Web conferencing refers to a real-time PC-based communications service that broadcasts a publisher's presentation...
or application over IP to a receiving audience.
In considering potential web conferencing services there are many features and trade offs that balance competitive price with functionality and functionality with need. Since the web conferencing architecture doesn't require more than a web browser to participate nor more than a credit card to have an account, it is often difficult to assure enterprise control and enforcement of a strategic service relationship.
Nevertheless, there are real business needs and important features required for certain applications of web conferencing. This article reviews the features required and recommended for prospect education events, product demonstrations and web collaboration applications of web conferencing:
- Prospect education events involve some guest presenter with useful PowerPoint content and one or more other sponsor presenters. Registration, polling and instant messaging services are important requirements.
- Product demonstrations involve screen sharing best implemented in a one-on-one implementation. Users appreciate the ability to pass control of their desktop to remote participants.
- Web collaboration has similar feature requirements to the product demonstration application since users prefer to share visuals and control of the mouse/keyboard.
|email list management personal link to assure limited access||Tracking who emails were sent to, when they were sent, how the invitee responded (or not) are required for events, but doesn't necessarily need to be an integral element of the web conferencing service.|
|.csv upload||This technique creates a unique url for each invitation, so that forwards and the like are well understood. This is a proven method for uploading lists of users into server or hosted applications. As in email list management, this feature doesn't necessarily need to be an integral element of the web conferencing service.|
|email reminder program||Processes and services for managing the email reminder system.|
|email reminder sensitive||Should provide options for the frequency of reminder - every day beforehand, four hours, one hour, 10 minutes - to give publisher and sometimes the registrant control of this process.|
|registration contact database||Easily export the list and answers of those who had registered.|
|registration confirmation email||Registrants provide an email address to which the final meeting details are emailed. This assures high quality email addresses and reduces bogus registrants.|
|integration with CRM services such as salesforce.com||Since the event is often a sales potential qualification step, integration with popular CRM services is useful for rapid follow-up by sales professionals.|
|CAN-SPAM compliant processes for opting-out||Wherever possible, respondents ought to be able to opt-out of further communications - even with reminder emails.|
|Integration with enterprise IM||Reducing the barriers to web conferencing with IM contacts through a 'Click-to-web conference' option in IM will accelerate the service's use in the organization. This makes it easier than the alternative of sending email enclosures.|
|Integration with calendaring||Automatically creating calendar entries and integrating web conferencing into meeting options when scheduling are important elements of reminders and reducing barriers to adoption in collaborations. Given the high resource requirement for product demonstrations (1-on-1) calendar entries help assure effective participation and conflict avoidance.|
|Support for Windows, Apple and Linux browsers||Despite the dominance of one browser and operating system, there are market segments where both publisher and recipient support is required.|
|Long distance telephone number for audio conferencing||Registrants have both a phone and Internet-attached computer. Since some participants may not have earphones, it is recommended to use an audio conferencing bridge service.|
|Toll free telephone number for audio conferencing||Toll free is losing its advantages given the very low cost of long distance and that the service does not work for international callers. A US toll-free works for Canada and USA, but not Europeans or Mexicans.|
|VoIP conferencing||Increasingly, integrating voice and web conferencing is appropriate in one-to-many conferences where the chat service can be used to capture participant questions instead of running the question period over the phone.|
|Participant list||Chat (aka IM) are the early warning signs of technical problems. When a speaker is talking about chart 5 but only chart 2 is shown, the chat windows light up. The chat system is also useful in conducting the question and answer period at the end of the presentation.|
|Instant Messaging||Reducing the barriers to web conferencing with IM contacts through a 'Click-to-web conference' option in IM will accelerate the service's use in the organization. This makes it easier than the alternative of sending email enclosures.|
|Polling||It is very useful to conduct polls and invite participants to make decisions. Polls not only engage the participant more fully in the event, but also allow their thoughts to be integrated into the content.|
|Screen sharing||The ability to engage other applications is often more useful to meeting the goals of the event, demonstration or collaboration than simply showing PowerPoint.|
|PowerPoint sharing||Microsoft PowerPoint is a special case in web conferencing. Some services support a content processing stage, which pre-renders the materials for broadcast. This accelerates slide transitions and enables convenient re-broadcast of the same content. This may also preload the visuals into the recipient client reducing the delay during actual event.|
