Introducing IBM SmartCloud Meetings

In this article, we give an overview of IBM SmartCloud Meetings and describe its unique features. In other articles in this series, we examine each offering in more detail.

Amit M. Surana, Software Engineer, IBM  

Amit Surana has been with IBM India Software Labs from November 2007. Amit is currently part of the LotusLive Integration development team focusing on integration of various products and services in LotusLive for customers. His research and development interests cover a broad range of current technology trends including Atom, REST, JAX-WS, OSGi, OpenSource, Web 2.0, and Eclipse related technologies. You can reach him at amitsurana@in.ibm.com.



Dattatreya S. Vellal, Software Engineer, IBM  

Dattatreya S Vellal has worked for with IBM India Software Labs since July 2007. He is associated with the LotusLive team for usability testing and LotusLive usage scenario development. His area of interests includes Eclipse-based technologies, Expeditor on devices, and cloud computing. You can reach him at davellal@in.ibm.com.



Rajkiran Guru, IT Architect, IBM India Software Labs

RajKiran Guru has been working with IBM since 1999. He is the Technical Lead and Architect for the LotusLive Customers Integration Center. Guru also plays the role of Technical Evangelist, enabling partners, customers, and IBMers on LotusLive capabilities. He has published several articles for developerworks and external publications and has co-authored two IBM Redbook publications. You can reach him at Rajkirang@in.ibm.com.



22 June 2012 (First published 13 October 2009)

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Introduction

In the early 1980s, when technologies were still maturing, meeting people meant physically going to a location and talking with them. For a business person who had to interact with a lot of people, this approach was a hindrance, especially when the parties were in different geographical locations. The time wasted in traveling, the financial overhead, the stress involved, and the geographical differences were all important factors to consider when deciding to hold a business meeting.

With the dawn of audio conferences, the pain points of traditional meetings were addressed, but even this reduction overhead failed to address the most important factor of a business meeting, the personal touch. To address this issue, Web meetings were conceived.

A Web meeting is a relatively new idea that allows people from various parts of the world to come together for a meeting over the Internet. Since its introduction, different types of Web meetings have become popular:

  • Webinars. Web seminars, which typically involve one-way communication from speaker to the audience, with limited interaction between them.
  • Web conferences. An enhanced version of a Web seminar in which the interaction between the moderator and the audience increased greatly and Web 2.0 has contributed greatly to enriching the user experience.

This article concentrates on the SmartCloud offering named SmartCloud sMeetings.


SmartCloud Meetings

Whether a colleague is working from home or a client is half way around the world, ideas and information need to be exchanged seamlessly and in real time. To address this need, SmartCloud Meetings was developed. Formerly known as IBM Lotus® Sametime® Unyte® Meeting, SmartCloud Meetings is a full-featured online meeting service that integrates Web and video conferencing, allowing users to organize a Web conference quickly for one or hundreds of participants. SmartCloud Meetings allows users to share their desktops, conduct demonstrations, and deliver presentations effortlessly, without ever leaving their homes or offices.

Enterprise companies that need to collaborate inside and outside of their firewall in a project-based environment with dispersed teams can take advantage of SmartCloud Meetings. Additionally, those companies that seek to minimize their IT resource expenses or to expand their existing on-premise solutions by utilizing a software as a service (SaaS) offering can leverage SmartCloud Meetings to suit their needs.


Services offered by SmartCloud Meetings

Let's consider a scenario in which our sales representative, Bob, is always on the move, interacting with a lot of customers and his colleagues from his company, ABC. Bob can leverage SmartCloud Meetings to ease the meeting experience. Using SmartCloud Meetings, Bob can do the following:

