VC Daily’s Future of Video Conferencing interview series asks industry leaders for their perspectives on the impact of video conferencing on their businesses and lives, as well as how they envision the future of long-distance face-to-face communication.
Tom-Erik Lia is the CEO and co-founder of Videxio, which offers scalable, interoperable cloud-based solutions for video conferencing that let users join from any device through multiple video platforms. After working for a video conferencing device manufacturer, Lia was convinced that there was a need for a less complex, less expensive video conferencing option that didn’t require building and managing infrastructure. For Lia, video conferencing embodies his passion for transforming how people work in order to make better use of their time and talent.
VC Daily: Your career in the industry spans more than 20 years. That time corresponds with tremendous growth in enterprise video conferencing–based on what you’ve seen, what do you think has driven the popularity of video in business?
Lia: When I started my career some 25 years ago, most people had only seen video communications in science fiction movies. Every sale started with educating the customer on what video conferencing was and the value it could bring to their organization. Today, companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have put video in front of everyone. Whether personally or professionally, most people have experienced a video call over FaceTime, Skype, or Hangouts. This familiarity and the nature of mobility has accelerated the momentum in the market. At the same time, cloud service providers like Videxio are delivering a high-quality, secure, reliable video experience, making it easier for businesses to get started and deploy video solutions without the need for large upfront investments.
But maybe the most important factor is that moving from on-premise to cloud enables us to accelerate the innovation cycles. It shortens the time from deploying new services and improvements to getting feedback from users. This has led to a tremendous improvement in the user experience, which I think is the key to success.
VC Daily: How will the recent success of Slack and other workplace collaboration platforms affect the growth of video conferencing?
Lia: I think it’s a clear message that people want easy-to-use collaboration tools, and video is a part of that tool set. We’ve been seeing the blurring of the lines between web, video, and audio conferencing for some time. I believe in the future we’ll see these types of applications add more video functionality, and, at the same time, video conferencing solutions will add more collaboration features. The key is to make this transition while maintaining a great user experience. Too often I see examples of applications that are trying to incorporate so much functionality that they become too complicated for users.
VC Daily: What does Microsoft’s shift toward a more Slack-like, workplace collaboration model in Teams tell us about the future of enterprise video conferencing?
Lia: There are two directions to consider. The first is to combine all the functionality you would ever need into a single solution (communications, storage, work tools, social, etc.). It’s a very compelling idea, but the danger is that it becomes complex, hard to use, and the speed of innovation and improvements slows down compared with others that focus on key tasks and solve them very well. I think Slack is a good example of the latter.
There is no one single solution in the market that is the best at solving all the customer’s requirements. Our focus is to be the best at what we do and to integrate with other tools our customers use to broaden their experience with our service. That includes workplace solutions like Teams, but also other types of platforms like live web streaming or social media.
VC Daily: Videxio is focused on flexibility and interoperability, i.e., the ability to stage video calls across devices and video conferencing platforms. Why does a small- to medium-sized business need that kind of video calling diversity?
Lia: What we experience is that most companies (large or small) want to use video to communicate internally as well as externally. A lot of video platforms are proprietary and require everyone to use the same client. This is fine for internal use, but I don’t believe a solution should require guests to download and install additional clients. They should be able to use what the company has already approved. So, interoperability between services, or the ability to use a browser without the need to install a plug-in, is a must.
In addition, there has been tremendous growth in smaller conference rooms (huddle rooms) that are becoming video-enabled by installing dedicated devices or various other components like PCs with external speakers and a camera. Most of these rooms would be connected to a video meeting service. I think it’s very restrictive to only enable these rooms to call into a single meeting service. Our belief in interoperability or openness comes from the fact that we want customers to be able to change the way they communicate, which can only happen if we create solutions without limitations.
VC Daily: What impact will this kind of interoperability have on the existing “silo” approach of subscription video conferencing? Will cross-platform connections become a standard feature of video conferencing?
Lia: Some larger players have a strategy of creating silos as a means of locking customers into their platforms or as a means of delivering a “better experience” within their own proprietary platform. I have seen a growing trend among these same players, though. They are now seeing interoperability as a benefit and requirement due to demand from their customers. I’m convinced that this is the right direction, and as a service provider, we are committed to breaking down these silos.
VC Daily: You recently wrote in a blog post that people could get more out of their video meetings by embracing live streaming, and you’ve included a live stream and record function in Videxio. Why do you believe live streaming is important?
Lia: Streaming is important as it broadens the use of video communications. You can record meetings that you aren’t able to attend, you can live stream meetings to reach all of your employees, and you can integrate meetings into social platforms to communicate your message to a wider audience. Since there are a number of great streaming platforms in the market that our customers are already using, including YouTube and Facebook Live and enterprise-grade platforms like Kaltura and IBM Cloud Video, we would rather integrate into those services versus building one ourselves.
VC Daily: There has been a steady rise in the number of people telecommuting to work in the U.S. over the past decade, with some experts predicting half the workforce may work remotely half the time by 2025. Your own Videxio team is spread across several countries; how do you use video to keep in touch and collaborate?
Lia: The Videxio service is the backbone of our communication. All of our meetings–internal as well as external–are video-enabled, and participants join from the device of their choice wherever they are. It greatly increases the productivity of meetings, and the fact that I get to see people face-to-face every day builds trust and helps preserve the culture of our company, no matter where a person is located. We use a variety of other tools, including Slack and WhatsApp for IM and social sharing internally; however, we truly put video at the heart of every conversation and I only use audio as a fallback.
VC Daily: How must video conferencing be improved to facilitate mass telecommuting, if at all?
Lia: The technology and network access are ready. It’s all about getting the message out there and helping people become comfortable with a new way of working. Once they start to realize the benefits of being able to collaborate, be productive, and stay engaged no matter where they are and which device they use, they won’t look back.