Self-Service and why it matters

I get asked time and time again why self-service is important when choosing a video conference service. This blog gives my thoughts and why it’s great news that VQ Conference Manager makes self-service possible.

If you want to deliver a video conferencing service to your users and staff, from small to the very large deployments (and by that I’m talking about 10’s of thousands of users), the only way you are going to do this sustainably is by offering self-service. Self-service is the only way you will scale.

What self-service means is users schedule their conferences using tools already familiar to them; tools which already exist on their desktop. Why is this important?

Well, if they are already familiar with the tools, they know how to use them and you don’t have to train them. A great example of this is the Outlook calendar. Everyone knows how to use schedule a meeting using Outlook.

Self-service also means users are able to control their calls; they need to be able to add people to the call, they need to be able to control and edit their PIN numbers, they need to have the confidence to know what everyone in the conference is experiencing.

The alternative is having your users rely on a service delivery team. That doesn’t scale. Your users need to be able to do it for themselves.

And the good news is that VQ Conference Manager delivers all of this.

We have an easy to use web portal which allows users to control their conferences, participants, edit their PINs, change screen layouts and they can have an integration with Outlook, so users can schedule a video conference using familiar tools such as the Outlook calendar.

So what, you ask, would the alternative be if you didn’t have this self-service and your video conference service started to grow?

Well you would have to provide a team to do it for you. This doesn’t scale. I’ve been in video conferencing for a very long time; I go back to what I regard as the “bad old days” when there were always n + 5 participants in a video conference, and that + 5 were the back support team. You needed a support engineer at every location to make sure the video layouts were correct, another to make sure that the video conference equipment, itself worked. The users themselves lacked confidence that the video conference would work without these people in place and this just doesn’t scale. Yes, it works if you are going to have one or 2 important meetings every day, amongst a small select group within your organisation but if your whole organisation is wanting to meet on video, this is impossible to deliver unless they can do it for themselves.

So, the whole point about self-service is giving your users the confidence that the system is going to be there, just like flicking the switch and the light coming on. The video conferencing has got to be exactly the same. Your users have got to have the trust that when they dial into their Space they know how it behaves; it is always behaves in exactly the same way. Then usage on the system will grow and return on investment will improve.

Click here to find out more about why you should choose VQ Conference Manager to deliver your self-service video conferencing service.

Where in the world?

One of the things that has struck me over the summer months is how globally we find our software has been deployed. A quick look over our most recent purchase orders shows VQ Conference Manager managing CMS deployments in the US Federal, Food, Health, Defence, Service Providers and Finance sectors, located in Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, Argentina and of course Europe and the USA.

All very exciting but what does this tell us? It is clear that there is no industry vertical leader in deployment of great collaboration tools anymore. With VQ Conference Manager we can help our customers deliver the service their users want, or have come to expect. Whether that is old school white glove concierge, through to the scalability that self-service enables. One of our largest deployments now reports 1 million + minutes a day, truly delivering on allowing users to determine how they want to use their tool set.

Back at VQ, and to keep pace, our team is growing. We have added software engineers, and are adding more through 2017. We also have a couple of major technology steps to announce later this year – think scale and accessibility. Our channel continues to grow, and deepen, with another shortly to join who adds something unique. Not a quiet summer by any means.

 

My Week in the USA

In what is becoming a regular travel update, I wanted to tell you about my latest trip: this time to the USA. On paper, the schedule looked gruelling: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Orlando all in a week. But I actually got plenty out of the trip both personally and professionally.

Between customer visits in New York, I had time for some sightseeing (Empire State, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial) and I appreciated for the first time the ubiquity and convenience of a certain ride-sharing service. I use it at home, of course, but it has only just started in my area and the sheer facility of it across the Pond is on another scale, not just in NYC but all over the US. It’s not an exaggeration to say Uber has revolutionised the taxi business. I think there are analogies here too, with the way VQ and CMS, with their scale and convenience, are enabling video conferencing to become a ubiquitous, self-service facility that people just ‘use’ without having to plan or book.

Then onto Philadelphia to give 2 days of training for one of our key US partners; product development, road map and answering specific customer queries. These sessions are a great opportunity to really understand how VQ Conference Manager is being used in real life situations. We believe that scalability and self-service are key drivers, and these sessions re-iterated for me the sense that we are hitting the mark on these, both now and with our product roadmap. Subsequent customer visits and product demonstrations built on this. It is always very pleasing to see VQ Conference Manager in use and to hear from customers how it is assisting the adoption of video and the associated benefits of this.

