. . . that no department wants.
Benny’s Original Rutabaga Korporation is an enormous, multi-national corporation. They pride themselves on being forward-looking where it comes to technology,and early and eager adopters of collaboration technology. They bought into videoconferencing before it was cool – before B.O.R.K. was the huge enterprise it is today. But their longevity and tech-savviness didn’t help them avoid a common pitfall in technology management today:
Videoconferencing is treated as a mongrel that nobody wants.
Because it is equal parts I.T., A/V, business communications, conference services, continuing education, and collaborative technology, running the videoconferencing organism (all of the associated equipment – infrastructure and endpoints – PLUS the organizational structure which operates and maintains it) does not fit nicely into common business management models, structures, or practices.
It tends to be managed like a red-headed stepchild. It should be managed more like a Disney World Experience.
— Let’s get specific, here —
B.O.R.K.’s I.T. department owns servers, workstations, networks, and telecommunications. They’re also the owner of the videoconferencing service. They manage budgets, usage, maintenance, service level agreements and strategic direction. CIOs the world round know how to run an I.T. organization; and though there may be more than one management model for I.T., it is an “organism” which is pretty well understood. B.O.R.K.’s CIO has been around the block and knows what she’s doing.
But B.O.R.K.’s I.T. department is just not well equipped to own videoconferencing. At best, they have one or two subject matter experts – experts in the technology or operations, or both – but they do not have any authority to dictate how the service is used, nor are they involved in assisting those who use it to truly understand and wield its intrinsic power for human communications.
Why is this such an issue? Why is videoconferencing so different from the other services that IT owns?
It’s because videoconferencing is not just a phone with moving pictures. It is an experiential medium for human interaction.
— Why I.T.? Why not I.T.? —
For B.O.R.K and so many other enterprise-sized organizations, I.T. is the default owner simply because videoconferencing looks like computers, web cams, and networks. I.T. understands the parts (though audiovisual technology often baffles them) and so can maintain the equipment but is ill-equipped – and doesn’t have the authority – to develop the right company culture around its use. Put a bit more metaphorically, IT cannot get the car out of first gear.
Visual telecommunications is a mosaic, a beautiful creation; more than the sum of its technological parts.
— Why Conference Services. Why not? —
B.O.R.K. is large enough to have a conference center and a conference services department, which for a while owned videoconferencing. After all, it tends to be the biggest user of it, so why not?
It does seems like a good idea at first blush, but videoconferencing today goes WAY beyond the conference room. The proliferation of small, powerful, Internet-connected devices and the Bring Your Own Device (B.Y.O.D.) trend in business means that video is everywhere: trains, planes and automobiles. ’Pads, ‘Pods, computers and smart phones. This diversity-of-devices takes video far beyond the mission and purpose of Conference Services. When visual communications was limited to conference rooms, a good argument could be made for the conference service to own it. But, to be honest, most conference center managers are stuck in an old paradigm which simply does not grasp the significance of connecting people together in one virtual meeting. But no matter. Conference Services is not the right owner, anyway.
— Who, then? —
The problem with traditional, service-oriented models for videoconference management is that videoconferencing is an experience, and needs to be managed as one. I wrote about this in “What do you expect of your videoconferencing investment.” Because we try to squeeze this organism into an unenlightened and outmoded “operations” model — that of a service — it never finds the right owner.
Were we to stage experiences rather than offer services we would find that the organism is best owned by the Customer Experience department; or, lacking one, it should be owned by Marketing.
— Why Disney? —
Disney knows that their customers are coming to experience something special and are willing to pay extra for it. For Disney, business is a stage and work is putting on a show. This is the core of staging an experience. If B.O.R.K. is ever to break out of its mediocre, outdated model for videoconference organism management, they should model themselves after the Magic Kingdom.
— That’s Ridiculous —
I am not saying that a videoconferencing experience should be based on fantasy and a contrived story line. But I am saying that if B.O.R.K. understands how to analyze its videoconferencing organism as a highly valuable experience for business communication it would begin to shape the videoconferencing experience into one which, when repeated consistently, transforms the way they do business. Does that sound outlandish? Is that a highly inflated view of what visual communications can be for a business?
We already know that this is a highly experiential medium, but we usually compare it to a telephone.
We already know that there’s a difference between delivering a service to the customers and staging an experience for them.
We already know that a good experience is highly valued, and good service is merely a commodity – blithely offered by a thousand different providers.
What we aren’t sure of is whether or not staging videoconferencing experiences is worth the effort.
I don’t know about you, but I go out of my way to visit Disney. The effort they put into the theme park experience makes it well worth the effort. And it transforms my outlook on life.
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