Aragon Research RESEARCH NOTE. Workplace Service. What is the Future of Web Conferencing?

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1 Aragon Research Author: Jim Lundy What is the Future of Web Conferencing? Summary: Web conferencing is in the midst of a strategic shift from being an isolated application to being part of a larger integrated collaboration platform. As this shift unfolds, enterprises should anticipate volatility among providers as use cases grow at differing rates and tool approaches fragment. Topic: Collaboration Issue: What technologies and architectures should enterprises leverage? Planning Assumptions: By YE 2014, High Definition video will be a standard feature in Web conferencing applications. By 2015, video will be one of the primary modalities of small and large meetings. For years, Web conferencing has been a popular way to connect people to remote meetings or virtual classrooms, but mainly as a standalone application unconnected to a larger collaboration framework. Today, while still used in this way for meetings and training, Web conferencing is also being integrated with other collaboration tools, both real-time and asynchronous. This research note examines how Web conferencing will evolve. Workers today need quick and easy ways to collaborate in the context of the work they are doing, no matter how far away their collaborators are. More telework and more distributed and interenterprise teams means that workers who cannot meet in person still need to meet, talk, brainstorm, share their work and make joint decisions on a daily basis. These workers are looking for tools that can go beyond the old ways of meeting online. The Current State Web conferencing today is changing, but slowly. Most often, Web meetings, classes and webinars are used in a standalone fashion that focuses exclusively on the live event, and fails to leverage the recording that has significant additional value. Some providers have started to integrate Web conferencing with other tools, such as videoconferencing or social networking. Unfortunately, rapid industry consolidation and a wave of acquisitions left many providers with an incompatible mix of tools, and the time and expense to integrate them has been far greater than vendors, and users, had anticipated. The market is now moving past this five-year consolidation phase. While large players were sold off, new entrants have emerged, but it is unclear how they will fare. As the larger Copyright This publication may not be distributed in any form without Aragon Research s prior written permission. The information contained in this publication has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Nevertheless, Aragon Research provides this publication and the information contained in it "AS IS," without warranty of any kind. To the maximum extent allowed by law, Aragon Research expressly disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information and shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in such information. This publication consists of the opinions of Aragon Research and Advisory Services organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. The opinions expressed here-in are subject to change without notice. Although Aragon Research may include a discussion of related legal issues, Aragon Research does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Aragon Research is a private company and its clients may include firms or financial institutions that have financial interests in entities covered by Aragon Research. Further information about the objectivity of Aragon Research can be found at aragonresearch.com

2 providers have been acquired, the challenges of integrating them into a larger collaboration suite has taken time, in part because real-time collaboration, particularly in the cloud is hard to deliver and do it reliably. Additionally, while HD video hyped and promised for some time, it continues to be available from a very small number of providers, partially because of network reliability problems with the huge bandwidth required. The dearth of vendors has created an opening and now videoconferencing is coming downstream to intersect with the Web conferencing space (see Note 1). The Use Cases The three main use cases meetings, webinars and virtual classrooms are still viable, but these events are now becoming part of an overall collaboration experience. Many social platforms, or communities, now offer both presence and a live meeting or classroom as part of that experience. Unified, cloud-based, multienterprise team and project meetings are poised to become the high-growth use case for Web conferencing. While set to drive an overall expansion in usage, the business increase will predominantly go to collaboration and application platform providers, and not to dedicated Web conferencing vendors. Virtual Classrooms started as a separate category and have since been subsumed by Web conferencing. There has been minimal innovation in this segment and with demand growing for immersive learning experiences, resurgence in virtual classroom demand is becoming more likely. Webinars are large-scale meetings. Businesses of all size need these capabilities. Here too, this segment has had minimal innovation in the last few years. Given the level of stagnation, this segment is also ripe for a new entrant that offers true innovation. Given the popularity of attending remote events, Webinars and Webcasts are on a collision course. The Future State - Video and Web Conferencing Web conferencing will be accessible to users in both the current method, which is mainly via scheduled sessions, and on the fly, which is what providers with presence capability offer. Video will transition from an optional modality to being a standard feature. This shift from a web (slide sharing) type of meeting to a richer more interactive one, is also something that not all users are culturally comfortable with. Note 1: Video Comes to Web Conferencing More and more Web conferencing providers are offering standard video in their core products. In 2011, WebEx and Citrix added a High Definition option that is just being rolled out. The problem is scalability and reliability. To answer this, providers are now using SVC codecs that let the system downgrade video image quality if there is a network problem, without interfering with the flow or the audio. Page 2

