The Top 10 Collaboration and Conferencing Trends

Updated: April 30, 2009

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding Web conferecing and collaboration solutions. Vendors are trying to keep up with consumer demand by offering new and innovative solutions. The following trends are where the market is going in the near future:

1. Conferencing is getting closer to collaboration. Conferencing and collaboration technologies are very close cousins, so much so that conferencing software is taking on more collaboration features and blurring the line between the two. This puts more vendors in direct competition and will result in lower prices, more functionality, and more business value. That's one trend in the industry of enabling geographically dispersed parties to work together on projects. Here are other trends to watch in 2009:

2. Telepresence is on the rise. This expensive collaboration technology employs full-body displays and HDTV (high-definition television) technology to simulate the physical presence of collaborators. Although telepresence systems can cost upward of six figures, the technology is becoming more popular as airline travel becomes more expensive, difficult and unreliable. The Gartner Group forecasts that telepresence technology will replace 2.1 million airline seat purchases annually over the next three years, saving companies $3.5 billion. ABI Research projects the telepresence market will grow to nearly $2.5 billion over the next five years, from $126 million in 2007. Cisco, Tandberg and Teliris are the top three telepresence vendors in ABI Research's matrix.

3. Managed video services will become a new outsourcing market. Enterprise IT departments don't have time to manage video networks, which require specialized administration, provisioning and maintenance. Firms such as video-network equipment vendor Glowpoint of Hilldie, N.J., and its professional services partner Plus 6 Technologies in Henderson, Nev., are offering video network packages on a lease basis that include managed services. Plus 6 Technologies is offering flexible packages of infrastructure and managed services. One can lease a whole video network and managed services, or buy the infrastructure from a Glowpoint partner and have the vendor manage it for you.

4. Video conferencing is supplanting voice conferencing. Polycom, Inc., a leading vendor of voice and videoconferencing products, saw its traditional voice conferencing products drop to 33 percent of revenues in Q4 of 2008 from 37 percent a year earlier, while video products jumped to 67 percent from 63 percent. Overall, Polycom's 2008 revenues grew 15 percent over the previous year, to $1.1 billion. Robert Hagerty, CEO of Polycom, credits the recently accelerated growth of videoconferencing to the switch from ISDN to Internet Protocol; quality-of-service gains; integration with other office applications; and the compelling vividness of HD video. The travel cost savings and environmental benefits of videoconferencing continue to drive growth in this market.

5. Video conferencing is coming to handhelds soon. Indeed, Polycom's Hagerty boldly predicts that voice conferencing on handhelds will become a rarity "in the not-too-distant future," according to a PC World interview. The widespread availability of truly broadband 3G cellular phone service and the ever-increasing processing power of smartphones and other handhelds enable higher-quality videoconferencing. However, work still must done on problems such as camera steadiness and angle, so that people aren't looking shakily up one another's noses.

6. Desktop sharing is becoming more common. This feature is incorporated in more and more Web conferencing software packages. It enables participants in a conference to place data objects on other participants' local computers; remotely control others' computers to launch applications and manipulate data; share information interactively; and walk one another through the most complex presentations.

7. Virtual worlds will provide venues for Web conferences. The idea is to give collaborators the ability to navigate familiar meeting rooms, factory floors, and simulations of other real-world venues so that participants will have a common "world" view on which to collaborate. Virtual avatars - artificial representations of individuals - enable the nuances of facial expression, gestures and body posture to lend richer meaning and to communicate more information. Virtual world capabilities are not yet part of mainstream Web conferencing software, but users can experiment with them on services such as Second Life and Active Worlds.

8. Web 2.0 features are creeping into collaboration and conferencing software. Chatting, instant messaging, wikis, blogs and social networking functions are gradually finding their way into Web conferencing, enabling users to share information asynchronously. The same technologies enable corporations to capture what is shared in a body of corporate knowledge. Such capabilities become an important recruiting tool when pursuing young talent that has grown up with MySpace, Blogspot, Twitter, Wikipedia and other collaborative Web 2.0 services.

9. The "green" benefits of Web conferencing and collaboration are becoming more important and more easily quantified. Web conferencing software vendor iLinc Communications, Inc., provides a "green meter" to track the carbon emissions savings as well as cost and travel time reductions that companies achieve by meeting online.

10. The size of firms that use collaboration and conferencing keeps shrinking. As the cost of conferencing and collaboration declines; usage by major customers and vendors expands; and Web-based SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) becomes available for collaboration and conferencing, the technologies and their benefits become available to businesses of every size.

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