  • Host an online meeting. Bob can host an online meeting and ask his colleagues and customers to join in for a quick exchange of ideas.
  • Present files. Bob can give a presentation to the participants of the meeting, to help them understand the idea better.
  • Use pointers and highlighters. To draw the attention of the virtual audience to a particular section of the screen, he can use pointers and highlighters.
  • Share desktops. If it is not just a presentation of a file to be shown, but an application demo that Bob needs to showcase, he can share his desktop with other participants of the meeting.
  • Conduct polls. During the meeting, if Bob needs to take a quick poll on how many people agree with the idea, he can do so by conducting a poll.
  • Manage participants. With the moderator access rights for the meeting, Bob can give control to other participants of the meeting, make another participant a presenter and so allow that person to continue the meeting by performing the host role, take quick feedback from other participants, share files with participants, and update participants' contact information.
  • Lock a conference. Bob can prevent participants from joining the meeting for a period of time by locking the conference. Unlocking the conference allows them to join.
  • Chat with participants. An integrated chat window allows participants to chat with each other, submit a question to the Q & A team, get answers, and exchange information.
  • Attend to raised hands. A participant of the meeting is allowed to raise hand, an elegant and noninterruptive way to seek the presenter’s attention. Bob can attend to the raised hands and clear the questions.
  • Share a video. Bob can share live video feeds directly from his Web camera with the participants of the meeting.
  • Record the meeting. Bob can record the whole meeting or a part of it by using the record service.
  • Do an audiocast. Bob can initiate an audio conference using the audiocast service.

Hosting an online meeting

Bob is on vacation when he gets a call from his manager, asking him if a meeting with a client can be arranged immediately. Bob uses SmartCloud Meetings to host a virtual meeting. He logs into his SmartCloud Meetings account and starts the Web meeting from the SmartCloud Meetings home page shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Home page for SmartCloud Meetings
Home page for SmartCloud Meetings

Inviting participants

As shown in figure 1, Bob can invite participants to join the meeting by using the following options:

  • SmartCloud Meetings users can join the meeting by obtaining Bob’s meeting ID and entering it in the text box labeled Join a Meeting – Meeting ID.
  • Bob can send out the direct link by copying the meeting URL and pasting it in a chat window or sending an email. This link allows guest users to join SmartCloud Meetings.
  • Bob can invite participants by sending a precompiled email that contains information about the meeting ID and the URL. He can click Send an Invite link. The link invokes the default mail client to send out mails to the required participants.

Presenting files

Bob has started the meeting, and all the participants have joined. Bob needs to present a sales presentation to the participants. He can do so by using the Publish option provided by SmartCloud Meetings.

Figure 2. SmartCloud Meetings presentation screen
SmartCloud Meetings presentation screen

Bob can add files from his computer and upload them into SmartCloud Meetings. He can upload multiple files and switch between the files during his presentation. He can use the the left and right arrows in the toolbar to navigate through the pages of the presentation.

After uploading multiple files, Bob can switch between files by clicking on the down arrow located beside the Publish option. A Clear File option is given that lets Bob clear the presentation area.

Figure 3. Toolbar highlighting the Publish option
Toolbar highlighting the Publish option

Using pointers and highlighters

During his presentation, if Bob wants to point to a particular place in the presentation area or highlight a particular section of the presentation, he can do so by using the Pointer and Highlighter options provided in the toolbar. The highlighter option includes custom colors so Bob can use different colors to highlight different sections.

Sharing the desktop

Bob has shown the presentation to the participants, and he wants to show a video featuring the product that he is trying to sell. To show the video to the customers, Bob can use the Sharing option available on the toolbar. Using this option, he can customize the applications he wants to share with the participants as shown in figure 4. After they are shared, the application is visible to the participants, and Bob can play the video for all the participants.

Figure 4. Application sharing
Application sharing

Polling

During or after the meeting, if Bob needs to know how many people agree with his idea, he can conduct a quick poll by using the Polling option provided in the toolbar. After the polling question is sent, it displays in the participant’s window. Participants can answer the polling question. The response displays on Bob’s screen, giving him a graphical representation of how many participants agreed with his idea and how many think it needs an improvement.

