Where are we with conferencing and collaboration?

The conferencing and collaboration market remains a highly robust fast growing market. There is no revolution, just evolution, and a rising awareness of the various ways that people can collaborate without physically moving and meeting in person.

The core of this market remains the standard audio conference which has, and continues to be, the base line and most reliable solution.

Why is this? The reason is simple. Audio conferencing always works and is easily accessible via a fixed or mobile phone if we are on the move or, a sophisticated VoIP telephone. With the use of mobile phones overtaking fixed phones, mobiles will continue to be the dominant communication device.

When you add Internet delivered meeting slides and materials to an audio conference you have the ultimate universal communications tool.

So what of video? Hasn’t this taken over from audio? Well despite the mega $s being spent in market stimulation by the largest IT and networking vendors, video remains a niche. The development of High Definition and Telepresence has of course transformed the experience, when having high level meetings from purpose built rooms but, this is a small market.

The volume market is you and I on the run, trying to juggle 10 meetings a day between companies who are not all on the same network. The need to hold a video conference over different networks dramatically increases the chance of failure. The complexities of connecting across differing platforms, supporting various video conferencing standards results in a level of complexity that most people don’t have time for.

As someone who championed the video cause for more than 20 years I am well placed to appreciate the pitfalls and realities of the real world. The bottom line is that people want video to work every time with no tolerance of failure. They also often want to multitask during a meeting without being seen!

When video fails everyone goes back to audio and some people will never try video again.

Video can, of course, add value through the extra dimension and comfort of personal contact. But a simple small video image, easily and cost effectively delivered, as part of a Cisco WebEx session is quite sufficient for the majority of business meetings.

It is important to question the real value-add of video in most applications, and when it comes to mobility I think adding video is a technical solution looking for a problem to solve.

Of course my comments all relate to the world of business and in the consumer space the rise of webcams and Skype connections has seen explosive growth. This growth has been in a social context where the video becomes the social interaction. In the business world, it’s completely different because the goal is to communicate and collaborate around information, not chat idly.

In summary, conferencing and collaboration is certainly getting a major awareness boost from enhanced video conferencing technologies and the mega IT giants spending billions of $s trying to get us to use so much bandwidth that we need to upgrade our networks. But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, for most business meetings, we can get the job done without the often complex and expensive video.

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With over 25 years of experience in technology and telecommunications, Tim Duffy was one of the early pioneers in the conferencing and collaboration industry. Having spent 12 years at GEC developing new video compression and communications technologies, he joined PictureTel Corporation in 1991 as founder of its European operations. PictureTel rapidly became the dominant videoconferencing supplier worldwide with over $100m of European revenues. In 1999 he moved to PictureTel’s Boston headquarters to lead the worldwide product business, which was later sold to Polycom. On leaving PictureTel, after a brief spell in venture capital, Tim raised funds to establish MeetingZone in 2002. MeetingZone is dedicated to the provision of simple corporate class conferencing and collaboration services and has grown rapidly into a major player in the industry.

  • Skype is fantastic, for sure, but broadband connections just aren’t good enough yet for uninterrupted video delivery. I tried the other day to record a Skype video call and it was just too bad.

  • Aliasgar Babat

    Great article. The web conferencing software market is a rapidly growing one, with compound growth rates hitting double figures. Today we have people who have already experienced live web conferencing solutions from vendors who provide both hosted as well as on premise deployment of web conferencing appliances from RHUB.