What priorities do businesses and government agencies share in common? Head and shoulders above the rest, few would argue against higher productivity and lower costs.
Findings from Mobile Work Exchange show that videoconferencing can deliver massive potential improvements on both counts.
Mobile Work Exchange’s September 2012 research found that if half of all federal government workers used videoconferencing, they would achieve an average productivity increase of 3.5 hours per week, shave about $4.95 billion from annual travel costs, and in total save an estimated $8 billion a year. In the wake of these findings, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick and others are promoting a new bill highlighting videoconferencing as a way to reduce Federal Government travel spending by 50%. The title of the bill says it all: the Stay In Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013.
There’s no denying the obvious benefits –- less travel, lower costs, higher productivity rates — and they apply just as much to businesses as to government.
So why are organizations of all kinds not adopting videoconferencing en masse and why do analyst reports paint a gloomy picture of the traditional videoconferencing market? Infonetics Research described 2012 as a ‘rotten’ year for the industry and IDC’s report for the first quarter of this year illustrates a similar lack of growth.
The problem stems from a market that has for long been polarized and now, with a plethora of new offerings, is confused as well. Until recently, there were very few viable alternatives for the middle ground between high end, high cost, high maintenance boardroom installations and software-based systems like Skype or FaceTime. Now an avalanche of newer products with widely differing functions and formats are aiming to serve the beyond-the-boardroom videoconferencing needs of small conference rooms, cash-strapped government agencies and remote collaboration teams.
This new wave of videoconferencing comes not a minute too soon.
Even organizations with videoconferencing facilities already in place only have them in 5% of available meeting rooms – primarily because of the high cost of adding to a traditional system, or because more affordable systems did not work with what was already there. Person-to-person systems don’t serve the need of group meetings, as anyone who has crouched three to a chair behind a PC screen or held up a laptop to a whiteboard can attest. There is pent-up demand for videoconferencing from an estimated 20 million secondary conference rooms worldwide. So what’s keeping more organizations from getting connected?
Too many options is one reason. How to choose between cloud-based, virtualized, software-centric, browser-based or HDTV-based systems? The biggest problem lies in what people think they know, but actually don’t.
These are the six top misconceptions muddying the videoconferencing waters.
1. Videoconferencing equipment is very expensive
No longer true. Even on a small budget, you can hold out for high quality, business-class equipment that doesn’t require a resident Einstein to make it work. Standards-based, multi-point videoconferencing, content sharing and security is available at less than $1,000 per room via some of the newest, all-in-one systems that have been introduced in the last few months.
2. You need a specialized video infrastructure and that’s a major cost
Again, not true. New product options mean you can use a virtual cloud-based infrastructure instead of making a heavy investment in servers and other hardware. Some new offerings work both with existing, in-house infrastructures as well as the cloud.
3. Videoconferencing is complicated and needs dedicated IT support every time it’s used
Newer solutions are designed for the least technical of users. Lightest on IT support (and budgets) are the latest all-in-one, HDTV-based systems. Because they don’t need to be connected to a PC with separate speakers, microphone and camera, they are easier to use than your average cable TV remote.
4. New room systems must be the same brand as existing boardroom video systems
Not any more. Newer, standard based videoconferencing solutions work with most of the traditional videoconferencing vendors’ equipment and will connect multiple different systems – even mobile users – to sync up with whatever you (or your partners and clients) already have in the boardroom, without missing a beat.
5. We need to decide between cloud-based and on-premise options
See Item 2 above. Cloud-based and on-premise options are now available on the same appliance-based solutions. And you can mix and match these options in different conference rooms within the same organization.
6. With so much discussion about WebRTC, shouldn’t I wait for that to be commercially available?
If you’re willing to wait a while, go ahead. WebRTC is exciting, but it is still some time away from being a universal standard. When it matures, it will be incorporated into a number of upcoming offerings. For immediate videoconferencing needs, buy a system from a vendor that’s committed to a universal standard with WebRTC, SIP and emerging standards in their roadmap.
If more of us (Federal purchasing departments included) understood the truth concealed behind these myths, we might see videoconferencing begin to make some major contributions to US and global productivity and cost reduction.
Sreekanth Ravi is CEO and founder of Tely Labs, a pioneer in simple, secure and affordable video communication and collaboration systems.