Figure 5. Polling
Polling

Managing participants

As the moderator of the meeting, Bob enjoys certain privileges that help him control and organize the flow of the meeting. The moderator privileges are these:

  • Make a participant the presenter. Bob wants to demonstrate an application to the customer that is set up on his colleague Alice’s system; he can do so by making Alice the presenter. Doing so allows Alice to share her applications, files, and presentations and show them to the customer. At any time, Bob can withdraw this right from Alice, or he can make any other participant a presenter.
  • Share files with participants. Bob has modified the presentation by incorporating feedback from the customer, and he wants to share this updated version with Alice during the meeting so that she can work on it later. Bob can do so by sharing files with Alice or any other individual participants.
  • Transfer control to a participant. Bob wants Alice to explain a design document to the customer. He can do so by giving control to Alice. Alice can use the presentation area shared by Bob and explain the design document.
  • Update contact information. Bob has the option of updating the contact information, thereby helping participants to recognize each other easily.
  • Disconnect a participant from a meeting. Bob can use this option when he wants to present confidential data to only a certain audience.

With these privileges, Bob can steer his meetings, ensuring the quality of the contents being presented in the meeting.

Chatting with participants

If Bob receives a question during the meeting for which he doesn’t know the answer but he knows that Alice, his colleague, knows it, then he can quickly chat with Alice by using the integrated chat service of SmartCloud Meetings, get the answer, and reply to the question. In addition, Bob can also assign a participant to a Q & A group. Questions directed to the Q & A Group are sent directly to them, thereby allowing Bob to present his files without interruption and the designated Q & A responders take all the questions raised.

Raising hands

During the meeting, if a participant, Alice, for example, wants to ask Bob a question, but she does not want to disturb his talk, she can do so by raising her hand. When Alice raises her hand, the Hand icon on Bob’s window blinks and Bob can take the necessary steps to handle it.

Sharing video SmartCloud Meetings provides an option for the sharing of video, which Bob can use to share the live video feed from his Web camera. Starting the video shares the live feed from Bob’s (or the presenter’s) Web camera to all the participants of the meeting. Live visual aids add great impact during collaboration.

Locking a conference

Let’s say that Bob is in a meeting with managers who are discussing a company policy. When all the managers join in, Bob can lock the conference so that no further participants are allowed to join his Web conference. He can protect the privacy of the meeting, even though others know Bob’s meeting ID. After the confidential information is discussed, Bob can unlock the conference and allow other participants to join in.

Recording a meeting

At any time during the meeting, Bob can record the session by clicking the record option provided in the toolbar. Doing so displays a window that asks for the necessary credentials, which Bob received when he registered for this service.

Figure 6. Recording a meeting
Recording a meeting

Audiocast

At any time during the meeting, Bob can start an audiocast by clicking the Audiocast option. Doing so allows other participants to listen to Bob’s audio through their computer speakers, rather than dialing into a separate audio conference. Bob must enter the necessary credentials to enable the audiocast option and click the Start Audiocast button.

Figure 7. Audiocast
Audiocast

Administrative capabilities

Let's review the account administration settings of SmartCloud Meetings to which a user has access as shown in figure 8:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Role
  • Password
Figure 8. Administration settings
Administration settings

Users can change their personal settings, such as display name and password.

A user who is also the administrator for SmartCloud Meetings enjoys additional administrative preferences as shown in figure 8. They allow the administrator to set or change the company name, the company contact email, and the mailing address. Other administrative settings include these:

  • Subscriptions. Lists all user subscriptions of SmartCloud Meetings to which the company has subscribed. An option of viewing each of them in detail is given.
  • User Accounts. Lets the administrator view the users of SmartCloud Meetings. The administrator can edit their accounts, change passwords, and so on. They can also add users to the company; this action automatically sends an email invitation to the new users to join SmartCloud Meetings.
  • Order History. Lists all the orders that are placed by the company.

A note on SmartCloud Events

SmartCloud Events is an online event management and Web conferencing service, helping users create, host, and manage Web seminars. In addition to the full-featured Web conferencing service of SmartCloud Meetings, users have all the tools they need to manage registration, host events, and follow up with post-event analysis. SmartCloud Events can help users improve a webinar’s attendance with professional, ready-to-use invitations, reminder emails, and easy registration templates. Users can keep the audience engaged using Web conferencing services. Additionally, getting valuable feedback is easy with simple surveys.

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