Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019: Why a good video conferencing solution can improve work culture

Craig Williams, CIO of Ciena, said that partnering with Zoom has made a big difference for the company.

Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019: Why a good video conferencing solution can improve work culture

TechRepublic's Teena Maddox talked with Craig Williams, senior vice president and CIO of Ciena, about using Zoom for video conferencing. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. 

Craig Williams: At Ciena, we had not a very good video experience, if you will. What we decided to do was to bring a brand new technology into the company to improve engagement and collaboration with all employees. This is a bit of a risk because we really didn't have a good experience before Zoom. We took a chance on them, and we partnered with Zoom. Before we even got to Zoom, we did a big bake-off with several vendors and utilized the employee base from different business units to come together. Then once we did the bake-off, we picked Zoom, and that's where the engagement really started to happen with them.

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The benefits were just the experience that you could have by looking at someone face-to-face in a virtual room. The obvious things I think with the video, but I don't think we understood how important this was to the culture of the company because of the engagement and the experience that we had.

I always try to tell people that when they are trying Zoom for the first time, the biggest thing I had to tell them was to actually turn their video camera on and get through that emotional experience that people sometimes have when it comes to video. Once they did that, and once I had chided them, they just found that the experience was very easy. It helped them have more interactive conversations than they could ever do just by voice alone.

Our workforce is all over the world. We're in 35, I believe, countries across the world. Just a number of different offices, and a lot of people work from home. I think what this did is it brought down the boundaries between the locations and then opened up the ability for us to work anytime, anywhere on any device.

I'm a full-time remote employee, myself. I work in Raleigh, NC out of my house, and then I travel when I need to travel. So, it really did bring about the ability for people to work anytime, anywhere. We just did not have that kind of capability before Zoom. There's often a perception that happens when you're running infrastructure and support that the quality of the service tells you that it's the service itself. What we really made sure we did differently at Ciena is we comb through the entire network to make sure that the network is healthy, so then you can actually have a very good high-def experience on top of it.

I often say that Zoom is actually a very good network management monitoring software for us because it tells us where we might be having issues. So if someone was having a bad experience, we could find out that it might've been their wireless connectivity that they had or it might be their home connection that was faulty. We actually now have the data to be able to show what was going on that degraded their quality of service.

The troubleshooting is really easy. I often tell Zoom people that they should really sell this as a certain product just to help you troubleshoot and manage your entire network. Because the analytics that you get off of the platform helps you understand exactly where your faults are. It gives you the quality of service, the quality of the connection. So you can get more information off of Zoom on the back end of the experience that people have.

First start with, "Do you need one?" And I would ask you that openly. If you feel like you don't need one, ask yourself why? Because often, like in the case of Ciena, we didn't have a very good experience. I probably could have avoided the whole topic altogether because we didn't really have a culture of video. But as the CIO, what I had to do is challenge the norm and ask what we could be doing differently to utilize technology to improve how we collaborate and communicate and engage with each other.

So when we chose Zoom, it became something that we could experiment with and try with a certain user base. Once we started to do that with the input of our employees, we actually found that the adoption was so high that the change management of itself was not as severe as you might think when you roll out video. I would definitely start with, "Why are you using, or why you're not using video?" And if you are using video and you're having a mediocre experience, at least try this to see if their solution could be better to manage.

I know from my experience in running other types of video platforms before, this is very lightweight. It's in the cloud. You don't have to do much on the infrastructure side. Again, the analytics you get from the quality of a call can help you improve the rest of your infrastructure overall.

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a former Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included wri...