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
Video conferencing technology has undergone a huge transformation in the last two years. The market has radically reinvented itself as cloud services empower enterprises to use this technology like never before.
Previously, the video conferencing market was dominated by a few large players supplying high-cost, highly complex services to large organizations primarily for internal communications. But the rapid development of cloud services has empowered millions of small and midsize businesses to use video conferencing technology to accelerate their growth while saving costs.
At this point, both on-premises and cloud deployments exist, but the momentum is most certainly behind cloud-based services.
The evolution of video conferencing
Traditionally, video conferencing technology was used in the conference rooms of very large businesses, such as financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies or government agencies. These video services were based on proprietary hardware in meeting rooms, known as codecs, coupled with proprietary high-cost infrastructure devices that manage services such as streaming and recording, multipoint call hosting, and the overall management of the environment.
Typical meeting rooms were designed specifically around video conferencing technology with bright lighting levels, acoustic panels, and special wall colorings and treatments. Control systems were often deployed to manage the rest of the room environment as well.
However, with the continuous march of Moore's Law, the technology now installed in meeting rooms, huddle rooms, individual offices and personal devices has changed dramatically. Devices such as PCs, Macs, and even smartphones and tablets can now produce high-quality images and clear sound. This evolution has caused an explosion in the growth of video conferencing technology and has empowered legions of new users for whom the technology was previously out of reach.
How video conferencing is sold
The dramatic growth in endpoints would be useless if similarly dramatic changes had not happened in the infrastructure technology.
Today, many vendors offer infrastructure in the cloud, allowing users to use the device of their choice for maximum flexibility. Some vendors provide software-based mobile and desktop services, coupled with the users' room-based solutions when necessary. Other vendors combine cloud infrastructure and software clients for mobile and desktop users, along with tightly integrated room-based services.
Vendors like Cisco provide a more traditional model, supplying all the technology that clients need to run the service on their existing networks.
Products like WebEx and GoToMeeting are traditionally defined as Web conferencing technologies rather than video conferencing. But both are quite popular, and the video conferencing capabilities of these tools are improving -- particularly for enterprises looking for data-centric and one-to-many types of communications tools.
Microsoft's Skype for Business, previously known as Lync, has been primarily considered an instant messenger, data collaboration and telephony solution, but it now carries a new emphasis on video capabilities.
Traditionally, with video conferencing technology, call quality and reliability were top priorities. Now technology is more widespread as several suppliers produce high-quality images, sound and overall reliable communications.
The possibilities and limitations of video conferencing
Historically, video conferencing was used by big companies to talk to their own offices, and most video conferencing was based in large meeting rooms. Today, the market has changed, with the vast majority of growth among huddle rooms, desktops and mobile users.
Increasingly, the technology is used as part of a supply chain of communications, and, as a result, flexible services are deemed more desirable than specialized, custom-designed software. Today, video conferencing must either dramatically improve an existing workflow by adding a visual element or enable a whole new way of working.
Video conferencing is not a panacea. It is not a replacement for all meetings, but it can reduce the number of smaller meetings and help move workflow forward by making communications easier.
Users should be wary of vendors touting cost savings in traveling expenses as a driver for video conferencing. In the history of the industry, there has never been a useful travel-cost reduction argument made for investing in video conferencing.
While video conferencing enables key decision makers to meet more regularly and immediately, the main drivers are increased productivity and communication, not lowered costs of employee travel. The opportunity cost of not having video is, although difficult to measure, much more powerful than any cost savings in travel.
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