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Choose a Right-Sized Videoconferencing Hardware Solution

Upgrading one’s videoconferencing hardware is an important long-term investment that revolves around several decision points. This note offers a process for thinking about these decision points.

1. CapEx or OpEx?

The first decision concerns whether to choose a CapEx or an OpEx model. The CapEx model sees an organization purchase their videoconferencing hardware outright. If the organization is clear about the exact amount of equipment required, the benefits of this model are that the organization has full control over their equipment (including when to choose maintenance or upgrades) and there is only a large one-off payment at the initial purchase of the equipment.

However, the CapEx model does not easily allow for scalability. If the organization suddenly needs to expand or (given the increase of remote workers) contract their physical videoconference rooms and its equipment, one will be caught short. One will either need to suddenly increase the hardware available (that will require more time and money for installation and training) or have unused hardware, leading to a poor ROI.

The OpEx model – in this context, also known as the Hardware as a Service (HaaS) model – does allow for scalability. In this model, the vendor supplies and maintains the hardware, allowing the organization to outsource ongoing service costs. Of course, the HaaS model requires a (usually annual) subscription fee, which may increase from a sudden need to scale. Choosing this option depends on context – if one is expecting a large increase in usability of conferencing rooms or an influx of new employees, HaaS can help meet any sudden surge in demand.

2. End-user requirements

The market leaders in the videoconferencing hardware space – from Cisco to Microsoft – will have most end-user requirements met as table stakes capabilities. What will be important, then, is knowing which capabilities your end users need, lest one ends up paying for a solution that is not fully leveraged.

Typical requirements include:

  • Responsive touch-screen display
  • Video/audio conferencing with dial-in features
  • Integrated cameras and speaker bars
  • Whiteboarding

Other specifications (size, weight, RAM, and so on) will come down to specific use cases. To best meet end-user requirements, pick a few archetypical use cases and identify the capabilities required for those use cases. This will frame your search, narrowing down capabilities that are necessities compared to nice-to-haves.

3. Integrations and cost

It is best practice to keep tools (hardware and software) as integrated as possible. This allows for secure information share on a unified platform, ease of use and accessibility for the end user, and little friction switching between apps and equipment. As such, one must consider what current software is being used in-house and whether this will integrate with the incoming video conferencing hardware.

Notably, some market leaders’ videoconferencing hardware will be purposefully built for their own software solutions. For instance, the Microsoft Surface Hub integrates very well with Office 365 applications but does not natively support Zoom or Cisco Webex. It is possible to use the Surface Hub for non-Microsoft videoconferencing software; however, the inevitable friction of making this work can lead to end-user dissatisfaction. This same issue applies to the Cisco Webex Room Series for Webex, and Zoom Room hardware is built by contracted partners to host Zoom software specifically.

It may be more cost effective to choose hardware that broadly integrates across videoconferencing software for a lower cost. Often, an organization has multiple videoconferencing software solutions used by different end users. While it is best practice to rationalize these software solutions, the short-term might require videoconferencing hardware that is agile enough to accommodate for this range of software. In these instances, choosing Polycom and LogiTech hardware might be a better fit. Though these latter vendors will not have the bells and whistles that Microsoft and Cisco have, they may well be the right-sized hardware.

Of course, the cost of videoconferencing hardware does not end at the price tag. As such, when considering the more expensive options – such as Surface Hub and the Webex Room Series – bear in mind the range of other costs that cover installation, training, support, and (if one is not using a HaaS model) maintenance.

4. Got the hardware and are now interested in the software?

See SoftwareReviews’ data quadrant report on web conferencing.

Source: SoftwareReviews Web Conferencing Data Quadrant. Accessed May 25, 2020

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