As an aside, I was also reminded several times of the adage about UK and US being two cultures separated by a common language as I was corrected on my pronunciation of “schedule”. This is a word one uses a lot during a demonstration of VQ Conference Manager and not putting the hard ‘c’ in it tends to get noticed.

Unfortunately, there was no time to see “The Rocky Steps” or the Liberty Bell as I was on a tight schedule (with hard ‘c’) to get to Washington. And from there to Orlando and the InfoComm 2017 trade show.

Infocomm is a great way to connect with partners and customers, see what is happening in the wider industry, attend the user groups and side meetings and feed this back into our roadmap and product development teams.

So to wrap up, all in all, a hugely rewarding trip. I see the UC industry as a whole, the video conferencing industry and VQ Communications in particular, continue to build momentum and deliver excellent collaboration solutions.

Now I’m back from the US, we’re planning our next programme of webinars. Watch out for further details in the next few weeks.

Speaking at NDC Oslo

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to speak at NDC Oslo, which was a fantastic experience. On a personal level it was exciting and fun, and on a more professional level, it was incredibly beneficial to talk to other people from around the world about different technologies and how they can be effectively utilised.

I would like to praise NDC for hosting a conference with an incredibly diverse set of speakers, it was great to see a fair representation of women speakers, from all over the world. NDC has always been a warm, welcoming environment, and this year was no different.

My talk was about something called The Blub Paradox, and how we at VQ step outside of our comfort zone to try and find the best tool for the job at hand. The talk was well received, and the attendees appreciated how VQ have even contributed to OSS, both financially, and with our own packages / pull requests. Hopefully, this has inspired more people to take this approach back to their respective companies and will start doing the same. VQ Communications was also mentioned outside of my talk, by Kristian Hellang on Microsoft’s Channel 9. This says to me, we must be doing something right in the software industry.

All of the talks were recorded and will be uploaded to the NDC Vimeo within the next few months.

The conference lasts 3 days, which meant I was given plenty of free time to attend other sessions and see what other people are doing, which is always incredibly useful and has led to some inspirational ideas on how we at VQ can improve and be even better. All of the talks I attended were great, but the most useful “track” I visited, was undoubtedly the unofficial “hallway track”, or to put another way: Talking to attendees, listening and learning. Attendees and speakers travelled from all over the world, and they have some interesting stories to share. A particular highlight was talking to an industry leader about VQ’s approach to writing software, and having it described as “refreshing”.

Although I have spoken at numerous events in the UK, this was the first time I had done any abroad, and on such a big stage, so naturally, I was quite nervous. The organisers were fantastic every step of the way, and the nerves soon disappeared. They even took the speakers (and some attendees) on an Oslofjord Shrimp Cruise, which gave some incredible views of the city and surrounding area. Sitting outside on a boat discussing software, culture and everything else was incredibly relaxing and made for a great conference.

I cannot speak highly enough of NDC, and attending conferences in general. They truly are a great way to learn, and I would recommend attending a conference/local user group/anything similar, to any developer.

My 3 Month VQ Update

So, I’ve been at VQ for well over 3 months now and I thought I’d give you another update from me.

I hadn’t appreciated when I started, what a truly international business VQ Communications is. Giles spoke about his US trip in his April blog and my passport is seeing quite a bit of use, too. I was in Switzerland last week, visiting partners and customers to provide both training and supporting new Conference Manager deployments. I did a fair bit of travelling whilst there and as an aside, for anyone needing to use it, it’s a great train service from Geneva to Lausanne: comfortable, punctual and clean.

Next week Mike and I will be training a partner in Bulgaria and then I’m off to the US for an intense week of meetings culminating in the InfoComm trade show in Orlando. If you are going to be there, please let me know: I would like to meet as many customers and partners as I can.

But of course, there’s no need for everybody to get on a plane every time we need to meet. Not with the almost-as-good-as-being-there experience offered by modern video conferencing platforms such as CMS. At VQ we have partners and customers all over the world. South America, Australia, USA, Vietnam, India, South Africa come readily to mind but there are many more and we are in regular video contact with many of them. I am always reminded how much easier it is to communicate, (especially where not everyone is using their first language), when you can actually see who you’re talking to.

Then there are the webinars that I run. These are timed to accommodate as many time zones around the world as I can and they do always feel like very international events. You should be receiving the invitation for the next webinar soon, by the way, so please make sure you register. The feedback I receive is positive and it’s a great opportunity to catch up with the latest VQ news.

