A Full House

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Posted: 2/2004

A Full House
Upping the Ante with Integrated Conferencing
By Cara Polinski

Conferencing integration certainly is causing a buzz in the industry. Enterprises that subscribed to separate voice, video or data services now are seeking cost-effective, noninvasive ways to have it all.

Consulting and market research firm The Radicati Group Inc. says Web conferencing solutions have evolved significantly in the past couple of years into real-time collaboration tools integrating all areas of conferencing including voice, video, data and text chat. As the Web conferencing industry mushrooms from $544 million in 2003 to $2.2 billion by 2007, as estimated by The Radicati Group, vendors are partnering to offer converged solutions.

Polycom Inc., provider of video and voice conferencing, conference bridges and integrated Web collaboration solutions, announced in November plans to acquire privately held Voyant Technologies Inc. Voyant says the acquisition, which was scheduled to be finalized in January, was a consolidation aiming to complement its Web conference-enabling voice equipment. Also last fall, Cisco Systems Inc. announced its intent to acquire publicly held Latitude Communications Inc. and its enterprise conferencing products such as the MeetingPlace audio and Web conferencing solution. The acquisition adds rich-media conferencing to Ciscos Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) product portfolio, sold by Ciscos partners and resellers. Similarly, Spectel Inc. a global provider of voice-data conferencing systems, acquired the assets of MultiLink Inc. from PictureTel Corp. (owned by Polycom) in an effort to secure a more converged conferencing offering.

Agents and resellers can benefit from the convergence trend through countless channel opportunities. Integrated conferencing solution provider Raindance Communications Inc., for example, announced in December the release of Raindance Beta, its next-generation Web-based conferencing solution, formerly code-named K2. The platform, to be sold through agents and resellers, is scheduled to surface in the first quarter of 2004. The companys SwitchTower multimedia network allows each remote participant to contribute equally to conferences through an easy integration with Microsoft Offices Outlook.

Centra Software Inc. offers real-time collaboration tools through resellers like managed conferencing provider International Video Conferencing Inc. (IVCi). IVCi recently partnered with Centra to offer Centras solutions as a managed ASP service, a hosted service or as a managed premise service. The end result of using IVCis and Centras Web conferencing solutions is that it enables business users to share knowledge and acquire the skills they need to reach their business goals faster, and increase productivity while reducing costs across the enterprise, says Adam Zeitsiff, CEO for IVCi. Not just a Web tool, our Web conferencing solutions are designed to improve the process for managing your meetings, training and Webinar events.

In October 2003, ClearOne Communications Inc. launched a new brand and Web site for Web conferencing services under the name, Lets Conference.

The product line supports a variety of conferencing needs, from the most basic audio conference to the most advanced Web- or video conference. The Lets Conference Web site includes a streamlined Web interface called the Conference Center, from which users can easily start or join any reservationless audio or Web conference, open an account, make a reservation or contact a sales person. ClearOne says it will continue to expand agent and reseller opportunities with the Lets Conference product suite in 2004.

Forgent Networks Inc. provides software that enables enterprises to integrate Web conferencing into their existing meeting processes. Forgents ALLIANCE software allows Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes users to schedule and automate a Web conference. Forgents director of business development, Ben Algaze, says the company plans to build out its channel marketing efforts and forge more relationships for the resale of such collaborative solutions.

Also focusing on channel efforts is Genesys Conferencing, offering its Genesys Meeting Center multimedia conferencing service via resellers and agents. Genesys offers partners uninterrupted customer service, marketing support and sales tools via a wholesale Intranet site, and also provides a private label option.

Finally, Arel Communications and Software LTD has introduced its Integrated Conferencing Platform (ICP), which brings together Web and data conferencing, video conferencing, chat, application sharing, content distribution delivery, Web services and streaming video, and delivers them all directly to a PC, laptop or PDA. While Arel says direct sales have been most successful in reaching its target audience of larger enterprises, approximately 80 percent of its sales are fulfilled through systems integrators.

The emergent market of integrated Web conferencing, while provoking the solidification of several strategic partnerships, continues to face issues of interoperability, ease of use, ubiquity and security. Philippe Szwarc, CEO of Arel notes another issue is adaptability, and providers cannot ask companies to throw away the millions, or hundreds of millions, of dollars they have put into traditional conferencing and completely start over to gain Web conferencing ability. Thus, service providers and OEMs, along with channel partners, search for integrated conferencing solutions in an effort to deal a full deck.

Call or Fold
CONFERENCING EXECUTIVES SHARE TIPS ON WEB CONFERENCING TRENDS AND INNOVATIONS

Its clear the Web conferencing usage and revenue market trends are on the rise. Overall, prices steady from 14 cents to 35 cents per minute and there are a variety of per port pricing options. Web conferencing is likely to continue to provide a healthy revenue stream where audio conferencing is quickly becoming a commodity for vendors and resellers. Overall, audio and Web conferencing vendors are everywhere on the Web, from large telecoms to small one-man operations. With a variety of providers to choose from, resellers and technology service providers have the opportunity to differentiate on personal service and user experience for gaining lasting traction in the market.

