Unleashing the power of the video portal

“Our philosophy at Cat (Caterpillar Inc.) is you don’t start your day with Wheaties. You start it with the Cat portal,” says Gus Otto, who manages business-collaboration infrastructure for the US$23 billion-per-year industrial equipment manufacturer in Peoria, Ill.

Caterpillar is integrating video-specific portals with business-unit portals and the company’s intranet home page. From Caterpillar’s portals, users can watch “Background News,” a daily company newscast. A communications tab provides access to executive speeches and corporate communications. Just as advertisers use television to capture the attention of consumers, Caterpillar uses the video portal to grab employees. “You have to have engaged employees to continue to increase your bottom line,” Otto says. “This new way to deliver content is increasing engagement.”

“The trend toward video portals is significant,” says Andrew Davis, a senior analyst with Wainhouse Research LLC. “It straddles two worlds that are colliding — conferencing portals and content management portals.”

Conferencing portals let users schedule and launch videoconferences and Web conferences.

Content management portals provide the ability to search key words and pull up a variety of data.

“Suppose I’m working with you and three other guys developing a new coffee cup. You’ve got the specification document. Someone else took photos of competing coffee cups. There’s a streaming video of the CEO of a competitor talking about the coffee cup market. I want to be able to go to an integrated portal and see all of that content,” Davis says.


While e-learning has been the most compelling use of video for many companies, video portals are giving them the opportunity to create an order-of-magnitude shift in corporate communications. Used effectively, video can capture employees by entertaining and informing them. Because users can access all video content from a business-unit portal or video-specific portal, corporate communicators can generate “stickiness” for messages by putting critical content where it will be viewed.

Some videoconferencing rooms rapidly are becoming content-creation facilities thanks to videoconferencing-to-streaming gateway hardware from a company called Starbak. Early customers include Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary, Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Common Fund, a Wilton, Conn., mutual fund company.

The gateway, a hardware appliance, “gives the videoconference legs,” says Arthur Landry, the Common Fund’s voice-and-video manager, by converting it to a Windows Media stream that can be included on video portals or put on a DVD.


As videoconferencing evolves from an island of technology to a single capability of video portals, companies see huge potential in cost savings. “We have videoconferencing systems expiring under leases,” Caterpillar’s Otto says. “I’m thinking maybe I don’t need hardware any more. Our room videoconferencing usage has decreased. Our Web conferencing has gone through the roof.”

Otto says he expects to add videoconferencing capability to Caterpillar’s video portal and business unit portals sometime next year.

Caterpillar also uses the MediaMall appliance from Certeon to distribute and re-host video on underutilized LAN servers, reducing use of the WAN for streaming content.

Many companies plan to add the ability to join videoconferences through instant messaging and audio-only Web conferencing. The idea is that if employees travel and use notebook computers with limited-bandwidth connections, they still can participate in video meetings in a limited way. “We look at real-time collaboration as a multimedia environment. Whether you’re on an analogue or IP phone or whatever, you ought to be able to join in a videoconference and gain knowledge,” Otto says.


Beyond corporate communications, video portals and the back-end technologies supporting them give companies the opportunity to create, manage, distribute and capitalize on multimedia assets.

Those assets can be profitable, if you ask Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR. “Once companies start making money with their portal, there’s no turning back. It will be an alternative to TV.”

As video portals take hold, companies are considering two primary directions for their evolution. One option is to add increasing functionality to video portals including videoconferencing and indexing, search and retrieval of all media types including images, presentations, audio and text. In this scenario, the corporation must internally market the video portal as the enterprise communications hub, a project driven by corporate communications at least as much as IT.

Another option, is to build all video portal features into business unit portals. “The reason people have gone with video-only portals is that by focusing on one media type they can do a deeper, richer job,” says Tom Pinckney, CTO of appliance vendor Starbak Communications Inc. “However, I’m betting this will become a checkmark feature for broader portal vendors.”

The decision whether to include video portal capability on business-unit portals or create, manage and market video-specific or communication portals ultimately will depend on organizational culture. In corporations where employees spend most of the day working from business-unit portals, it likely will be more efficient to bring video content to them. In cultures that emphasize corporate communications and in which business-unit portal usage is limited, the communications-specific portal will fit business needs more closely.

— Rosen speaks on communications topics and is chief strategist at ImpactVideo Communications Inc. He can be reached at erosen@impactvid.com.

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