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Reality check: VARs report steady gains for videoconferencing

While not flocking to telepresence, more customers figure videoconferencing requirements into IT infrastructure buys.

While videoconferencing sales growth has not been spectacular this year amid the uncertainty of the U.S. economy, solution providers continue to invest in practices around the technology.

This, after years of hype from vendors, especially Cisco Systems Inc., about the allure of high-end “immersive” telepresence videoconferencing as well as lower-end solutions, seems almost anticlimactic.

“The watershed moment or tipping point still has to occur, and I’m not sure what the factors really need to be to make that happen,” said Mauro Lollo, CTO of Unis Lumin Inc., a technology integrator in Oakville, Ont. “Although we do believe video will augment and drive collaboration solutions.”

That is why, for now, Unis Lumin handles videoconferencing deals on a case-by-case, opportunistic basis. That means the integrator will often focus on the implementation services it can provide for certain equipment, sometimes working with other solution providers to source technologies for its clients, Lollo said.

Even if 2011 does not prove to be the breakthrough year predicted just eight months ago, videoconferencing will be a key component of collaboration solutions, solution providers said.

Videoconferencing as a piece of existing IT infrastructure
Earlier this year, a CDW poll of approximately 630 IT and telecommunications managers at U.S. companies found that half of all responding businesses  use some form of videoconferencing already, while another quarter of the respondents plan to do so within two years. One of the big motivators, CDW reported, was an interest in reducing travel costs.

“Videoconferencing is steadily becoming a growing piece of the infrastructure,” said Kevin McCarron, director of collaboration solutions for Atrion Networking Corp., a network integration company in Warwick, R.I. “It is kind of like data center or voice 10 years ago and reflects the convergence that is going on in the industry.”

McCarron’s practice represents a heightened focus on this area for Atrion Networking. Atrion created the practice because its customers needed more consistent infrastructure policies around video usage.

In the roughly 12 months since it began officially selling Cisco Tandberg systems, Atrion Networking has seen its videoconferencing business grow to almost $1 million from a negligible amount, McCarron said. That growth has come from community hospitals, business services firms and higher education, he said. 

“Most, if not all, of our higher-education clients are developing distance learning applications,” McCarron said.

In many instances, he said solution investments aren’t necessarily coming from committed IT budgets; they are coming from the potential savings that organizations can realize in business travel by deploying videoconferencing in branch offices and other remote locations.

That theme also is prevalent for Westron Communications Inc., a network integrator in Carrollton, Texas. For example, videoconferencing is finding a following among human resources executives and other hiring managers as a means of gauging how candidates do in face-to-face interviews, said Westron CEO Dave Casey.

“If people can do meetings via video, it offers a huge return on investment,” he said.

What’s more, with certain technologies, such as the LifeSize VideoCenter platform that Westron represents, sessions can be recorded. In the case of the hiring scenario, that means candidates can be “seen” by more than one person more easily. Recording video sessions can also be a valuable tool for companies seeking to improve their internal communications channels, he said.

Casey said Westron has seen revenue growth of approximately 35% this year in videoconferencing solutions, which he attributes to tight relationships with just a few vendors in this space that offer systems that accommodate conferences that span from mobile devices all the way into room-based, immersive systems. Those key vendors include LifeSize and Mirial, which was acquired by LifeSize in July 2011. “We have seen good steady growth by keeping a fairly tight focus,” Casey said.

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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