AV Conferencing: In Collaboration We Trust

By : |September 11, 2007 0

Communication is no longer limited to the telephone or email. It has evolved into Web-based communications where technology has become more complex and is advancing at a rapid pace. Today most enterprises are enabling videoconferencing as a routine means to collaborate, making it possible for teams and workers to communicate and collaborate effectively through this means. 

This new class of value-added online services has today become a powerful enabler for efficient communication between groups of distantly located people, without requiring huge investments in complex and expensive infrastructure.

Emerging Technology
Although videoconferencing as a technology has been in the market place for several years, it is only lately that it has come into its own with many local players as well as multinational companies fighting aggressively for market share. Earlier, there were hardly any takers in the Asia Pacific region but the number of local videoconferencing solutions that have mushroomed all over this region and the interest shown by leading MNCs clearly shows that the market has matured with the technology delivering a better output.

"Web-based collaboration services integrate tried-and-tested forms of collaboration such as webconferencing and instant messaging with newer technologies such as desktops, workspaces, wikis, and podcasts," says Frost & Sullivan Senior Industry Analyst Dominic Dodd in a report titled Web-based collaboration services take online collaboration to the next level. "They form a core component of the growing Software as a Service (SaaS) market."

Frost & Sullivan says the Global Web-based Collaboration Services Market generated revenues of $682.7 mn in 2005, and estimates this to reach $2,644.5 mn in 2010.

Currently, webconferencing contributes a significant portion of these revenues. However, this is likely to change over the forecast period, as synchronous or real-time and asynchronous collaboration service technology increasingly merge due to the growing need for tools such as shared virtual workspaces and online collaborative authoring of documents, says the report released a few months ago.

Broadband penetration is fuelling this drive toward Web-based collaboration services. With start-ups coming up and globalization becoming the norm, there is an additional boost to the videoconferencing market.

Although larger enterprises would have the means to use complex technologies or just simply allow their executives to travel more often, it is the small and medium businesses (SMBs) which are being wooed by videoconferencing techniques.

"They represent a particularly attractive target group since they need to access and harness the power of collaboration services but are unable to invest substantial amounts in complex technology or the skills to support it. For large global businesses, the key driving force is the need to communicate effectively across company boundaries and firewalls. These organizations require practical and secure collaboration solutions that can sidestep the constraints imposed by local IT departments," the report adds.

While there is a number of large and small players in this market now, it is the solutions offered by major global software vendors and enterprise communication systems manufacturers that dominate the market. According to the report, this could limit growth opportunities for Internet-based business communications and collaboration services. Thus, the battle for the desktops of workers who need to collaborate is gathering pace, with Web-based collaboration services posing a distinct challenge to the prevailing dominance of on-premise software solutions of major manufacturers.

"Web-based collaboration service providers are well-placed to use Web 2.0 technologies such as mash-ups to rapidly develop and deploy new services to meet changing markets needs," says Frost & Sullivans Dodd. "This agility, coupled with the use of viral marketing to get across its message, will enable the growing band of companies in this space to compete effectively," he adds.


Multiple Selling Proposition
Undoubtedly, the Internet has changed the way we do business and the way we live. The all-pervasive power of the Internet has created a virtual world out there, and created hitherto unknown dimensions in communication have emerged. There was a time when the quality of videoconferencing technology was so low that there were no takersit never could replace telephone-based conferences nor could it ever replace face-to-face meetings. But now, with superior technology having invaded this domain, webconferencing and Web-based seminars have become quite a common place in the business environment.

Today, there is a much higher level of convergence, and videoconferences are being used right from tutoring K-12 students online to conducting top management meetingseven annual general meetings with participation from overseas board members.

While Web-based collaboration, videoconferencing, and seminars have become an effective way for companies to address an audience of say 50-100 people it is also an extremely effective method for communicating to a much smaller audienceespecially if its a project management team in software development where they run through all the finer details of the application or solution that is being collaboratively developed.

Another interesting application is when participants can not only view updates to spreadsheets simultaneously, but also input changes in real time. Apart from this it has also become effective for sales and marketing activities, and is quite reliable as a training tool as well. Other applications include providing information to shareholders, or to end-users through help desks.

