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A Guide to Buying the Right Video Conferencing System for Your Needs

Not long ago, people had to fly cross-country and overseas to attend conferences. Today, these same people can be brought together from different locations around the world through online conferencing systems.

For a time, online conferencing was limited to audio via dial-up connections on a PC. Gradually, the technology advanced to pixilated video over cable connections. Over the last few years, rapid developments in computing and mobile technology have allowed conference attendees from locations far and wide to meet face-to-face via high-definition video through any stationary or mobile computing device.

With these advances, online video conferencing has gained acceptance among the most conservative reaches of the business sector. After all, conferencing brings together collaborators and personnel from out-of-state and international branches who could never be assembled in the same room. Furthermore, the reduced amount of travel and the relatively low cost of a video conferencing system allows companies to save money.


 

How to Buy Video Conference Equipment for a Business

What factors should I consider when purchasing video conference equipment? That is one of the most commonly asked questions among people new to the technology. To know where to start when buying video conferencing systems, you must first determine your needs as a company. Ask yourself the following questions before you purchase any video conferencing equipment:

  • From how many separate locations will participants in your meetings be tuning in?
 
  • Do your employees telecommute from across town, out-of-state, or overseas?
 
  • How many employees will be present for a given conference?
 
  • What type of computing specs must your conferencing system support?
 
  • What degree of security is essential for your business?
 
  • Do you intend to conduct both video and audio conferences?
 
  • What unique features would be necessary for your conferencing system?


As you determine the needs of your company, the following video conferencing buying and equipment guide can help you make a more informed decision.
 

Different Types of Video Conferencing Technology

Several options are available when it comes to video conferencing technology. Here are five of them.
 

1. On-Premise Video Conferencing

Until recently, video conferencing has relied on large, high-tech, on-premise hardware systems. Due to the size and complex circuitry of these systems, companies that conducted video conferencing would require teams of skilled IT technicians to oversee the hardware and perform periodic maintenance on select components.
 

2. Web-Based Conferencing

For the business organization that relies on audio conferencing, web-based meeting rooms have allowed for increased conferencing capabilities. However, the web-based option is primarily for small groups of people — typically a handful of presenters who share information with company personnel, who log-in to watch, listen and possibly submit questions from a PC or laptop.


 

3. Meet-Me Conferencing

An alternative to the standard web conference is the meet-me service, which does not revolve around scheduled events. With a meet-me service, each participant logs in and waits for the event moderator to join the online room and officially begin the discussion.
 

4. Free Services

The lowest-cost form of video conferencing is a free video service, for which you only need a computer and an Internet connection. Generally, however, the free-video option comes with no backup or security. As such, free video is no more reliable than other free services.

While some conferencing options are better by today's technological standards, each option has its own capabilities that suit specific segments of the business sector. For example, a service could enable collaboration and sharing but lack multiway conferencing capabilities. Another service might allow participants to watch, listen and interact from their computers but lack enterprise-grade capabilities.
 

Business Functions That Benefit from Video Conferencing

Wondering whether your business can benefit from video conferencing? The answer is probably "yes." Three industries that can especially find the advantage in video conferencing include:
 

1. Global Budgeting and Information

For the consultants of global corporations, video conferencing allows for a centralized means of communication with customers. Consulting teams that utilize these services can more easily manage budgets and keep operations on track without the need for expensive, extraneous travel.
 

2. Marketing and Sales

In most departments that handle sales and marketing, communication is necessary with third-party agencies and customers. With video conferencing, marketers and sellers can interact with these groups to determine what steps must be taken to craft compelling campaign messages that will ultimately connect with customers.
 

3. Logistics and Engineering

In developmental and research departments, there is just no time to stall for logistics. With video conferencing, engineering teams can maximize their time with the aid of experts from around the world via video. Some of the most significant challenges that engineering departments face in the areas of prototyping and quality control can be ironed out through video conferencing.

Each department in a company can benefit in its own way from the interconnectedness afforded by video conferencing. At its most complex, conferencing allows team leaders and company heads to communicate with groups of varying sizes whose members work from different locations. Even for companies that don't conduct status meetings, conferencing allows personnel to stay in touch and develop working relationships with colleagues.
 

Important Video Conferencing System Features

Video conferencing systems all have a range of features, but they all typically have a few perks in common, such as:

  • Administrative Ease: Services equipped with online dashboards allow conference administrators to view stats on participation and engagement from the users in attendance. This provides a useful means for judging the success of a given conference call. Administration portals also allow conference heads to change meeting rooms and control security protocols.
 
