A guide to choosing the best video conferencing tool for your business
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
The video conferencing market is flooded with possible providers and services. As a result, the vendors discussed in this series are just a sampling of the largest, well-established players. Of course, many other capable providers pervade the market.
Even among the largest players, the capabilities and business models are dramatically different. The video conferencing vendors discussed in this series are highly capable, have global experience and could put together a service for most use cases. However, some video conferencing vendors are stronger than others for certain workflows and organizations.
Enterprises need to determine which service would be most effective for their particular environment and use case.
Enterprises weigh on-premises vs. cloud options
The on-premises vs. cloud debate is one of the biggest decisions organizations need to make in their video conferencing buying process. Traditionally, the market has been almost exclusively on premises, but that's changing rapidly. In fact, only two of the video conferencing vendors in this series have significant on-premises capabilities: Cisco and Polycom.
Simply deciding to go on premises because that's what businesses did in the past may be a poor decision. However, the primary reasons to opt for on-premises systems include maximum security, internal communications over robust IP connections and government regulations. On-premises video conferencing does provide more control, but less flexibility.
Cisco and Polycom provide a range of offerings, and pricing is broadly similar. For many Cisco-oriented customers, the vendor's video conferencing products would be a sensible choice. For companies that like a diverse set of services, Polycom's range of products is extensive and high-quality.
Small businesses well-suited for cloud services
Small and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 100 employees are likely to have close relationships with their suppliers and clients. Usually, these businesses have multiple small offices or users scattered across the world. In addition, their IT departments are typically pretty small and don't have extensive video conferencing experience.
This type of business is an ideal candidate for a cloud-based service. With its low barrier to entry and ease of use on mobile and desktop clients, Zoom stands out in this environment as a strong player. Additionally, the web-conferencing capabilities can be a real advantage for smaller companies.
Huddle rooms anticipate significant growth
Midmarket companies -- organizations with 100 to 1,000 employees -- are likely to have more internal discussions, formal meeting rooms and a large number of huddle spaces. Huddle rooms are small meeting spaces, where two to five people meet to work together. The technology in these rooms is usually basic, with a monitor and perhaps a high-end Logitech camera for users to connect their laptops for group calls.
This space is the largest growth area for video conferencing and has been dominated by cloud providers.
Zoom works well here by enabling businesses to start small and scale up. However, Zoom does not make a meeting-room device. Instead, Zoom has Zoom Rooms, a specialized version of its cloud software designed to work with third-party PCs and peripherals for meeting rooms.
Both Lifesize and StarLeaf integrate their cloud video services with their room-based video conferencing hardware. When vendors offer both cloud and hardware, the high level of integration can be appealing, but the flexibility to work without the cloud is low. Businesses must be aware they may get locked into a service. But these cloud services also work with third-party endpoints and offer Skype for Business interoperability.
For companies looking at Microsoft unified communications, Skype for Business should be considered. The quality of video and audio is not as good as other offerings, but the tight integration with other Microsoft apps may be more important for customers who have messaging and document-sharing needs.
Large businesses look to bridge on-premises and cloud gap
The biggest businesses have traditionally communicated internally. As a result, this group of businesses would likely consider on-premises services. Formal video conferencing and even telepresence rooms are often required by this community of users.
Cisco and Polycom are often considered the strongest suppliers in this space. They have experience, global reach and the most capable range of room-based products. These services provide the highest-quality experience, but lack flexibility.
In the past, a loss of flexibility had been a compromise many organizations accepted. Today, however, many companies find themselves in an environment where a mixed service is evolving with on-premises and cloud-based products.
Many on-premises companies struggle to open their environment to outside parties, such as suppliers and customers. As a result, Blue Jeans Network has flourished by providing outside connectivity to existing Cisco and Polycom clients. Blue Jeans' services are best suited for mixed environments in which companies may use on-premises technology for internal communications, but also connect to others outside their environment.
WebEx and GoToMeeting are used extensively throughout the biggest businesses. However, they're not considered true video conferencing services, since they're used primarily for data conferencing. These tools are often used simultaneously with high-end room services, which may lack comparable data-conferencing capabilities.
Skype for Business is the biggest agent of change among large corporations, with Microsoft pushing aggressively into this space. Microsoft provides instant messaging and data and document sharing. But it does not have high-end room services, and the video quality is suboptimal for room-based products. Microsoft is likely to launch new products and services regularly in this market.
Have an open mind and be flexible
Determining the best video conferencing product for your organization is highly dependent on the results you're seeking. Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting might be a good option for a business unit within a larger organization. Polycom, an enterprise provider, might be good for an SMB, if the primary use case is to communicate with a larger client who has already invested in the technology.
All the services discussed here can solve a specific business problem. Simply put, it just depends on the criteria the users find most compelling. With such a rapidly changing market, an open mind and flexible approach is the best advice.
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