We are indeed seeing huge demand from all over the world, and we have the tools and capability to service our growing list of international customers and partners from our home base in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

I look forward to welcoming many more worldwide users to the VQ customer base. Exciting times indeed. More from me again after my next trips.

VQ’s Partner & Reseller Update – May 2017

We’ve been making great progress here at VQ since I last spoke to you about our Partner Programme back in October.

Last week we were delighted to announce that Perfect Wave Technologies had become our Master Distributor in the US. Alongside Perfect Wave, we are really pleased to welcome West Telco, Transition Systems and 8 other partners to the VQ family who are located across the globe.

It’s an exciting time here at VQ. We have ever-growing resources for our Resellers, available via the VQ Portal. New members of the team have also joined.  They come to us with years of invaluable experience working with this technology and are experts in their fields.

I look forward to updating you over the coming months with more Reseller and Partner news on this VQ journey.

 

 

VQ’s new Master Distributor in the USA

5th May 2017: Perfect Wave Technologies and VQ Communications sign Master Distributor agreement for the USA.

UK based VQ Communications are a leading supplier of management software for video conferencing and unified communications. Acano Manager 2 is deployed globally and hosts some of the largest Cisco Meeting Server deployments.

Located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, USA, Perfect Wave Technologies, are a team of skilled experts in the video collaboration market who offer products and services that allow customers to utilize their existing collaborative investments and cohesively integrate new technologies. Perfect Wave’s team of experts knows how to design and implement easy-to-use video conference rooms, and how to provide training and support that help clients make the most of their investment.

“Perfect Wave Technologies is extremely excited at the opportunity to partner with VQ Communications and act as their Master U.S Distributor.” says Rick Green, President of Perfect Wave Technologies. “As a service organization dedicated to enhancing our partners customer service offerings, we believe the VQ solution fills a significant void in the market place by truly optimizing previously purchased Acano solutions as well as new CMS deployments through their management and monitoring software.”

“We are delighted to be working with Perfect Wave” states Mike Horsley, CEO, VQ Communications, “their extensive knowledge of the Cisco Meeting Server and their track record of enabling customers to successfully deploy this technology makes them a fantastic partner.”

 

 

Thinking big in UX

VQ Analytics

I started at VQ Communications in March and although I’d previously experienced working with a global technology company I was excited to join a company where there is a focus on ‘big’. For our conferencing management software, this means staying ahead of our clients who already have some of the largest deployments of video and audio conferencing, based on the CMS platform. This focus on scale has both tactical and strategic implications for UX.

UX needs to use design patterns for filtering, sorting and searching that are resilient to large volumes of meeting and calls data. Scale creates challenges that are usually only revealed when talking to users. For example, users often leave the default call name, making auto-complete search tricky when there are hundreds of calls all called ‘New Call’. Email search patterns provided a useful starting place for the challenges of volume searches.

One client now makes approximately one million minutes of video and audio conference calls a day. Volume on this size is exciting for UX as it means finding new ways to reveal the most important aspects of the data so that operators, can view both correct and meaningful data they require to monitor and support growing amounts of calls– quite a challenge. Acano Manager 2.0 had already introduced the idea of Dashboards and Analytics long before I joined. So now it’s interesting to start to think about some daily monitoring tools that support user goals moving from managing individual meetings to monitoring hundreds or even thousands of meetings.

What’s next? Well, I’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding the UX challenges and opportunities that ‘big’ brings. But I’m excited about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with conference management. More from me again in the coming months as I continue on this exciting UX journey.

If you’re technically minded and interested in the path to big, read our CEO’s blog ‘The path to big’, where he talks about how we use Microsoft’s open source software platform to increase the resilience of the Acano Manager software.

What did Giles Adams take from his American roadtrip?

I was able to spend the last 10 days in the USA attending Enterprise Connect in Orlando, a day with our new USA Master Distributor in Philadelphia the team and their customers, and a series of client meetings in New York.

Enterprise Connect was the former Voicecon event, and has grown from the IP telephony focus and advertises itself as The Communications & Collaboration event. There were around 200 exhibitors and several thousand visitors – of which 50% seemed to be End Users

The recurring theme from the show was all about Teams and how to enable the users who represent the massive growth in the gig economy and the demand for flexible working. During the Microsoft keynote, we heard a statement that over 60% of the workforce will be remote workers by 2020. One of our customers deployed Acano during 2016 and has seen the service explode – regularly seeing over 1 million minutes a day. That success is about enabling teams to collaborate with the tools they need in a way that replicates, how they want to work. We are especially pleased to be a part of that success story.

