News and research reports documenting how the business world is approaching operations in a post-pandemic world leave no doubt that hybrid combinations of on-site and remote work schedules are taking hold worldwide.
But it remains to be seen whether businesses will have access to the tools and infrastructure that are essential to getting full value out of operating in this new environment. Notwithstanding the nearly universal shift to remote work schedules during the pandemic, support for efficient and effective adoption of hybrid work strategies is still in a rudimentary stage of development.
The limitations common to current solutions built on traditional video conferencing systems raise many questions:
- Will companies be able to scale real-time interactive video communications to include all personnel, no matter how large and far flung their workforces might be?
- Can they expand those interactive video connections for use by externally facing units like call centers, sales departments, and front offices to reach any number of customers, supply chain partners, investors, press people, or other targeted parties?
- Can video communications be integrated into the flow of daily business life to a level of seamless, instantaneous engagement that does away with impediments like usage pricing tiers, virtual room licensing, formalistic scheduling requirements for every type of interaction, and manually administered join authorizations?
- Will businesses have the A/V quality support they’ll need to leverage current and new formats to the fullest extent, starting with 1080p HD and extending to 4K and, eventually, 8K as virtual reality (VR), wall-size displays, holographics and other aspects to the hybrid work environment take hold?
- Will businesses be served by platforms that relieve them of current hassles related to cobbling together whatever collaboration, record-keeping, graphics-sharing, unified communications, and other tools they may need to meet their hybrid operational requirements on either an ongoing or per-use-case basis?
1. A Huge Market for Viable Hybrid Work Solutions
There’s ample open opportunity for developers who can facilitate affirmative answers to these questions. The challenge boils down to adopting a development strategy that recognizes the fact that the hybrid approach to workforce operations represents a paradigm shift that can’t be accommodated by adding bells and whistles to traditional video conferencing systems.
What’s needed is a hybrid business operations framework that can integrate all realms of activity into the everyday work flow with the same level of seamless normality that characterizes a purely on-premises operating environment. In other words, a truly hybrid operations-oriented platform must be built from the ground up on a networking foundation that imposes no limits on scalability, quality, or functionality.
Evidence attesting to the size of the opportunity for developers mounts by the day. While the toll taken by the emptying out of offices and factories in 2020 was devastating, the upsides to remote working experienced by employees and businesses alike produced a silver lining that many employers want to preserve as they recover from the Covid hit.
Indeed, worker demand for remote employment options has reached the point where companies are making distance working a perk to entice applicants in a tight labor market, according to The Wall Street Journal. And, of course, companies gain a big cost benefit from savings on work space. A McKinsey study in 2020 found that 278 surveyed executives expect to reduce office space by an average of 30% in the post-pandemic era.
In a 2021 report sizing up the potential dimensions of the shift to hybrid work strategies, McKinsey made its calculations based on where it found conditions most favorable to remote working. Not surprisingly, that turned out to be operations involving computer-based office work, which accounts for about a third of all employment in the eight advanced economies covered by the study, including China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Looking at jobs in all types of situations where work can be done remotely without loss of productivity, McKinsey estimated that 20%-25% of the work forces in those countries could work from home three to five days per week. That would represent a four- to five-fold increase over the pre-pandemic remote workforce count.
From a mid-2021 perspective, there’s mounting evidence these expectations will be borne out, if not exceeded. A partial list of big firms making news about recently adopted long-term hybrid work plans includes Adobe, Allstate, Amazon, American Express, Apple, BP, British Airways, Capital One, Facebook, Ford, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Lincoln Financial Group, Microsoft, Nationwide Insurance, SalesForce, SAP, Siemens, State Farm, Stellantis (Fiat Chrysler), Twitter and Verizon.
2. Severe Deficiencies in Current Solutions
A look at the types of solutions that were brought into play as companies sought to cope with the remote working requirements of the pandemic reveals the scope of what needs to be done developing solutions that can normalize and streamline adoption of hybrid work strategies. The challenges begin with the need to resolve the scaling limits imposed by widely used video communications platforms.
Some examples of the highest meeting capacity limits supported by leading VC (video communications) platforms, all tied to expensive premium plans, include: BlueJeans Meetings – 200 attendees; Cisco Webex – 200 (enterprise plan is customizable to higher, unspecified numbers); Google Hangouts Meet – 250; GoToMeeting – 250; Intermedia AnyMeeting – 30; Join.Me – 250; Microsoft Teams – 300; Zoho Meeting – 100; Zoom – 1,000.