3 Planning Assumption: By 2015, video will be one of the primary modalities of small and large meetings. VOIP and Video make for new entrants and tangents The purpose of a web conference is to hold a meeting and the same is true of a video or audio conference. The convergence of these into Unified Communications has been slow and painful, and in many cases expensive. As a result, many enterprises have been slow to adopt. As a result, over the last few years, new Web conferencing entrants have emerged such as Fuze Meeting. This is partly because startups have started to leverage the availability of VoIP that scales better than it ever used to. Note 2: Addressing Video Bandwidth Challenges Videoconferencing providers are now offering desktop clients (e.g. Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence) to attract the business user that wants a guaranteed high quality experience. However, to guarantee quality, many video providers over-engineer their hardware to support a flawless experience, raising cost and complexity. Look for more cloud-based video services that offer reliability with less hardware than you need today. This is especially true because newer laptops and tablets can decompress video without added hardware. Video is headed in that direction, but video delivery in a live setting often has challenges that require extra hardware or network bandwidth to solve (see Note 2). That said, Google and Apple have turned heads by offering the beginnings of a videobased meeting experience that we expect will grow. So far, they have attracted a small following. At present, the market is characterized in two ways: Web conferencing systems as standalone tools, and those that have extended functionality and can be integrated with a larger platform that can include presence engines, portals or social platforms. Enterprises need to look carefully at their longer term investments in these areas, since the number of remote workers who will drive demand is going up, not down. Planning Assumption: By YE 2014, High Definition Video will be a standard feature in Web conferencing applications. Collaboration Architecture Platform Web conferencing needs to be addressed in the context of a broader approach to collaboration. Presence is increasingly a key capability for connecting people in the enterprise. The need for integration with the enterprise social network to enable seamless collaboration will likely expand. Keeping these broader aspects in mind will also change the perspective toward Web conferencing suppliers. Some of the standalone tools with limited ability to adapt to these broader needs may be viewed as tactical and nonstrategic. Page 3

4 From a pure architecture perspective, two paths are emerging: high-end systems, such as telepresence, which are boardroomready with dedicated hardware, versus low-end Web conferencing done via desktop and mobile devices. High-end videoconferencing vendors are seeking more customers. Their systems deliver very high quality, which comes at a price. There is a race to make these higher quality capabilities affordable for all users, but success in that quest will then come at another high price in network bandwidth. Web conferencing is evolving toward offering good enough HD video that can be integrated with the collaboration platform, so that everyone can use it. These will be adopted by the masses and video will become as acceptable as a phone call or text chat. Business Buyers Won t Wait For enterprises, the selection of Web conferencing comes as the result of an IT process. Many business buyers don t want to wait for IT to make a decision; they are leveraging the instant access they can get to standalone tools available in the cloud. This has been the predominant model for Web conferencing for years. The new approach is to extend existing platforms to add this functionality to a larger software suite. This can be part of an overall collaboration suite, which is beginning to shift to a social platform focus or as part of a legacy app platform, such as CRM or ERP. Salesforce.com is a prime example, taking this path by acquiring DimDim, a browser-based Web conferencing service, to add functionality to its Chatter Social Networking platform. Cisco has integrated WebEx with its Collaboration/UC Suite and its TelePresence Video Conferencing System; Microsoft made Live Meeting part of its Lync platform and Saba has integrated its Saba Meetings and Virtual Classroom offerings with its Saba People Cloud platform. These business-driven implementations are typically fragmented and often not visible outside their user base. Now is the time to uncover them and assess usage profiles and requirements against planned or installed suites that likely have or will add these functions. IT organizations have an opportunity to help facilitate the expansion of business use while establishing governance and a roadmap toward more consistency and collaborative strategy. Page 4

5 Mobility Mobility has also become a must do feature. Users want more flexibility on how they participate in meetings. Not only should smartphones be supported, but Tablets are increasingly becoming a work platform. Enterprises should look carefully at the mobile support that is offered as well as the performance of both Voice and video over a wireless connection. In many cases, voice (VOIP) should be a must have, while video is a nice to have (due to performance). The Value of Recordings The benefit of integrating a Web conferencing, webinar or classroom experience into a larger suite is that a recording of the event can become part of the knowledge repository and used by others. For many current tools, recordings are not easy to set up or to access after an event. Although some providers have offered a recording feature in the past, Aragon expects that the ability to capture and leverage recordings will grow in importance as a business requirement. For those providers who do it well, this feature can become a significant competitive differentiator. Going forward, a meeting can be initiated on demand with integrated voice, video, content sharing and chat. But this only benefits the actual attendees. Recordings not only create a permanent archive of what happened but also allow anyone participants and others to search, play back, capture and repurpose any part of the event. This benefits participants who were absent, participants who were present and need detailed notes for follow-up, managers with oversight authority, and collaboration partners of the participants who need input for their own coordination and planning. Aragon Advisory Take a step back and look at your overall approach to remote meetings. Look at the current tools in place and evaluate their future direction by looking at the vendor roadmaps. It is not uncommon to have more than one supplier, often based on the use (simple meetings vs. complex classrooms, executive communications, training sessions or webinars). Don t expect HD video for everyone right away. Standard video quality is just fine for many purposes. The most Page 5

6 important part of doing video communications is making sure it works reliably. Be sure to include presence as part of the overall approach. Locating and connecting people is an important part of an overall collaboration strategy. It is clear that strong VoIP, video, and integration capabilities will be keys to the future. Pay careful attention to the capabilities of suppliers and the reliability of both voice and video over the Internet. Voice is particularly important; sound without picture generally retains the meaning, but picture without sound can often be worthless and lead to a wasted meeting. Bottom Line Web conferencing is maturing rapidly and becoming far better integrated with broader collaboration frameworks and with cloud based suites. Enterprises need to balance tactical needs with an understanding of how the long-term direction of their suppliers will evolve. Any enterprise collaboration architecture should have a real-time component that lets the other collaboration apps take advantage of live Web meetings. Page 6

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