IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Collaboration: Gateway to the Success

You couldn’t miss the Vu TelePresence booth at the Channel Partners Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. It practically blocked the entrance to the exhibit hall. And, being a telepresense vendor, it has the standard 50-inch flat panel running a live, high-def feed with a couple of India-based engineers.

In fact, the interface and equipment weren’t so unfamiliar from similar offerings by larger vendors. The exception: price. The Vu Telepresence solution costs about as much as a conventional subscription to Citrix GoToMeeting or Cisco Webex, placing it well within reach of small and mid-sized businesses that need an affordable collaboration tool.

Four years ago, Cisco made a big splash with its telepresense solution that literally can simulate a conference room experience across great geographic distances. Its surround-sound audio system, high-definition cameras, triple-display video and perfectly aligned desks gave users the sense that they were in the room with their counterparts across the country and around the world. The one problem with the Cisco system: a six-figure starting price.

Cisco reportedly is looking to leverage its Tandberg acquisition to bring low-cost telepresence to the SMB marketplace (or to frugal enterprises). Other vendors, including Avaya, Hewlett-Packard and Polycom, are pushing similar initiatives of high-end telepresence or low-cost desktop video conferencing.

The truly frugal users aren’t waiting for the vendor’s telepresence and video conferencing prices to come down. Many people are exploiting the free or low-cost video chat features of Skype, ooVoo, Microsoft Messenger and other instant messaging applications. The pervasive use of these alternatives -- mostly consumer platforms -- prompted Skype to launch a channel program, through which it’s working with solution providers to integrate with unified communications offerings and penetrate business accounts.

Video conferencing and telepresense isn’t a big market today, comparatively speaking. U.S. companies will spend just $368 million on video conferencing solutions in 2010 – a modest 3.7 percent increase over 2009. However, analysts at Frost & Sullivan say market will continue climb at a compound annual growth rate (CARG) of nearly 17 percent over the next five years and will become a near $1 billion market by 2016.

Little wonder that video conferencing, telepresence or whatever we call it is taking off. Just look at the Cisco TV commercials featuring Inception and Juno star Ellen Page about distance learning and remote health care. These spots demonstrate more than just the ability to see the people you’re chatting with; they show how you can make personal connections and have better relations with two or more senses (sight, sound and – in some cases – touch). There’s even talk of developing 3D video conferencing capabilities.

But this isn’t about video as much as it’s about collaboration, and more so collaboration on a global scale. We’ve been talking about outsourcing, offshoring and globalization for more than a decade. More than just the Fortune 500 now are working outside their geographic home bases; small and mid-sized businesses routinely are working with overseas offices, design centers, distribution partners and resellers in disparate foreign markets. Working with these overseas possessions and relations is extremely difficult and expensive even in the age of the satellites and the Internet. There are simply some things that can’t be done over the phone or through email, mandating travel which carries an exorbitant cost in terms of monetary expense, time and lost productivity. Businesses of all sizes are looking for tools that will provide them with greater levels of remote collaboration – and video is just a part of it.

Collaboration on a global scale requires standards, connectivity, interoperability and expense control. Unified communications, telephony and carrier vendors around the world are working to reconcile the differences in software, bandwidth and network standards that will make collaboration easier and more effective. The improvements they will bring to market in the coming years will enhance the existing offerings.

Inhibiting the adoption of collaboration is the old barrier known as “good enough, considering…” In a tight economy, businesses are looking to hold on to every penny possible. They would rather pay for travel and a week’s stay in Guangzhou than go through the expensive upgrade and migration of a fully enabled unified communications platform when their existing – albeit obsolete – PSTN telephony system is working just fine. And that’s why the adoption rate for telepresence and video conferencing pales in comparison to that of many cloud, virtualization and data center technologies.

Communications and collaboration vendors and solution providers need to demonstrate the value enterprises and SMBs will reap from video. They need to show the cost savings and the business enablement benefits of being able to see and hear their partners and customers around the world.

Comedian Steven Wright once said “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” It’s incumbent upon solution providers to show how telepresence and video collaboration will shrink the world where you don’t need to paint it.

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About the Author

With more than 2,000 members, 3,000 academic and training partners and tens of thousands of registered users spanning the entire information communications and technology (ICT) industry, CompTIA has become a leading voice for the technology ecosystem.

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