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IT preps for growth of video collaboration tools

With video collaboration set to take off in the enterprise, IT departments will need to take precaution before adopting tools such as the new Microsoft Stream.

Video collaboration tools are growing in popularity, but they bring a few concerns around security and networking for IT departments.

The market for business video collaboration tools is in its early days, but big-name vendors are investing in the area, which will fuel demand for these platforms. Cisco released Spark in December 2015, and Microsoft followed suit this week with a preview version of a service called Stream. With these types of tools, users can share work-related videos or stream live video of themselves, for example, allowing co-workers to access the streams and files on any device.

"It's cool technology that's still growing," said Stephen Monteros, vice president of business development at SIGMAnet, an IT consultancy in Ontario, Calif. "They are not mainstream yet, but they will be. You can see the value in them."

SIGMAnet recently adopted Cisco Spark to allow collaboration among co-workers. The software lets users message each other, and share videos and files both in the office and remotely.

"We love it," Monteros said. "You can set up rooms to collaborate and send video files. It's a good business-focused tool that's a really simple one to use."

Many collaboration tools on the market offer video features, including Spark, Slack and even Google Hangouts. But with Microsoft Stream, video is the lead form of communication, with an interface for viewing and sharing pre-recorded business videos similar to that of a private YouTube channel.

Still, IT pros have concerns about video collaboration in the enterprise. Bandwidth and network load balancing are big challenges, especially when streaming video to or from mobile devices.

"A lot of streaming and large video downloading by many at one time can definitely bring down a network if your infrastructure can't handle the load," said Jeff Janovich, a software analyst for the IT department at Carlisle Construction Materials, in Carlisle, Pa.

There is going to be instant demand for this.
Patrick Moorheadpresident, Moor Insights & Strategy

IT should treat the software like any other platform that users access widely across a work environment, Janovich said. When it comes to security, IT must restrict what information goes into videos to ensure that it does not hurt the business, he said.

"The challenge is seeing what the content[s] of the videos are and deciding what type of information you want to put out there," he added.

The ability to block access to content through IT policies is imperative when dealing with video received on mobile devices, because users can access it from anywhere. Microsoft Stream, for instance, lets IT dictate which users or groups have access to certain videos and video channels, and how widely users can share videos. Administrators can restrict who is allowed access to what by using Azure Active Directory to protect sensitive content shared on Stream.

What Microsoft Stream has to offer

Microsoft Stream is different from unified communications tools such as Microsoft's Skype for Business, because Skype's main function is to hold video conference calls, while Stream displays pre-recorded videos for tutorials, announcements and more. Stream will also have the ability to hold a live broadcast, however, allowing employees to watch messages from company executives or view press conferences, for example.

There is a social media aspect of the software as well. Users can access channels on specific work-related topics, and like, comment on or share videos with other employees.

Users at their desks or away from the office on mobile devices can watch videos for training purposes, for example, said Patrick Moorhead, president at Moor Insights & Strategy, a research firm in Austin, Texas. Rather than reading a detailed email or messaging with a co-worker for instructions, they can instead watch a video and get a short message along with it.

Another draw for Microsoft Stream is its integration with other widely used Microsoft products. Stream will integrate with Office 365, SharePoint, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, for instance, to let users share Stream videos across applications, Microsoft said.

"There is going to be instant demand for this," Moorhead said. "People like to communicate in multiple different ways. This is enterprise catching up with consumer."

Any user with a business email address can sign up for Stream for free during the preview period.

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What video collaboration platforms do you like, and why?