As for A/V quality limitations, all these VC providers’ two-way communications top out at 720p HD resolution, with audio specs set to the typical VoIP stack with no support for music levels of quality. Only a few include in-meeting support for one-way streaming of video content at 1080p and higher levels of audio quality.
In a blurring of the lines between VC providers and providers of communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS), some of the latter have implemented support for video communications and are actively pursuing participation in the hybrid workforce space. But, as described at length in this blog, they, too, fall short of the levels of participation and A/V quality that should be supported by a platform specifically built for the new hybrid business operations environment.
3. The Availability of a New Networking Foundation for Hybrid Work Solutions
The starting point for development of a framework specifically designed to address all the requirements enumerated at the outset of this article is an infrastructural foundation that eliminates these capacity and quality limitations. That this can be done is no longer in doubt.
As described in this white paper and many blogs, the Experience Delivery Network (XDN) platform developed by Red5 Pro enables interactive video communications among any number of users at any distance across virtually any combination of public and private clouds with end-to-end latency no greater—and often lower than—200-400ms.
XDN infrastructure is in operation supporting use cases wherever there’s a need for this level of performance. That covers a lot of categories, including video conferencing and collaboration, telemedicine, education, military and civilian surveillance operations, conferences, and all consumer applications involving real-time engagement among users, from watch parties to game playing, gambling, and much else.
Like most VC and video-oriented CPaaS providers, XDN infrastructure utilizes the real-time streaming capabilities of WebRTC, although, unlike those systems, the architecture is designed to accommodate use of other protocols as well. This is done in conjunction with reliance on the Real Time Transport Protocol (RTP) foundation that underlies WebRTC.
In most cases, WebRTC is the preferred option for streaming on the XDN platform as it is supported by all the major browsers, which eliminates the need for device plug-ins. The superior WebRTC performance capabilities of the XDN platform are accomplished by an architecture that overcomes the scaling and quality limitations that impede most other instantiations of WebRTC.
The architecture supports automated orchestration of hierarchies of origin, relay, and edge nodes in one or more cloud clusters with fail-safe redundancy. It ensures uninterrupted session engagements, even when millions of people on multiple continents are involved. Nodes can be deployed on any combination of cloud infrastructure-as-a-service platforms leveraging pre-integrations with major suppliers like AWS, Google, and Microsoft, as well as the multi-cloud integrations achieved through Red5 Pro’s use of the Terraform multi-cloud toolset.
While WebRTC is the primary means of streaming video over XDN infrastructure, Red5 Pro iOS and Android SDKs also enable support for real-time streaming to and from mobile devices via Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). And video can be ingested onto the platform in other formats as well, including Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and MPEG-Transport Protocol (TS).
By retaining these formats while streaming the content on RTP, the XDN platform facilitates reception in lieu of browser support for WebRTC in instances where clients are compatible with one of those formats. The XDN platform also provides full support for the multi-profile transcodes used with ABR streaming by using intelligent Edge Node interactions with client devices to deliver content in the profiles appropriate to each user.
4. A Ready Path to Developing Viable Hybrid Work Solutions
With such an infrastructure to build on, developers can produce platforms that encapsulate all the requirements intrinsic to hybrid business operations. They can make video interaction with anyone, anywhere a ubiquitous option throughout company facilities and beyond with support for any approach to displaying and highlighting any number of speakers at any level of resolution on any size screen.
They can enable spontaneous initiation of video interactions at the spoken command of any authorized user with the concurrence of any designated participants. The scope, fluidity, and functionality of the virtualized components of hybrid operations are not limited by infrastructural restraints other than the amount of bandwidth available to connected parties.
As developers take advantage of these capabilities, they will also want to ensure their new platforms incorporate whatever existing and new operational elements companies need as part of the new hybrid operation environment. Here it’s important to note that opportunities abound for developers to form partnerships with providers of highly useful software tools that can eliminate the need to re-invent a lot of wheels.
Critically, while pervasive access to video communications is a defining feature of hybrid operations, all other means of communicating intrinsic to a modern unified communications (UC) business system should be seamlessly integrated into the hybrid platform. Hybrid operations platforms should be designed to facilitate that integration and, in cases where a good UC system isn’t in place, provide options that companies can choose to employ as part of the core platform.
Of course, many UCaaS providers have added video conferencing to their solution sets, which represents potential competitive conflicts with new, more hybrid operations-optimized platforms built on the XDN infrastructure. But this shouldn’t stand in the way of incorporating the rest of their solutions into the new platform if that’s what their customers want to do.
