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Prepackaged vs. DIY: Which video conferencing system is best?

Weighing the pros and cons of a vendor's prepackaged video conferencing system versus a multivendor system will help determine which is the best fit for your business.

The right video conferencing system can improve workflows and offer additional context to employee interactions -- and there is no shortage of vendors looking to provide video conferencing technology. Purchasing the right video conferencing equipment can be tricky. IT buyers will need to choose between purchasing an all-encompassing video conferencing system or creating a customized system from multiple vendors.

Both video conferencing types offer benefits, but the trick is to identify which benefits are most advantageous to the organization. IT buyers should consider several factors, such as cost, customizability and available support.

What's the best choice for your budget?

The cost considerations when evaluating video conferencing options should include the kind of room the system is for, how many of each system the organization needs and whether subscriptions or recurring costs are associated with the system. These factors will help give a rough estimate of how much the organization will need to spend on a given video conferencing system.

In most cases, purchasing an all-encompassing system is more cost-effective in the long run than a custom-built system. As the system is bundled together, organizations can avoid unexpected costs, such as upgrades and updates, or additional service subscription charges.

Bundled video conferencing packages are also preferable for organizations that need to outfit a large amount of rooms with video conferencing systems. Some vendors may provide discounts or pricing deals for organizations looking to purchase a large number of systems, according to David Maldow, founder of market research firm Let's Do Video in Davie, Fla.

The costs associated with customized systems are a bit more complicated to navigate. The equipment and services IT buyers end up choosing will dictate how expensive the overall customized system will be. Because hardware costs can vary greatly from vendor to vendor, IT decision-makers will need to choose between expensive, high-end equipment that has the latest technology and features or equipment that's less expensive, but may not provide the best video conferencing experience.

In addition to hardware costs for a customized system, IT leaders will need to evaluate which software will work with their chosen hardware and what the long-term associated costs will be. Organizations may discover hidden expenses if any part of the system needs to be updated to continue functioning as time goes on.

How much customization is available?

Video conferencing systems are more customizable than ever, according to Maldow. Many vendors have moved to make their stand-alone products universally compatible, opening up a new opportunity to customize video conferencing to fit the needs of an organization, he said. Universally compatible hardware and software is changing how organizations evaluate and buy video conferencing equipment.

"It hasn't just changed purchasing decisions; it created the ability to even consider other options," Maldow said. "There were no purchasing decisions when it came to software. The only real purchasing decision was about the hardware. Software was just an included element of your hardware. Today, purchasers can actually choose based on software, and the hardware purchasing decision can come afterward."

Today, purchasers can actually choose based on software, and the hardware purchasing decision can come afterward.
David MaldowFounder, Let's Do Video

Building a customized video conferencing system is a great option for organizations that require specific tools and features to optimize workflow. IT leaders can assess which software will best fit the needs of the business and choose hardware that works for the kind of room in which the system resides.

Vendors offer some level of customizability through prepackaged systems, as well. The emergence of universally compatible systems has led to software and hardware vendors partnering to offer packages with elements from both vendors. These partnerships are creating more variety and choice of features for organizations, according to Maldow.

"Some hardware and software vendor partnerships are going beyond certifying that their offerings work together and are bundling them up as a kit," Maldow said. "These bundles offer the value of typical hardware and software kits, but can provide a next-generation workflow."

Even with these partnerships, the amount of customization that most vendor-made packages provide is limited. In most cases, IT decision-makers will simply choose which package most closely fits the needs of the business, even if it means sacrificing on a few features.

What support does the system have?

Choosing a video conferencing option needs to account for the life of the system. Knowing what kind of vendor support to expect is key to a high-quality, consistent video conferencing experience. In most cases, a prepackaged video conferencing system will carry the full support of the vendor. Updates and upgrades are provided by the vendor and may even be automatically applied. Troubleshooting issues with a prepackaged option can ease the burden for IT through vendor-provided support centers.

A customized video conferencing system from multiple vendors will have a more complicated support structure. In some cases, each individual part of the system will have a different support network. If the software vendor is different from the camera vendor, it may be difficult to diagnose where issues are coming from if something goes wrong. Juggling multiple vendor support networks takes time, which can be detrimental to IT and employee workflows.

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