  • Security:  For security purposes, firewall traversal is vital for conferences held between workers and departments. When information is presented and shared over video chats and lectures, encryption makes it safe for partners, colleagues and other participants to discuss classified business info with confidence. Ideally, a video conferencing solution should be fortified with advanced encryption standard (AES) at 128-bit.
 
  • Interoperability: One of the more cumbersome requirements of the common conferencing system is interoperability, which requires each user to have compatible devices to participate. Newer, more advanced systems are equipped to allow any connectable device — be it a PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet — to be part of a conference. This enables each participant to join a video conference on his or her connective device of choice and not be required to make a costly investment for the sole purpose of conference inclusion. Granted, a conferencing solution should also be equipped to received connective devices from all manufacturers.
 
  • Accessibility: A company is more likely to utilize a conferencing solution if the prompts are intuitive and accessible to members of all departments. With total ease-of-use, interactions can be conducted between any number of people in an audio-only or video-audio conference. For any given task, the needs of a meeting can vary, and a conferencing solution should allow for this flexibility.
 
  • Software Updates: The best of today's conferencing systems are updated periodically with newly enhanced features and security patches. Developments such as these are always necessary as long as computing systems advance technologically and code writers work to keep software systems hack-proof. Stay alerted to updates on your method of choice to ensure you have the most advanced and secure version.
 
  • Image Quality: The purpose of a conference is to bring people together from vast geographic distances. When a meeting is administered to bring participants face to face with one another through video, the screen quality should be life-like and crystal clear. With whatever video conferencing solution you choose, be sure it offers packet-error correction and can support network resiliency.
 
  • Scalability: In the early days of a business, meetings will typically consist of small groups of participants, some with as little as two or three people. However, as a business grows, so too does the need for expanded conferencing capabilities. For today's upstart companies, a conferencing system with scalability room can help in this growth by facilitating meetings of various capacities. A video conferencing system should be capable of scaling to the size and requirements of your company at any given time. If your workforce enlarges with temps during certain quarters, the system should be equipped to accommodate the increased number of participants. Likewise, if you need to include multiple third parties in some conferences, the system should have the capacity to scale up to that level, as well.


 
  • Affordability: With today's technological capabilities, there is no reason a conferencing solution should require complex hardware or specific, costly devices for individual connectivity. In other words, the most ideal systems are the least expensive yet most inclusive. With video conferencing, you get both qualities — the ability to administer audio and video conferences with minimal equipment and universal connectivity.
 
  • Accommodation: The best solution for conferencing is one that offers capabilities for all applicable mediums in a single system. As such, no web-only or audio-only system can outperform a system that facilitates audio, web and video conferencing. If you already have one of the earlier, more limited conferencing systems, update it to one that offers the three principle conferencing options.
 
  • Device Support: The importance of universal connective capabilities cannot be stressed enough when it comes to conferencing solutions. Connectivity must extend across Mac and PC lines, as well as between computers and handheld devices. The operating system of each participant should not matter, as long as the manufacturer still supports the OS.
 
  • Real-Time Chat: The combined capabilities of audio, video and web in a conferencing solution only cover a single tier of the possibilities in today's conferencing technology. With audio, for instance, it is no longer enough just to hear the conference hosts. Today's best solutions also allow participants to talk and chat in real time. The same applies to video conferences, the best of which would enable participants to face one another and interact. Simply put, today's conferencing is more than just a lecture between a host and an audience.
 
  • Screen Share: Video conferencing should allow each participant to share a document or image presentation on his or her own screen with other participants in a given conference. This way, participants who belong to teams can collaborate on presentations in real time as they piece together information gained during a conference.
 
  • Optional Open Attendance: A conferencing system should not exclude outsiders if a company wishes to make a conference open to guests, select third parties or even the public at large. With current technology, a conferencing system should not require exclusive downloads for outsiders to participate in a conference if invited to do so. A seamless conferencing system will allow you to invite who you want when you want, without any hoops for invitees to jump through before the audio or video chat commences.
 
  • Scheduling Features: An optimal software solution will allow administrators to set timetables for a schedule of conferences. With calendar integration, this is readily achievable on a scale of any size. Whether you wish to hold small meetings every week or larger conferences on a quarterly b asis, scheduling integration is a useful tool to keep company personnel and guests alerted to each event.
 
