Videoconferencing is becoming a must-have tool at almost every level and function of modern businesses. In fact, 87 percent of people say videoconferencing helps expedite decision-making, and 94 percent say that increased efficiency and productivity is the number one benefit. While the technology has existed for decades, it’s still only been used in a relatively narrow segment of the workforce. That is changing rapidly as several forces drive mass adoption of videoconferencing.
|A videoconferencing application featuring the InFocus ConX Cloud.
With the advent of high-definition, reliable, affordable, and easy-to-use visual communication, simple phone conferences are becoming increasingly insufficient. Connecting with remote colleagues while collaborating on projects, sharing and co-creating documents and other deliverables, and developing a common operating picture—unhindered by distance or time differences—are realities for most competitive enterprises. Technology managers and business aren’t just buying showy technology; they’re buying a place and vehicle for ideation, planning, and execution. Provisioning this productivity tool to almost every employee in an organization is as essential as that of their laptops or mobile phones.
Unfortunately, despite the evident need for videoconferencing, it has been a long struggle to make it widely accessible. Over the years, several waves of disruption in the videoconferencing industry have been bringing it closer to mass market use. Today, videoconferencing adoption is approaching the middle of the third major wave of disruption. The previous waves have contributed to the progress to this point, and now we must consider where office communication is headed, and what technology managers should consider when choosing a videoconferencing solution.
For decades, videoconferencing had been lingering around as a novelty—going all the way back Bell Lab’s Picturephone at the 1964 World’s Fair. Its potential for commercial deployment had to wait for IT-centric developments like the Network Video Protocol (1976) and the Packet Video Protocol (1981), to come along. The concept got a boost during the various economic recessions of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as businesses cut back on travel to reduce expenses. Over the years, technology for conferencing became more reliable and less expensive as it was migrated from expensive, purpose-built platforms to PC architectures.
But the problem remained that systems from one manufacturer could not connect with systems from another brand, and potential customers weren’t eager to get locked into proprietary backwaters. The real breakthrough came with the hard-won emergence of the ITU communication standards (H.323, H.264, for example) and SIP, which provided interoperability among systems from different manufacturers. It took many companies many years to work at building international standards for this interoperability among brands.
THE FIRST WAVE: “RETAIL-IFICATION”
The establishment and proliferation of standards accelerated adoption and growth of the videoconferencing market, driving sales of more endpoints; marking the first wave of disruption. Although the technology was present, sufficient, and interoperable, the networks connecting video callers presented their own impediments to mass adoption. It was too expensive to provide everyone inside an organization with the service, was challenging to deploy, as it typically required involvement of the IT department in selection and deployment—with the complexity and delay that often accompanies it.
Some companies may have felt the pressure to adopt a videoconferencing solution, but were unwilling to face budget rejection or run the IT department gauntlet. This caused employees to take matters into their own hands, and use free consumer-grade solutions such as Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts.
In recognition of this opportunity, a new breed of videoconferencing service providers focused on business-class offerings emerged. Their hallmark: the retail approach. Following the model of services like Slack, they made it easy to go to their websites, select a subscription, enter a credit card, and start videoconferencing immediately from a laptop or mobile device. Subverting the old guard of providers that required lengthy commitments and fixed costs, Vidyo, BlueJeans, Zoom, and others offered service as a monthly expense, so businesses could provide videoconferencing for everyone on the team in minutes, without needing to secure a capital budget approval or work through IT.
These companies marketed and sold directly to end users with signs on city buses and billboards, like a B2C business. For a workforce featuring an increasing percentage of BYOD millennials accustomed to Netflix subscriptions and unwilling to countenance the glacial pace of enterprise decision making, this was a solution with real appeal.
THE SECOND WAVE: A STANDARD PRICE FOR STANDARDS
This newer, easier subscription model led to a surge in videoconferencing users, but mass market adoption was still beyond reach. Even though business-class videoconferencing had become easier to acquire and somewhat more affordable through subscriptions, the price often discouraged managers from offering them to every employee. They would select what seemed like an affordable option, only to find significant additional charges for features they assumed were included. Some of these paid features included the very interoperability standards that were enabled in the first wave of videoconferencing disruption, as well as use on devices other than mobile and laptops in order to accommodate larger audiences within a room. In this case, when making calls to colleagues using other conferencing services, subscribers saw their monthly bills triple or quadruple because support for standards was not a standard feature of the offering. Using the service on devices suitable for room videoconferencing also carried 300 to 400 percent surcharges.
Consequently, users wouldn’t compromise on the interoperability standards delivered two decades earlier, yet neither were they prepared to limit their videoconferencing activities to the smallest screens. The growth of the second disruption ran out of steam; mass adoption would next require simple, transparent, all-inclusive, and significantly lower prices. The next wave of adoption demanded that standards be standard, and that services couldn’t mandate the devices they use to make video calls. Above all else, adopters didn’t want to be nickel-and-dimed to get what should be indigenous to the product.
THE THIRD WAVE: PRICE
The case for ubiquitous videoconferencing as an institutional tool, as common as laptops and mobile phones, has been made. All the pieces are in place, and interoperability standards are alive and well. Clients supporting varying platforms such as Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS exist, as well as web clients, covering almost every conceivable device from those that fit in a pocket to those that claim great expanses of wall space. Everything—on the demand and supply sides of the equation—is available.
Only price remains as an impediment, as we’re now in the third wave of disruption. The final piece for adoption is clear, comprehensive pricing allowing this productivity tool to be used by everyone on the team. It’s time for a video dial tone at audio dial tone prices.
At InFocus, this is the ineluctable trajectory of the videoconferencing industry. The mission for ConX Cloud, is the “video everywhere” future we saw on TV and in comic books as children. High quality, enterprise-grade, easy-to-use videoconferencing on any device from handheld to wall-sized screens. This offering will help get us to the fourth, and final, wave of videoconferencing adoption, by making it flexible and affordable for ubiquity. The standards-based solution is available on a subscription, with a seat for every employee at affordable prices—starting for free and maxing out at around 33 percent less than competitive services.
The door for ubiquitous videoconferencing has been opened, and we’ll see you on screen.
Brady O. Bruce is the InFocus CMO.