By Karen D. Schwartz
A technology that—at least on the surface—looks like an expensive undertaking best left for larger companies actually can be a money saver.
Videoconferencing, which brings together video and audio communication between multiple participants in disparate locations, traditionally has been seen as an expensive, high-end solution best suited to large companies with global offices and fat bankrolls. And while those enterprises still are enthusiastic users of videoconferencing, the variety of solutions today, along with a realization that travel takes a significant toll on companies of all sizes, has caused many smaller companies to reconsider.
“The value of videoconferencing is much more than cost savings, but for small and mid-sized companies, that’s usually what they look at first,” said Rebecca Swensen, a research analyst at IDC of Framingham, Mass. “Especially today, with the cost of travel skyrocketing.”
Although cost tends to be the primary driver for small and mid-sized companies, increased productivity is a strong second, said Rick Snyder, president of the Americas at New York-based Tandberg, which offers a range of videoconferencing solutions from simple desktop models to high-end room-based systems.
“They find that it accelerates decision-making,” he said. Even in mid-sized company, the ability to get three executives in different cities to look each other in the eye is valuable.”
Videoconferencing also helps companies disseminate information more quickly and effectively to sales teams, channel partners, and internal divisions. It also can help unify dispersed work teams, including those working from home.
For the vast majority of smaller companies, high-end telepresence solutions from companies like Cisco, Tandberg and Polycom are much too expensive, but there are many lower-cost solutions and approaches that fit the bill.
The best way to figure out what type of videoconferencing set-up to consider is by first determining how your employees typically conduct meetings, what technologies (IM, email, etc.) are used for communication, how much travel your employees do—both to customer sites and to other company sites—and the capabilities of your network.
Armed with that information, it’s time to consider the most cost-effective options that fit your company’s style.
On the low end, there are actually a few free tools, but these are best used for very small companies or companies with limited videoconferencing needs. Skype, for example, offers free online videoconferencing. All that’s needed is Skype software running in a Windows environment, a webcam, a dual core processor PC and a fast broadband connection. Also free is ooVoo, which allows users to talk face-to-face with up to six people, as is SightSpeed’s basic offering. The drawback of these systems is that they are proprietary; an ooVoo system can only talk to another ooVoo system, for example. Encryption also tends to be weak or nonexistent.
These options, while very useful for small companies, don’t scale well. The next level includes products like Microsoft Live Meeting, Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional, which although are more suited to basic collaboration, also offer videoconferencing capabilities.
Also part of that group is SightSpeed’s Pro service, which offers video-mail recording, multiparty videoconferencing, and the ability for non-SightSpeed members to participate in audio or videoconferences via a browser.
Up another level are products like Radvision Scopia Desktop, software-based solutions installed on a PC but requiring a multipoint control unit, and hardware-based offerings like Tandberg 1700 MXP, a 20 inch HDTV combined with a hardware-based codec that sits on the desktop. Most of the products at this level are capable of talking to other standards-based systems. The Tandberg system, for example, can talk to systems from Polycom, Sony and LifeSize Communications.
Each of these systems has its own way of reaching the goal, but are a step up from the webcam approach and scale much higher.
SightSpeed’s professional edition offers a host of features including unlimited video calling, multi-party videoconferencing, video mail, unlimited video mail storage, no long-distance fees and detailed call history. For comparison, Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional has “always-on” personal meeting rooms, options for archiving and editing online meetings, works with IM clients and has compliance and usage reporting tools. And Radvision’s Scopia Desktop uses a free browser plug-in to allow anyone at any location to participate in a videoconference. It allows data shared from a room system to be viewed on all other rooms and on desktops, while data shared from a desktop can be viewed on all other desktops and in conference rooms.
Cost also runs the gamut. Microsoft Live Meeting’s professional edition costs about $16 per user per month for a five-user license, while Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional’s hosted offering costs from $400 to $500 per user annually, but often requires the purchase of additional software. SightSpeed Pro costs $1,500 for a 10-user pack and $7,000 for a 50-user pack, while Tandberg has a 150-user system for about $3,000 and other viable systems for less than $10,000.
“The technology has definitely become more affordable and practical for smaller companies,” Snyder said. It doesn’t take a lot of trips to justify the expense, and the technology tends to pay for itself in six to nine months.”
“It’s definitely getting more popular with smaller companies,” Swenson said. “They are finding that solutions like this can really help companies built more intimate relationships with potential clients, not to mention making internal meetings more productive.”
Courtesy on: midmarket.eweek.com