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Business videoconferencing poised for 2011 breakthrough

Tech Watch: Videoconferencing at desktops, in boardrooms and even 'immersive' telepresence is finally selling, VARs say.

Videoconferencing is one of those technologies that has been on the verge of a boom for years now.

Shrinking corporate travel budgets, mushrooming bandwidth availability and emerging forms of business collaboration are converging to create an environment that is finally primed for videoconferencing technology, according to network integrators.

By the numbers, market research firm IDC expects revenue for videoconferencing equipment to reach $8.8 billion worldwide in 2014. The Telecommunications Industry Association, meanwhile, forecasts the U.S. market to grow from $2.37 billion in 2010 to approximately $3 billion in 2013.

“Video will be pretty big,” said John Breakey, co-founder and CEO of Unis Lumin Inc., a technology solution provider in Oakville, Ont. “Its time has come. We are seeing more and more customers that want to deploy it, not just boardroom to boardroom but desktop to desktop.”

Richard Vaughn, vice president and co-founder of i-Tech Support Inc., an Orlando, Fla., solution provider, said the interest in videoconferencing solutions signals a shift in the way companies want to do business. As an example, he cites a restaurant company with more than 31 U.S. locations that is investing in videoconferencing as a way to keep regional managers more closely in sync on policy and best practices.

“There is a huge potential payback,” he said.

Videoconferencing to break down barriers

Another i-Tech Support client in the process of merging with another firm is exploring the idea of helping promote better employee goodwill and faster cultural integration through video. The company is designing office common spaces, such as the lunchroom, to look the same, so that the staff feels as if they are treated equally. An employee in one location, for example, might be able to engage in a little “water cooler” discussion with someone in the other location via video. “It is a pretty forward-thinking application,” Vaughn said.

Research conducted by Dimension Data late in 2010 found that almost 70% of larger organizations have some video capabilities installed, although only 43% actually use them on a regular basis. The study, which touched more than 800 IT leaders, found that 75% of the videoconferencing technologies already in place were room-based versus 25% that are desktop-based. The same number cited cost savings in reduced travel and employee travel time as the primary motivation behind their deployment. Dimension Data is the largest reseller of Cisco’s high-end TelePresence products.

Mitch Hershkowitz, national practice leader for consulting services with Dimension Data Americas, said a lag in network upgrades hindered progress toward business mobility — and the potential of tablet computers as a video client option — is helping reverse matters. In addition, companies are studying both private and public networks as the backbone of their videoconferencing strategy, with some smaller companies opting for the latter.

“We have always taken the view that there is a solution for everyone,” Hershkowitz said. “The reality is you need ubiquitous video options in order for a strategy to work. You need to really help businesses study the potential use cases. It needs to be any time, any place, any device.”

A study of close to 2,000 enterprise and SMB IT decision makers in 2010 by Forrester Research Inc. found that 38% of respondents planned to implement in-room videoconferencing technology over the next 12 months; 14% intended to implement desktops; 8% considered high-definition in-room videoconferencing; and 7% were researching technology for an immersive experience (aka telepresence).

Integrators seeking to expand their videoconferencing solution portfolio or to extend an existing practice have plenty of product options. A few of the usual suspects include Cisco Systems Inc. (with TelePresence and Tandberg), Getronics (via its Talk & Vision investment), Hewlett-Packard Co. (Halo), Logitech (LifeSize Communications), Microsoft (with Lync), Polycom and Vidyo  Inc. (which touts its  Personal Telepresence concept).

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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