The conferencing market is fascinating to me as it is an area of continuous high-growth. Many conferencing companies actually saw business conditions improve dramatically in the post-911 world where travel began to die off. Since 9/11 it seems companies are beginning to see more and more use for conferencing in their organizations. The conferencing growth charts I see are – off the charts.
You just can’t talk about this market enough because it is growing so fast and as it does the technology allows more and more people to collaborate more effectively. Paradigm shift is too overused so I won’t use that term here. Instead what I will say is that as the price for conferencing decreases, more and more people in an organization get to take advantage of this technology. That is when it truly gets exciting… When conferencing is accessed by everyone in an organization and is used by the typical person weekly or even multiple times in a day.
Here is an interview with Dan Massiello, president and CEO, Sonexis, a company that offers an in-house audio conferencing bridge that is easy to use, and eliminates the pay-as-you-go fees of subscription-based services.
1.) How is the conferencing market doing?
The conferencing market is thriving. According to Frost & Sullivan, the U.S. audio conferencing market generated revenue of $2.25 billion in 2004. Total market revenue is expected to reach $3.13 billion by 2011. The number of minutes used by enterprises are projected to swell from 14.53 billion in 2003 to 35 billion in 2010. This surge in minutes will create a demand for more ports, not only from service providers but also from large enterprises because conferencing has reached a point where companies must find ways to save money, gain control, and add security. As with other business-critical applications that means bringing the application in-house. In addition to general growth in usage, the market is also experiencing a major shift to customer-owned equipment.
2) People seem to be traveling more—does that hurt the conferencing market?
No, quite the opposite. People are traveling more because technologies like conferencing have allowed companies to distribute their operations to all corners of the globe. The nature of business today requires real-time decision-making from teams that don’t have the luxury of co-location. Occasionally, that means travel; but, on a day-to-day basis that means a reliance on collaboration applications like conferencing—and the numbers bear that out. Even as conferencing costs have dropped, the conferencing market has seen dramatic growth.
3.) How does VoIP change the way the conferencing market works?
VoIP is going to change the conferencing world in three distinct ways. First, VoIP introduces the ability—and, therefore the need—to enable conferencing between a variety of endpoints, not just our traditional phones. Secondly, VoIP introduces the potential for a much richer conferencing experience as vendors begin to offer wideband conferencing options. Third, VoIP will significantly accelerate the transition from conferencing services to customer-owned conferencing applications. Why pursue an economical solution like VoIP and then continue to support high, pay-as-you-go conferencing services? Companies will pursue solutions consistent with the promise of VoIP—cost-effective solutions that can leverage their existing network assets and scale economically to support any number of conferences, participants, and endpoints.
4.) What is the future of conferencing?
The future of conferencing is tied to the future of business communications in general. End-users will look to communication tools built right into their applications. Convergence of the network, the computer, and the telephone will be more complete. In the course of their work users will reach a point where they need the input or expertise of others. They won’t turn to a separate device, dial a number, and wonder if they’ll get the help they need. Instead, they’ll simply use an interface within their application to validate the availability of the person—or persons—they need and the avenues by which they can be reached. Instantly, everyone will be connected, regardless of location or device, and the problem will be simultaneously seen by everyone. No matter the group size, people will be assembled instantly within the context of the work being performed. Collaboration will occur with even less effort than we enjoy today.
5.) What new applications are there in the conferencing space?
Today, vendors are providing support for multiple tenants on a single conferencing platform. In addition, conference participants can sub-divide conferences to support mid-meeting caucuses. VoIP support is allowing companies to support new communications standards. Hybrid (a mix of PSTN and VoIP) conferences will also be possible, enabling conferences regardless of endpoint or corporate communications standards. Directory support and integration with standard scheduling mechanisms allow administrators and end-users to enjoy the benefits of today’s conferencing platforms with minimal effort and training. Web-based technologies allow participants to visually identify who’s speaking—or who’s introducing that disruptive background noise—in real-time.
6.) What will the market look like in 5 years?
The market will look dramatically different than it does today. Communications vendor lists won’t be the traditional collection of telephony equipment vendors with whom we’re all familiar. Vendors from previously unrelated spaces will become major suppliers of communications infrastructure. Large PBX’s and proprietary handsets will be a bygone idea. Standards-based equipment and high-speed networks will connect people more easily and cost-effectively—no matter where they are or what type of device they’re using. As companies mature in their use of collaborative technologies, and as they continue to attack infrastructure costs, they will continue to bring solutions—like conferencing—in-house.
What I find interesting about this perspective is that the trend in the conferencing arena seems to be going from hosted to in-house while for many other types of software such as CRM, the reverse is true. It is not clear why this should be the case except that perhaps the cost of hosted conferencing is still very high. In all I think this was a very enlightening interview – thanks Dan.