Amanda Bodak, Product Manager, Conferencing Services, ClearOne Communications Inc.

Forgents enterprise customers are reporting that 2004 is the year they are standardizing their Web conferencing services. While these services have previously been purchased, deployed and supported primarily at a workgroup level, enterprises are seeking cost and operational efficiencies by standardizing on one to two services corporate-wide.

John Stockton, Director of Product Marketing and Management, Forgent Networks Inc.

There are two types of trends happening right now: the push to introduce more robust interactivity and the push to define new applications. One follows the other because as the technology matures and introduces features and elements that are practical in certain sectors, a new market is subsequently formed. Such is the case with recent polling, tracking and surveying features, which can be seen in the more advanced products from IVCi. These new elements are attracting the marketing and advertising sector, which can perform a much more value added service for their clients. Of course, the solutions would be equally beneficial to those with internal marketing communications services as well. Hence, a technology that was once only marketed to busy business professionals as a way to have more efficient and productive meetings is now being marketed to the hundred-plus billion dollar marketing and advertising sector. This process of continuously updating the product and blazing into new vertical terrain will not only assure significant improvements to the technology, but it will also make it more relevant.

Harold German, Director of Marketing, IVCi

The productivity benefits of empowering enterprise users to work and meet online have been demonstrated in organizations all over the world, and corporate IT executives now consider Web conferencing and collaboration to be an integral component of a companys overall IT strategy. The best Web communication solution for online enterprise employees will be one architected from the ground up to provide truly integrated media streams of real-time voice, video and data on converged IP networks, and not one of the current generation of single-media solutions that have been retrofitted with rich-media capabilities. In addition to providing seamless interoperability with existing IT network infrastructures, a truly integrated Web communication platform will easily interface at the application level with critical databases, Web services, knowledge-and content- management systems, as well as provide universal conferencing capabilities for mobile workers needing to collaborate from anywhere through desktop, laptop or even wireless devices via Internet, Intranet or PSTN connections.

Philippe Szwarc, CEO, Arel Communications and Software LTD

Voice bridges are expensive when 99 percent of the audience is sitting there on mute listening in. Streaming allows the IP network to deliver the voice synchronized with the Web conference out to the audience efficiently. It also allows recording for later synchronized playback of the conference for people who couldnt attend originally.

Gregory Casale, President and CEO, STARBAK Communi-cations Inc.

Integration will continue to be a major trend in 2004. Increased bandwidth availability and improved hardware has allowed conferencing vendors to push forward, integrating all the business communication tools that are used within an organization. Phones are now recognized and managed through an online interface, video conferences are launched with the click of a button and a $25 Web camera, and the sharing of any software application between participants is as easy as a click of a button. As the year progresses, Web conferencing vendors will continue to integrate peoples work habits with more intuitive products and services, such as groupware applications like Outlook or specialized SFA, CRM or ERP software applications. All these efforts, in addition to simplified interfaces, will drive adoption at the organizational level.

Deployment flexibility will be another trend in 2004, as customers demand the ability to manage their own content and how it is accessed through Web conferencing, and IT departments take greater interest in controlling the deployment of Web conferencing solutions. To address these needs, Web conferencing vendors will need to remain flexible, offering both ASP and on-premise solutions, while staying focused on performance, security and directory integration.

Scott Chalfant, Senior Product Manager, Raindance Communications Inc.

Voyants service provider customers are delivering simple interfaces that allow end users to control all aspects of the meeting, including the audio call.!Our flexible APIs allow them to integrate audio with the Web application and to differentiate. The best solutions recognize that adoption of these tools is all about ease of use. Meeting participants need a converged experience that allows them to focus on communicating rather than on the various technologies (audio, Web, video) behind the scenes that enable that experience.

Warren Baxley, Vice President of Product Management, Voyant Technologies

The primary trend we see is continued growth. While some business travel will always be necessary, we are seeing a shift in work habits where people are using collaboration tools with greater frequency in order to work with their colleagues. This means that a significant amount of travel for collaborative meetings is being replaced by Web collaboration. So, while people will travel for ?face time,? they will also increasingly stay at their desks for collaborative meetings. The long-term implication is that demand for integrated multimedia conferencing will continue to grow, not because it replaces travel, but because it enhances communication and productivity.

Tony Terranova, Vice President of Product Marketing and Sales Training, Genesys Conferencing

Links
Arel Communications and Software Limited www.arel.net
Centra Software Inc. www.centra.com
Cisco Systems Inc. www.cisco.com
ClearOne Communications Inc. www.clearone.com
Forgent Networks Inc. www.forgent.com
Genesys Conferencing www.genesys.com
International Video Conferencing Inc. www.ivci.com
Latitude Communications Inc. www.latitude.com
Polycom Inc. www.polycom.com
Raindance Communications Inc. www.raindance.com
Spectel Inc. www.spectel.com
STARBAK Communications Inc. www.starbak.com
The Radicati Group Inc. www.radicati.com
Voyant Technologies www.voyanttech.com

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