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Video key to future of Web conferencing services

Millennials, mobile workers driving changes in organizations' attitudes and usage of Web conferencing services, study shows.

Video calling has become a must-have in Web conferencing services as the YouTube generation gains influence in the workplace and mobile workers seek a more personal touch in communicating with colleagues, a study found.

A decade-long survey on Web conferencing trends conducted by Wainhouse Research showed how video has become accepted in the workplace and a transformative technology in the use of the smartphone and tablet as devices for collaboration.

Video is becoming more pervasive in Web conferencing as organizations come to expect some kind of video capability in their platforms.

There are two drivers for increased video usage in Web conferencing services, according to Andrew Nilssen, senior analyst at Wainhouse. The first driver is a mobile workforce that wants to see the people they are working with. The second driver is millenials who are becoming a bigger part of the workforce. Millenials are more comfortable with video and sometimes demand it in the workplace.

"They need to see other people and gel as a team," Nilssen said during a webinar conducted this week on the report.

One third of the more than 800 companies surveyed said they used video in Web conferencing at least half of the time, said Alan Greenberg, senior analyst at Wainhouse. When users want to see their colleagues during a Web meeting, 44% turn to video in their Web conferencing service before using a standalone system or other service, the study found.

Use of video in Web conferencing has fluctuated since Wainhouse first started tracking it in 2005, reaching lows in 2007 and 2008. The dips were due to poor picture quality and services failing to live up to hype, said Andrew Nilssen, senior analyst at Wainhouse. As video technology has improved, its use in Web conferencing has steadily increased, along with the user base.

"Video has come to be expected with a lot of Web conferencing platforms," Greenberg said.

Web conferencing going mobile

As with video, mobile support for Web conferencing is a larger priority for companies that increasingly rely on remote workforces. The Wainhouse study found that 70% of employees had access to mobile devices enabled for collaboration, a jump from 42% in 2013.

Web conferencing vendors saw mobility early on and took the lead in building mobile clients, Greenberg said. As a result, the survey found mobile devices effective for Web conferencing.

"Tablets have really taken off for mobile Web conferencing," Nilssen said, with 51% of survey respondents saying Web conferencing on a tablet is very effective and 39% saying it is reasonably effective.

Mobile phones were not as popular among respondents, with 20% saying mobile phones were very effective and 44% saying reasonably effective. While people prefer larger screens for conferencing, they will opt for phones if they don't have access to a desktop or tablet, Nilssen said.

Mobile workers are a major driver for mobility in Web conferencing as more people work from home or from the road. The majority of organizations represented in the survey reported increasing the use of Web conferencing for internal communication among employees.

Cisco dominates, Microsoft struggles

Cisco's WebEx has consistently dominated as a Web conferencing platform. In the first quarter of 2004, users asked to name six Web conferencing vendors placed Cisco WebEx at the top, followed by Microsoft.

Today Cisco WebEx is still the top Web conferencing platform, but Microsoft has been overtaken by GoToMeeting. Microsoft's standing has fallen significantly because of brand confusion, Nilssen said.

"It's been very hard for Microsoft to make noise in the classic Web conferencing industry," Greenberg said.

Microsoft discontinued its original Web conferencing platform, Live Meeting, in 2011 and moved its customers to Office 365 and Lync. Microsoft is now focusing its efforts on rebranding Lync as Skype for Business.

"Each brand transition is painful from an awareness standpoint," Nilssen said.

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