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Wainhouse summit to focus on collaboration technology, education space

Collaboration technology and the education industry's rise as a UC, conferencing and collaboration market will be hot topics at the 2010 Wainhouse Research Collaboration Summit.

Before the 10th annual Wainhouse Research Collaboration Summit, which will be held in Cambridge, Mass., at the Hyatt Regency on Tuesday, July 20, 2010, and Wednesday, July 21, 2010, sat down with Wainhouse Research Senior Partner Andrew W. Davis for a wide-ranging interview.

In part one, Davis discussed video conferencing technology and cloud computing from a unified communications (UC) perspective. Here, he talks about collaboration technology adoption, the advantages of hosting a small, highly targeted conference, and the rise of the educational industry as a major UC, conferencing and collaboration entity.

As far as collaboration technology has come and as much interest as there's been in deployment, it's been reported that some employees dread using business collaboration tools and that some enterprises wonder whether they're more trouble than they're worth. What developments have you seen in collaboration technology, or in the collaboration space in general, that might address some of those user experience issues?

Andrew W. Davis: I think one of the things we've seen in the last couple of years -- and I have to say, I guess I'd have to thank Cisco for this -- one of the things they did with their telepresence initiative is they showed the world how good the video conferencing experience can be. And the negative [side] on that is, it also showed the world how poorly deployed many systems are today.

Frankly, there are a lot of people who tried video conferencing five years ago and said, 'Well, this sucks, we'll never do it again.' And most of the time, that response was justified.

Andrew W. Davis
Senior Partner
Wainhouse Research

I'd say the vast majority of video conferencing systems that have been deployed over the past 10 years or so are set up in a poorly lit room, set up in the corner, the camera angle is bad, the reliability of the system is not good, and it's just a bad experience. [Cisco] showed people that it is possible to have a positive experience with video conferencing, but it also shined a light on that.

Frankly, there are a lot of people who tried video conferencing five years ago and said, "Well, this sucks, we'll never do it again." And most of the time, that response was justified -- they were faced with poor audio, poor video, dropped calls, etc. But today, with better applications, with stronger networks, with connections getting off of the PSTN and onto IP networks, and with equipment that can deliver HD video conferencing, there is a sense that video conferencing is coming back and that it can do what we always wanted it to do, i.e., deliver good audio, good video and a good experience.

You also have to factor that into the other side, what I would call the external drivers -- in a tough economy, people want to save money and reduce travel, they want to work with global partners and suppliers, and companies today are increasingly aware of how relying on travel can be problematic, like with this [Eyjafjallajökull] volcano incident back in April. You need to have a system in place and a deployment in place to get around these barriers.

It becomes an issue of business continuity planning -- how do I keep my business running if people can't come to work? Because there can be a volcano [eruption]. There can be a health crisis. There can be, and there are, a lot of different reasons that people need to think about new ways of working. Part of that includes many different kinds of Web conferencing -- many times people are looking at experiences that are richer than just standard Web conferencing, i.e., video-enabled communications.

For the last 10 years, you've hosted the summit as an all-enterprise event with a very specific focus on conferencing and collaboration. What kind of attendees does that focus tend to draw, and what kind of opportunities does that narrow tailoring afford for discussion?

Davis: If you think about conferencing and collaboration applications, there are several audiences involved. There are the vendors, who actually make the products; the channel partners, who take the stuff to market and into integration; and the end users, like the banks and pharmaceuticals and General Electrics of the world, who buy the stuff -- there'll be people [at the summit] from Verizon and [other companies] as well, because they're very concerned about this marketplace. ... When you mix it all together, everything falls into unified communications and audio, video and Web conferencing. And we decided a long time ago that the focus needed to be on the enterprise, rather than on, you know, the Logitech webcam and things like that. ...

It's a small conference and highly targeted, and the people who come are there because they're concerned about voice, video and Web conferencing, and about what goes on in the market. In the last year alone, Cisco's probably spent $5 billion in this marketplace -- obviously, they acquired Tandberg, and spent $3 billion on that. We've had Microsoft people attend in the past, talking about software-based solutions and how those would develop. Quite frankly, I had a conversation with someone today about mobile video conferencing, and whether or not that'll ever develop -- that's another market that people have been talking about for years, and it's been all talk and no action.

I think the area we're talking about here is clearly one of the top three or five issues of interest to IT executives today. Whether it's Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, or anyone else who surveys these people, it's very clear that collaboration stands alongside security, scalability and maybe cloud-based computing [as a major area of interest]. They want to know: What are the issues? What are the benefits? What are the risks? And what are the experiences of those who've deployed it? We'll have speakers from organizations like Reed Elsveier and GN Netcom, who have had to manage large collaboration and unified communications projects, and they'll be talking about their experiences.

The second day of the summit will feature multiple speakers focusing on the education vertical. What developments have you seen in the education field that made you feel it was important to include it in this year's presentations?

Davis: There are two things happening in education that are driving more and more systems toward either virtual delivery or electronic delivery of materials. One of which, of course, is the young people who are in school today are familiar with this technology -- certainly, they're not turned off by this technology, which allows universities, or even high schools or school systems, to leverage resources in ways that they couldn't before.

With remote classrooms, you can have a teacher, or an expert on some particular subject, teach more students and offer his services to a larger audience than would have been possible if that person had to travel to each individual class. A lot of universities have multiple campuses, and they have an expert who works out of Campus A, and [now] he's delivering lectures to students on the other side of the state. This kind of thing is much more popular in the Midwest and the West than it is in the East, where you've got a higher level of population density and thus less need for the services. You're talking about places like Oklahoma, Wyoming, Texas -- even upstate Maine has a more advanced program than you'd see in Massachusetts. You're able to deliver more services to more students, without more people and without more cost. Plus, video's very important in that environment -- people want to see the teacher, and if you raise your hand, the teacher wants to see you.

And I think [the second thing] we are seeing is more and more companies that are tailoring their solutions for the education market, whether it's an application or the hardware. The vendors understand that education is an important market, that it has specific needs, and we're seeing vendors committing themselves to address those needs, whether it's particular types of software, interactive whiteboards, video-enabled podiums or others.

Back to Part 1: Video conferencing technology and cloud computing talk on tap at Wainhouse summit

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