Future networks

Future networks

Next stop video

Imagine a scenario where somebody sitting at a slot machine could push a button for service and the machine dials into an IP network to notify a customer service representative. The rep has access to an integrated CRM system and a pop-up screen tells them what brand of scotch the customer back at the slot machine prefers, what food they love to eat and what kind of shows they are likely to be interested in.

The customer gets a more personal experience and feels valued, while the sales rep at the other end knows all the right buttons to press in order to maximise selling opportunities.

This picture was painted at a recent ARN round table by Alphawest's Ed Jeffers but it isn't a glimpse into the future; Las Vegas casinos have had this functionality for some time already.

"They've taken the technology to a customer service level that we are all eventually going to end up doing," Jeffers said. "Can you imagine your helpdesk having a face-to-face relationship with your clients? The relationship we have with machines is changing and that's going to benefit everybody in this room."

Jeffers' boss calls him the 'mad scientist' because he is willing to talk about the future of IP-based video delivery even though he freely admits his team is only playing with the technology today and cannot grasp the full scale of its implications as a business tool.

"The only reason we are playing with it is because my parent company [SingTel] enjoys the bandwidth required. They are very excited about that but our clients are too," Jeffers said. "Video is going to become a business tool because you look at telepresence and it's just obvious. As soon as you sit down at a demonstration it immediately comes to mind what this could do for your business.

"We are only a couple of years from this getting really crazy. Your receptionist is going to be an avatar that will respond to you emotionally and be the smartest person in the room. I've seen it. Collaboration is going to be totally different to how we know it today because all of a sudden there will be 300 people with a camera on their PC. Tasks that previously took weeks to do will be sorted out in an hour because there's so much difference in relating to people via video."

ComputerCorp's Tony Heywood said it was still experiencing problems with conveying the video message to its customers because there was a perception that videoconferencing was a standalone unit in the boardroom that nobody knew how to use the remote for.

"They are not thinking about video endpoints on the network at all. There's a huge education opportunity in the mid-market; it's just IP and it's not frightening at all," he said.

Gartner's Bjarne Munch has seen a significant rise in client enquiries about videoconferencing during the past six months. He said the move to IP networks was largely responsible because there had previously been concerns that ISDN was plagued by difficulties. IP, on the other hand, worked smoothly most of the time without any hassle and was cheaper, he said.

Telarus' Jules Rumsey said it had started pushing videoconferencing through collaboration tools integrated with the phone system.

"If they want to kick off a collaboration session, it only takes one click after they've got the call open to share a PowerPoint presentation or a desktop," he said. "It's cool stuff and quite straightforward, but you need to be conscious of the bandwidth drain. The IT manager will have an issue to deal with if there are 20 concurrent video sessions at head office.

"There can also be QoS issues because it's easy to set up but doesn't always work. That causes a massive seesaw effect because if people try it and it doesn't work it will take them a while before they want to go back and try again."

Rumsey also flagged growing security concerns as the IP video market continues to develop, and not just because of malicious activity. For example, the cross-pollination of marketing data for cable customers with set-top boxes and Internet customers with browsers will mean companies can compare the channels people are watching with the websites they are surfing.

"If you add facial recognition software in a store, they will be able to work out who the shopper is and target them with little snippets of things they might be interested in," Rumsey said. "Then you know it's gone too far."

On the malicious front, Efficient Data's Andrew Lowy pointed out that there are already many security implications including spam voicemail on IP telephony and the redirection of IP routes. While these needed to be taken into consideration, he said they offered integrators an opportunity to add security services into customer conversations.

Cisco's Brad Engstrom said there have been PBX hacks for years doing similar things but Telarus' Rumsey claimed it was much more difficult to hack into a PBX phone system than one based on IP.

"Hacking into a PBX requires special hardware, a bit of know-how and maybe even access to some manuals," he said. "To hack an IP phone system you just download a bit of script off the Internet somewhere and give it a go."

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