|PowerPoint transitions and animations||This optional feature powers the more advanced PowerPoint features such as animation, slide transitions, multiple templates in the same presentation and other visual effects.|
|Can skip or jump back to charts||Questions that a user asks can sometimes be answered by a previous chart. Being able to move forward or backwards in the presentation quickly is the goal.|
|Customer satisfaction survey||Being able to collect feedback from participants on behalf of the publisher is a useful initiative in strengthening the publisher brand and in improving the process of event management.|
|Thank you email||Thanking not only the participants, but all involved.|
|Posting content for on-demand||Generally, only 50% of registrants attend the live event. Offering content for post-event, on-demand viewing to those who had registered is very useful in meeting the event goals on the participant's terms.|
|Monthly usage reports||Marketing executives, sales engineering executives and IT professionals will appreciate being able to assess the adoption of the service and the overall user experience.|
|Best practices training sessions||Administrators and publishers need constant help with improving their use of technology. The better vendors offer periodic best practices sessions to improve the clients' skills in web conferencing.|
|Multiple accounts supported||Strengthening an enterprise-wide decision will require corporate branding of the process and the site. Frequent users of the service from multiple departments and divisions will appreciate their own segmented space. Policies for operations are best enforced at this level.|
|ADVANCED SERVICE OPTIONS|
|Desktop video conferencing service||Presentations of the past were more about the presenter and less about the charts. In a web conference, the real-time visual of the presenter further engages the audience in a more meaningful presentation. This option integrates desktop video conferencing applications into the web conferencing media stream.|
|Room video conferencing supported||Similarly to the desktop video integration, this feature integrates high definition room-based conferencing systems into the experience.|
Depending on the application of the web conferencing service, there are different needs as shown in the table below. Features are rated at four levels: not required (blank), Could Have (yellow), Must Have but not necessarily in this application (yellow) and Must Have (green).
|Feature||Education events||Product demonstration|
|email list management||MUST HAVE, but not necessarily here|
|personal link to assure limited access||COULD HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|.csv upload||MUST HAVE, but not necessarily here|
|email reminder program||MUST HAVE|
|email reminder sensitive||MUST HAVE|
|registration contact database||MUST HAVE|
|registration confirmation email||MUST HAVE|
|integration with CRM - salesforce.com||COULD HAVE|
|CAN-SPAM compliant processes for opting-out||MUST HAVE|
|Integration with enterprise IM||MUST HAVE|
|Integration with calendaring||COULD HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Support for Windows, Apple and Linux browsers||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Long distance telephone number for audio conferencing||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Toll free telephone number for audio conferencing||MUST HAVE||COULD HAVE|
|VoIP conferencing||MUST HAVE||COULD HAVE|
|Participant list||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Instant Messaging||MUST HAVE|
|Screen sharing||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|PowerPoint sharing||MUST HAVE||COULD HAVE||COULD HAVE|
|PowerPoint transitions and animations||COULD HAVE|
|Can skip or jump back to charts||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Customer satisfaction survey||MUST HAVE|
|Thank you email||MUST HAVE|
|Posting content for on-demand||COULD HAVE|
|Monthly usage reports||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Best practices training sessions||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|Multiple accounts supported||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE||MUST HAVE|
|ADVANCED SERVICE OPTIONS|
|Desktop video conferencing service||COULD HAVE||COULD HAVE||COULD HAVE|
|Room video conferencing supported||COULD HAVE||COULD HAVE||COULD HAVE|
There are two other factors that ought to be considered in any effective enterprise-wide decision process. Firstly, consider rating of customer support – how responsive is the customer support organization to technical difficulties? How often do they occur? How do subscribers get compensated for poor experiences (if at all)? Secondly, service stability & reliability – Unless the company publishes statistics on their system stability and reliability the only way to get a sense of this dimension of the service is to reach out to current customers. Asking them the frequency of problems and how the vendor responded is appropriate to getting a sense of how your organization will be treated.
Web conferencing services are a rapidly growing complement to the enterprise communications service infrastructure. Research by Brockmann & Company shows that the frequency and length of web conferences are expected to increase by 63% and 43%, respectively among users of the service today. This makes web conferencing one of the fastest growing collaboration capabilities of unified communications systems available today.