It was also good to catch up with industry stalwarts:

   
 

We are steadily adding partners around the globe, and see this is key to our growth strategy. The road trip to Philadelphia and New York was all about growing and consolidating our partner base. One of the new partners we are working with previously supported Acano in North America. They add great experience and knowledge, are a great team, and are also fun to be around.

I’ve come back from this trip with a real buzz. For VQ, we’re in the right space, right time and with the right product. As ever, it’s foot on the floor time to keep building on this success.

March – A VQ Update

Hi, Mike from VQ again.

I thought you might be interested in some of the things that have been going on here at VQ Towers (a wildly amusing reference to the fact we’re not in any form of skyscraper or exotic business park. Our office home is infact a 2 storey building and we occupy the top floor). It’s actually a very pleasant office; spacious and light although at the rate we’re adding people, not spacious for very long. We recently commissioned VQ.Sofa@realtimeconnect.com which, as the name suggests, connects into a system enabling us to make calls from the office sofa.

Here’s a picture taken of (most) of the team a couple of weeks back…

We’re located about 90 minutes west of London in a fantastic part of the country; plenty of green fields, open spaces and small market towns. Nearby we have Bath and Bristol which provide plenty of big city things to do. Great bars and restaurants. One of my favorites is the Bordeaux Quay on the harborside in Bristol – http://www.bordeaux-quay.co.uk/brasserie.php. I found this site which sums up harborside nicely: http://www.heatheronhertravels.com/10-things-to-do-in-bristol-harbour/. London is an easy 90 minutes away so all the goodies it offers are near enough to be used but far enough away to keep us sane.

Back to business, the big thing that is simply staggering is the rate at which users are adopting CMS based services. One of our biggest customers is now doing 1 million call minutes a day and growing at something like 20% per month. The customer did 350,000 calls in February. We’re seeing 3300+ participants in calls concurrently on this system.

This is absolutely fantastic because it tells us that the users like the services that CMS delivers. The old days of having to convince users to use video calls are long gone; the platforms are delivering services that delight users and they consume enormous quantities of them.

The customer referenced above is running an 8 node cluster; another big one ramping is at 10 nodes currently with an upgrade to 15 scheduled. One of the big activities for Acano Manager (AM) 2.3 was extended load testing. We spent the backend of last year developing a test tool we call the ‘virtual Call Bridge’ or ‘vCB’. It allows us to test large call volumes on a single CMS server by wrapping the CMS server with some Nancy magic and then simulating the CDR traffic generated by real calls. The current test pattern cycles around 2000 participants joining CoSpaces and then as soon as everybody is in call, we shut all the calls down and then repeat. This cycle repeats about every 120 seconds.

The vCB testing of AM 2.3 yielded some interesting results.  We were able to induce a problem in one of the key queues within AM that writes commands to the call bridge; this, over time, would backlog up as AM tried to optimize commands and performance went out the window as we spent most of the time optimizing the queue. We were able to fix that in the gap between RC1 and the final release of AM 2.3. Another issue struck at about 800,000 calls; it turned out to be nothing to do with the number of calls and was, in fact, a function of the number of commands the test tool had issued to AM’s API. It crashed AM’s web server which handles the API requests.  With these resolved, the latest batch of tests saw us getting to 10,000,000 calls on a 15 node cluster. The test stopped because we’d reached the test limit. We reset that to 20,000,000, have restarted the tests and should see results in about a week.

In addition to the vCB tests, we have banks of servers running against real CMS and Acano Bridges; we have approximately 80 call bridges at the moment being used for development and testing.

The plan now is to do a relatively quick turn for AM 2.3 MR1 where we plan to fix the problem introduced with CMS 2.1 when the validation rules changed on blank PINs. MR1 will also include new functionality giving more control of Call IDs during the LDAP import process.

Moving past AM 2.3 and 2.3 MR1, we’re working on AM 2.4. The 2.4 work started about 5 months ago with the objective of enabling AM to work as a distributed cluster of nodes. We’re looking for another massive hike in performance and the ability to support large numbers of users signed into the portal. It will also be resilient. 2.4 is at test parity with 2.3 which is great news and a testament to the automated test infrastructure we’ve put into place to grind every build that’s produced. Expect to see more details on 2.4 over the next couple of weeks as we start to get data that we can share. It looks incredibly exciting.

Wrapped in with all of that, the work we did for AM 2.2 has become a case study for Microsoft. We’ll be writing more on the significance of the move to .Net Core very shortly.

Please feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to talk thru aspects of Acano Manager or what we’re doing. It’s always great to talk to customers or people interested in what we’re doing.

Regards

Mike