Beyond the steps developers might take to integrate UC solutions with their platforms, they will want to work with suppliers of other types of tools that can be made available through APIs for use either as core components of a hybrid operations platform, or through simple user commands on an as-needed basis. This is a common practice among VC and CPaaS providers who rely on such tools to augment the appeal of their services.
Some examples illustrate the ways in which developers might enrich their hybrid business operations platforms through multi-partner affiliations (these are provided with no assumption as to any named suppliers’ amenability to cutting such deals):
- Management tools – Highly automated, easy-to-use means of organizing hybrid workflows, keeping track of who’s doing what and assigning tasks are abundantly available from these and many other suppliers: Asana, Basecamp, Instagantt, Jira, Monday, ProofHub, Status Hero, Trello
- Collaboration tools – These tools facilitate extending multiple means of organizing, messaging, and pulling together collaborators inside and outside the company: DynamicSignal, Mattermost, Mural, Slack, Soapbox, Troop Messenger
- Video call center tools – These tools not only eliminate some of the heavy lifting associated with training, managing, aggregating information, and setting up communications for remote customer-service personnel; they offer a video chat component that helps to personalize customer interactions with a company: Bright Pattern, five9, LiveAgent, Zendesk
- Specialized tools for specific industry segments – Beyond the range of commonly needed functionalities developers will want to incorporate into their hybrid work platforms is a vast ecosystem of specialized tools that they will also want to make readily available within their platform frameworks. This will require support for some degree of customization involving hands-on integrations when pre-configured APIs aren’t applicable.
5. Built-In Support for a Key Security Requirement
Another major consideration for developers of hybrid business operations platforms is the need for comprehensive security. They must be sure they can support whatever levels of protection their customers require against the myriad types of attacks plaguing Internet connectivity.
Fortunately, when it comes to protecting all video communications or other streamed content from theft or other types of disruption, ironclad security is automatically implemented with everything flowing over XDNs through application of the Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol (SRTP) mandated by WebRTC and RTP specifications. As described in this blog, SRTP, using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128 protection, applies security mechanisms comparable or superior to high-end digital rights management (DRM) systems to all communications, media, and data payloads.
The Red5 Pro SDKs relieve users of all the complexities attending signaling and other steps related to setting up SRTP protection. In addition, Red5 Pro’s RoundTrip Authentication validator, through implementation of server-to-server validation mechanisms, automates authentication of all participants in restricted sessions with no discernable impact on latency.
6. The Ability to Eliminate Barriers to Exploiting New Technology
Needless to say, the hybrid operations transformation is taking place amid onrushing advances that businesses will want to exploit as they become commercially viable. A key area of development that is already taking hold in the business world revolves around virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).
Companies will want to be sure the hybrid platforms they adopt can accommodate such developments. Where AR is concerned, the real-time interactivity intrinsic to any WebRTC-based infrastructure guarantees the networking support will be there to enable the cloud-based AR applications involving low-bandwidth data transfers that are operative in many niches. But there will be serious scaling issues unless hybrid operations are anchored by XDN infrastructure.
Networking of VR applications for multi-user participation in things like design collaboration, training, and even routine group meetings across diverse locations poses another level of challenges, which XDN architecture is uniquely equipped to meet. As described in this blog, such applications are rapidly gaining traction throughout the business world as VR headsets and other tech components improve.
One big area of improvement well suited to XDN capabilities concerns reductions in the amount of bandwidth consumed with networked connectivity of multiple users to a shared virtual environment. This is accomplished through real-time streaming of content specific to each user’s constantly shifting field of view, which typically entails support for a 4K feed to each eye.
With High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), this translates to about 40+ Mbps. But HEVC, with its high processing latency, is not suited for real-time streaming. Nor is the increasingly popular open-source AV1 codec, which offers a 30% gain in compression compared to HEVC.
As a result, network implementations of VR, for now at least, must rely on H.264, which will require bandwidth consumption on the order of 70-80 Mbps using the advanced distribution methods referenced here. This puts VR out of reach for most WebRTC-based platforms, but not for those that rely on XDN architecture.
As noted, XDNs don’t impose any bandwidth limits on video communications. Given the high levels of bandwidth now commonly available on business and a majority of consumer access networks, not to mention what’s in store with mobile over 5G, XDN-based hybrid operations platforms will be well positioned to make VR applications available to businesses.
Clearly, any hybrid business solutions built on XDN infrastructure will have a tremendous advantage over the systems companies had to rely on in the rush to deal with the pandemic shutdown. To learn more about Red5 Pro’s XDN platform and how it can be used to provide the hybrid operations capabilities businesses seek, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or schedule a call.