Cost-effective Connection
From a cost perspective, Web marketing is a much more effective way to go. The challenge for companies is to make the presentations sufficiently warm and interactive to create a near touch-and-feel effect. The use of two-way video, instant messaging, and Web-based conferencing effectively counter that challenge.

There have been marked changes in consumer preferences. While IT purchasers still place strong emphasis on cost minimization, today, there exists a bigger need among end-users to seek solutions that unify different forms of communications and help solve specific business problems.

Enterprises require an interactive tool that can incorporate communications, computing and audio/videoconferencing. This would comprise technologies that allow people in remote locations to collaborate electronically via voice or face-to-face, and in real time, and share all types of information, including data, documents, sounds, and images.

Audio, video, and webconferencing have resulted in huge cost reductions in travel across geographical boundaries. These benefits come in various forms: allowing multipoint meetings across time zones and international borders; reduction in costs of travel and executive time; reduced communication costs; archiving, whereby conferences could be tapped for future reference; real-time sharing of files and presentations; improved effectiveness of meetings with enhanced fluency and focus; bringing together dispersed groups at short notice; savings on infrastructure costs by opening offices at remote locations, etc.

Conferencing solutions release the business potential via attractive economic benefits based on usage of converged resources. It brings about the organizational agility and the flexibility to work from remote locations as well, besides providing applications that increase productivity and efficiency. IP telephony sales are thus likely to grow from 7% in 2002 to 46% by the end of 2007.

There has been growing demand for managed/hosted solutions as well. The reasons being the need for reducing capital expenditure, optimizing internal operations and bringing down operating expenses, enabling rapid deployment of new applications and services, and leveraging on the specialized expertise of the vendors, channels, and service providers in managing complex networks.

Videoconferencing is a significant breakthrough in communications technology. It has been adopted globally and is being used in various fields and facets of life, as people are now aware of its innumerable tangible and intangible benefits. One of the many advantages of videoconferencing is the possibility to communicate at all levels, including making use of body language, which plays a significant role in effective communication.

Schools, Telemedicine, and More
Interestingly, schools and colleges have gradually started adopting videoconferencing techniques for interacting with other schools and universities across the globe to make learning a more exciting and an international experience. These techniques are also helpful in broadening the horizons of conventional education. With the advent of videoconferencing in education, it is now possible to promote higher education in smaller towns and rural areas, thus uplifting the socially and economically backward classes.

Telemedicine generally refers to the use of videoconferencing and information technologies for the delivery of clinical care. Telemedicine may be as simple as two health professionals discussing the case history of a patient or as complex as using videoconferencing to conduct real-time operations between medical specialists in two or more globally dispersed locations. Telemedicine can thereby avoid unnecessary travel and other associated costs.

Telemedicine also assists developing countries where the concentration of medical specialists and surgeons is restricted to big cities and metros, resulting in a dearth of healthcare services in smaller towns and rural districts. Videoconferencing plays a vital role in bridging this gap. Apart from this, videoconferencing aims to benefit the field of medicine in terms of lectures, discourses, meetings and other important events.

Other than in medicine, videoconferencing is gaining popularity in other areas and functions as well. A few examples include press conferences, movie or music releases, interviews, surveillance, security, emergency response, and court hearings. And, of course it is also becoming a popular mode of communication with family and friends in real time.


And SMEs Too
Its not just large corporates but even SMEs which are now looking at videoconferencing to save time, costs, and the hassles of traveling. Traveling costs would include commuting, accommodation, car rentals, meals, entertainment, etc. Other hidden costs that can be avoided include travel insurance premiums, hiring a temporary replacement or the overtime to cover for an absentee, as well as the costs towards debriefing meetings. Also, the risk of leaving behind important files and data is eliminated; the workflow is much smoother, and sharing of information is much quicker and comfortable from your own office.

According to industry watchers, the RoI for deploying videoconferencing is generally 6 to 12 months depending upon the type of videoconferencing equipment, the usage, and other factors such as the total number of days spent traveling in a month, etc. Wider the adoption, faster is the RoI. Videoconferencing is increasingly being used for interviews, product training, board meetings, consultation, and business meetings.

Today while distances are bridged faster than ever before, challenges of providing seamless learning experience across different geographical locations is being met through videoconferencing. It facilitates distance learning in a big way by making seamless interaction possible between end-users.

