The familiar categories of audio and video conferencing have been joined by web conferencing. Conferencing needs on campus are generally met by two broad categories: audio-only conferencing and integrated web conferencing, which typically incorporates desktop video conferencing with additional functionality, such as the ability to share applications.
With reduced budgets for travel and conference fees, a number of key university facilities located off-campus (including outpatient clinics in Redwood City, Stanford@Menlo Park, Porter Drive), and the desire for faculty and staff to work from home and other locations, IT Services is looking into acquiring and and supporting such tools. Many faculty and staff already make use of tools such as Cisco's WebEx Meeting Center, and demand continues to grow.
IT Services currently supports multiple audio-conferencing systems (Premiere Global, Cisco WebEx, AT&T) and multiple web-conferencing systems (Cisco WebEx, Adobe Connect, Microsoft LiveMeeting). There is a solid base of 300 licensed "Named Host" WebEx users. IT Services also ran a campus Virtual Meeting pilot, which provided 122 ports of concurrent usage through July 2010. Stanford Medical School is conducting a pilot of Adobe Connect.
Use of web conferencing is growing month by month. In some campus organizations, there is the need for a solution that records meetings in which confidential data is shared.
Video and audio-conferencing vendors are consolidating into vertical services, with range of qualities, from desktop video-conferencing (basic) to telepresence (high-definition, very high-quality). Video is becoming a much more desired attribute of virtual meetings, but bandwidth requirements to support ubiquitous video may be heavy.
IT Services will focus on deploying technology that is useful across the largest possible set of users, one which serve as the foundation and building blocks for more specialized services, and that is secure, stable, reliable, robust, well-documented, and easy to integrate. Cisco's WebEx suite of Meeting Center, Training Center, Event Center, and Support Center provides the breadth of special features that the campus needs, in an integrated product suite from a single vendor. It also supports a broad range of technology implementations, such as Meeting Center via iPhone and Cisco IP phone integration (allowing the promotion a phone-based audio conference into a full-fledged web-conference; it's clear that conferencing across a range of devices (desktops, laptops, Smart Phones, VoIP desk-, soft- and wireless phones) will become commonplace. The WebEx functionality is provided through a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, so that more capacity is enabled simply by securing more licenses.
In terms of integrating the conferencing tools with the existing infrastructure, the plan is to provide single-sign-on capabilities to the University's Cisco WebEx site, so that there is no need for separate WebEx passwords; the Kerberos infrastructure will be used for login authentication once SAML 2.0 is in production.
- IT Services should recommend one or two products/providers for conferencing services, rather than deal with multiple vendors. Consolidating campus volume for conference calling will lower prices.
- The cost of such tools should be considerably lower than the cost of traveling, as well as the cost of tools from other non-standard providers.
- There should be easily accessible training and documentation, so that there are no barriers to usage of these conferencing tools.
- Any tools deployed should be integrated with Stanford's authentication and authorization systems (i.e., a single-sign-on).
- Any tools which employ calendaring/scheduling options should be considered for integration with Stanford Calendar (Zimbra Collaboration Suite).
- Document all available options for the campus community, including Cisco Converged Communication (3-way and 6-way audio conferencing) along with external vendors for larger conferences.
- Determine specific vendors to serve as "recommended" for 1) audio-only conferencing and 2) integrated web conferencing.
- Determine funding model: as a subscription service, or bundled with other telecom expenses for all faculty and staff.
- Effectively market the availability of selected providers/products.
- Actively manage the migration from legacy providers.
- Tie selected service into the Service Catalog and ordering and billing process.
Measures of success
- Monthly usage of audio-conferencing, measured in audio-minutes and number of audio conferences.
- Monthly usage of web-conferencing, measured in "people-minutes" and number of meetings.
- High level of user satisfaction, measurable by surveys.
- Lower dollar amount spent university-wide on web and audio conferencing, since centralizing on a single vendor should result in greater volume and lower costs.