in Europe in which to host it.

How will cloud impact enterprise communication?

Cloud computing is having a massive impact across IT and for enterprise communication in particular. Why?

(a) The hardware model is cheap. One-off projects by an IT department cannot be delivered as cost effectively as buying from a pre-built, automated and scalable platform.

(b) Speed of execution is also increasing exponentially. IT projects that used to run for three to 12 months can now be delivered in three to 12 days, with three to 12 weeks given for integration.

(c) The solution also becomes totally de-risked from a technology perspective. Good SLAs will guarantee it works and delivers the right scale.

Communications products naturally lend themselves to the cloud for several reasons:

(a) Communication needs networks. Companies like Interoute, with cloud that is both private to customers’ WANs and public to the internet for roaming users, present a compelling standard canvas on which solutions can be built.

(b) Communication is characterised by features that are hard for IT managers to build themselves: any IT manager can build a Hosted Lync service with enough time and funds. However, SIP trunking it to the PSTN is harder and needs partners with voice licences and services. This is where Interoute comes into its own: our product is SIP trunked to our extensive voice platform out of the box.

(c) Communication uses and creates only two data sets: Users and permissions, for authorisation and authentication and audit logs.

The first data set can be cached inside a cloud with minimal risk to the organisation – the data can be protected through encryption. The second data set, whilst subject to data protection and retention legislation, is not necessarily business critical or sensitive, and so it is relatively low risk to move to the cloud.

Which big challenges are high on the CIO agenda at the moment?

Every CIO I talk to at the moment is faced with the issue of trying to innovate their business processes with a stagnant budget. We’ve all heard of the need to address the 80/20 maintenance to innovation spend, so CIOs looking to get value for their money want real leaps in technology and integration in order to inject innovation into their business.

What’s the next big thing in enterprise IT?

The next big thing in enterprise IT is the absorption of IT into business processes. A curious situation is developing whereby budgets are increasing for what used to be IT-type spend, i.e. infrastructure, networking, communications, software and business process devices, controllers and manufacturing items, because software and automation drives more and more of the business model. At the same time however, that spend is slipping out of the control of the CIO, into the line of business managers’ hands, as of course it is integral to his or her delivery of what the business actually does. The challenge for the successful business is how to leverage the experience and knowledge of the CIO department, without sacrificing the speed and agility of cloud and the focus of the line of business.

How does this play into Interoute’s plans for 2013 and beyond?

Interoute has moved from being a hosting, networking, security, voice and video service provider, to being the fulfilment capability for unified IT – whereby networking, computing and communications are all linked, integrated, rapidly deployed, and simplified in the cloud. Technology has matured to a point where service providers can deliver cost effective products, with the benefits of a scaled business, exactly at the time when networking and computing capability are more crucial than ever to make them work. SIs should be very, very afraid.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.