Its all IP Now
Conferencing systems traditionally comprise discrete PBX phone systems, audio and videoconferencing bridges, plus data collaboration and IM servers. Except data collaboration and IM, these systems are based mostly on the traditional circuit-switched telephone network with little or no integration between them.

Today, conferencing capabilities are at the threshold of a dramatic transformation, as all discrete forms of conferencing mediavoice, video, and dataare merging on IP infrastructure. The future is a single IP conferencing system that will provide all forms of conferencing, including voice, video and data.

Enterprises today are looking forward to leading edge technology that enables flexible conferences, common management suites, highly scalable solutions, secure VoIP features, and embedded multipoint options.

The world of communications is gradually but steadily transitioning to IP networks. As this happens, videoconferencing will converge with all these popular IP-based applications, such as instant messaging, streaming, and Web collaboration. The rise of IP for video not only enables more cost-effective room-based solutions but also the delivery of video communications to the enterprise desktop. Instant messaging, with the added value of presence detection, is another extremely popular consumer application and is now making serious inroads into the enterprise.

As this trend continues to produce converging conferencing technologies, business professionals will be able to adopt single conferencing platforms to use audio, video or Web-based solutions to communicate using means according to their needs. These systems will play a crucial role in enhancing productivity, swift analysis and decision-making, bringing products to the market, and gaining an edge over competitors. Enterprises need seamless and integrated networks and real-time information gathering and processing systems to maintain an edge. Superior connectivity with customers will also permit alteration of channels that favor enhanced customer retention.

As mentioned earlier IP telephony sales grew 46% in 2006. The telecommunications market is changing and this calls for scalable and interoperable solutions. The growing numbers of optimized packet platforms are replacing circuit-switched platforms. This is a clear indication that IP networks are a significant factor in the telephony carrier marketplace. IP for voice and visual communications enable service providers and telcos to offer a variety of features and services with rapid time-to-market and at significantly lower costs.


Users are Loving it
Apart from convenience and cost saving factors, the key technology drivers for Web-based conferencing are the last-mile connectivity and availability of dependable broadband bandwidth. The webconferencing market in India is said to be maturing, as broadband availability goes up and prices come down. It can be said that this market has reached the point of inflexion.

Today, users are demanding collaborative communications that are user friendly and relevant in their everyday lives. And that goes for certain domestic users as well. Accessing and sharing of information plays a vital role in corporate meetings, and collaboration enables an easy sharing of any type of information, thus instantly arming the participants with necessary knowledge and skills.

Collaboration has been happening online for a long time through email, Usenet, etc. But it is getting dramatically easier, more prevalent, and powerful. The software enabling collaboration is fast improving and at the same time Web users are getting to be more familiar in terms of using collaborative tools. While the telephone and email continue to be effective communications tools, e-collaboration technology reduces non-productive expenses, and accelerates work cycles. Web collaboration is proving its value in terms of productivity increase and cost reductions right across the enterprise. More and more enterprises are realizing how much e-collaboration is re-shaping the way work is done and the significant value it delivers.

Towards Unified Conferencing
Organizations are looking for a converged solution that provides effective voice and videoconferencing services. The answer lies in unified conferencing. The limitations of separate conferencing solutions come in the form of substantive differences in connectivity, features, and interfaces. Technical barriers must be overcome to be able to connect from anywhere, anytime to a unified, feature rich, highly productive meeting involving people located remotely. Flexibility to support voice, video or unified conference that is most appropriate for the customer application with a uniform set of features and interfaces is also important. A unified conference seamlessly connects a mix of voice and video endpoints on different networks to one conference, and on one platform that provides each conference participant with the same conference experience.

Unified conferencing supports ISDN video, IP video, PSTN voice, VoIP, and mixed voice/video conferences simultaneously on one platform, with the same set of conferencing features, one set of end-user interfaces, and one management application.

The webconferencing market is expected to grow significantly as it migrates from standalone conferencing to fully integrated suites of collaborative communications. While the adoption and usage of webconferencing is expected to gain momentum over the next several years, the integration of discrete communication applications into unified communication and collaboration products are likely to blur the lines between webconferencing and other technologies, such as audio and videoconferencing, instant messaging, unified messaging, on-line shared workspaces, and document management solutions.

Sufia Tippu


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