  • Virtual Meeting Rooms: A meet-me service may have its limitations according to today's standards, but a virtual meeting room can still be useful in certain conferencing situations. Therefore, users of a conferencing system should have the ability to form meeting spaces that are reusable for periodic meetings and direct-call purposes.
 
  • Archiving for Playback: Even though you can attend an online video conference from virtually anywhere, not everyone can tune into each one of these events. For some people, scheduling conflicts and personal obligations might intervene on the dates and times of specific conferences. To accommodate these would-be attendees, it is essential to have a recording function that can save and archive each conference for remote replay at any time.


 
  • Conference Room Cameras: Not all online video conferences must strictly consist of online participants. In fact, a meeting could be held in front of a live audience and beamed out over the web to attendees who cannot be there in person. Therefore, a conferencing system should allow for integrated video capabilities that incorporate local and remote participation. This way, your group can meet in the same room while collaborators and associates from across the country and even overseas can also be part of the meeting.
 
  • Search-Based Directory: When compared to older technology, online portals provide utmost convenience when you need to contact an individual. Whereas a phone requires you to know and enter a string of numbers, a meet-me service allows you to check a name for availability and click that name to connect from whichever online device you happen to have at your fingertips. Make sure that your conferencing system is equipped with these search-directory and instant-contact features.
 
  • Call Escalation: Scalability is essential for a company at all levels, including the workings of a video conferencing system. While some conferences might be designed to accommodate a select number of participants, others might draw upon open participation that could number in the dozens or more. As such, it is crucial to have a conferencing system that will allow you to scale up as people join in, and do so without the need to disconnect and reconnect at a higher multiway allowance.
 
  • 24/7 Service Support: If a conferencing feature goes awry or a system malfunctions, you need a business-class solution that will offer support at any given hour around the clock. Fact is, even today's best services do have their flare-ups. Choose a conference hosting service that guarantees 24/7 support throughout your service contract.


Skype for Business with Microsoft Office 365

Skype has come to play an integral role in the modern way of doing business. Licenses are available today that allow Skype to integrate directly with professional videoconferencing systems.

When you integrate Skype with Microsoft Office 365, assembling a group of colleagues is as simple as passing a link. All it takes is a single click for team members to “tune in” to an online chat. Whether you are at your office PC or on your laptop or smartphone in a coffee shop, Skype allows you to meet and interact with other members of your team at any hour and from any location that suits you.

To arrange a Skype video conference with Microsoft Office 365, all you need to do is schedule the meeting in Outlook. All of your invitees will receive the private URL address to attend. You can even hold an impromptu meeting and send the URL out instantly to those you wish to summon.

Skype for Business gives you dynamic tools that allow you to collaborate in real-time with business associates worldwide. Regardless of whether you are in New York or LA, you can connect with partners in London, Sydney or Rio to work on documents and update datasheets.

On regional and global projects, each participant from a given locale can add his or her updates to a project in progress as new information becomes available. Up to 250 people can collaborate at once from anywhere with Skype for Business.

When you integrate Skype with Microsoft Office 365, you can manage online business meetings and pass control along to other presenters with the push of one button. Best of all, video and audio sessions are encrypted for maximum protection. Whenever you need help or have a service question, Microsoft support teams are available 24/7 to answer.

With Skype-integrated Office 365, you can upload PowerPoint presentations for all meeting attendees to view from their online devices. The interactive tools of Microsoft Office 365 allow everyone to contribute annotations and add highlights and illustrations to Word documents and presentational whiteboards.

Videoconferencing units compatible with Skype for Business include:

  • Polycom CX5100?
  • Polycom CX5500
  • Polycom RealPresence Trio
  • Polycom RealPresence Group 300, 310, 500, and 700 Series Units
 

Essentially, Microsoft Office 365 makes Skype for Business seem as if all the people on your global workforce are in the same room as you.
 

Purchase Video Conferencing Devices from VuPorts

Once you have studied the video conference buying guide, the next step is to choose the option that would best suit your business. At VuPorts, we sell video conferencing devices used by companies of all sizes. People across the world use our tools to interact face-to-face through computer screens.

The products we carry have freed numerous companies from the restrictions of phone and email communication. With our devices, partners from opposite ends of the world can meet and conduct business by merely logging into a conference room. To learn more about the tools in our inventory and to make a purchase, check out our catalog today.
 


 

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