DESKTOP VIDEOCONFERENCING - USERSí PERSPECTIVE

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Dr. S. Ann Earon

Chairperson, IMCCA

President

Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI)

124 Thomas Lane, Manahawkin, New Jersey 08050

609-597-6334 phone

www.IMCCA.org | www.TRIInc.com | Email: AnnEaron@AOL.COM

Although in its infancy, desktop videoconferencing technology is being trialed and used by many organizations. The results of a recent survey conducted by Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI), in which responses were received from over 500 users of desktop videoconferencing, indicate that 90% of the respondents plan to move ahead with implementation of desktop videoconferencing units for more than a pilot, although 56% will be doing so in a yet to be determined time frame. The study, conducted throughout 1995, provides valuable insight into what users like and what can be improved.

Currently the size of the desktop videoconferencing market is small (less than 300,000 units) and it is difficult to obtain accurate projections from customers as to how large the market will be and what their needs will be. However, customers are clearly interested in desktop videoconferencing and those who have trialed it have definite opinions on what is needed in the marketplace.

WHAT CUSTOMERS LIKE
  • Collaboration Capability
  • Convenience
  • Ease of Use
  • New Dimension To Communications
  • Personal Use and Privacy
  • Place One Call & Do Many Things
Desktop videoconferencing is viewed by customers as convenient and easy to use. They like the personal nature of the technology and they don't have to leave their office. Being able to collaborate on documents was a real plus to 67% of the respondents, several of whom indicated that document sharing was the true benefit, not the video.

Those planning to increase the number of units installed found that successful implementation depends on corporate drivers or sponsors of the technology, not department driven applications which tended to result in smaller numbers of units being installed. Like group videoconferencing, the implementation of desktop videoconferencing needs a corporate champion to drive the implementation of large numbers of units throughout the organization. Desktop videoconferencing needs to be viewed as a standard communication tool, not as a toy.

The top three applications for desktop videoconferencing are executive communications (57%), project management (27%), and distance learning (16%). Customers are currently buying desktop videoconferencing primarily as a pilot to determine how user friendly and applicable it is to their organization. SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS
  • Executive Communications
  • Project Management
  • Distance Learning
  • Engineering
  • Financial Planning
  • Advertising & Promotions
  • Product Review

In addition to the standard benefits of group videoconferencing (improve communications, increase productivity, reduce travel), users of desktop videoconferencing find that meetings are more spontaneous, desktop videoconferencing is ad hoc, like a telephone call, and using desktop videoconferencing cuts down on isolation, particularly for those not working in a standard office environment (e.g. telecommuters).

To date the primary purchaser of desktop videoconferencing units is a manager within the Information Services or Telecommunications department. This is because of the need to modify computers and enhance telecommunication circuits. The IS person also tends to be aware of potential users within the organization and will often lead vendors to the appropriate people. As more organizations implement video-ready PC s with expanded memory, and higher bandwidth network is readily available at the desktop, the purchase decision will be more user driven. This change in the buying process, coupled with a corporate champion, will help fuel the success of desktop videoconferencing usage. There is still the issue of whether management sees desktop videoconferencing as a business tool that can improve productivity and positively impact the bottom line of the organization.

CUSTOMER WISH LIST

Multipoint Capability
Improved Audio & Video Quality
Larger Window
Increased Bandwidth
Applications Development
Implementation Expertise
Lower Cost

Of course, opportunities for improvement exist. Customers expressed a need for multipoint conferencing capability, a larger window on their PC for conferencing, improved audio & video quality, lower price (less than $500 per seat complete), increased bandwidth at the desktop, and assistance from vendors with applications development and implementation.

The demand for multipoint conferencing, a feature deemed necessary by all respondents, will be an extension of the growth in customer acceptance and understanding of desktop videoconferencing technology. On average, users would like to connect 3-5 sites at a time, but see a need to connect more sites in the future. However, they are reluctant to connect more sites due to the loss in system quality, lack of higher bandwidth network access, and difficulty in managing the conference with too many sites. The need for conferencing on demand (being able to hold a conference when you want with whatever number of sites you want) is increasing due to the horrific scheduling capabilities that currently exist. Customers are not satisfied with the difficulty that exists in coordinating schedules and working with outside firms to connect sites.

Customers are seeking audio and video quality at the desktop that emulates what they are used to seeing on their television. How vendors accomplish the task is immaterial to most customers. They want the best quality at the lowest price possible to allow them to install large numbers of units within their organizations.

Most importantly, users want assistance with implementation and application development. While features and price are important, successful vendors will be those who take the time to work with the customer to understand how desktop videoconferencing will be used once installed and will assist customers with the entire implementation process. Given the number of different firms offering desktop videoconferencing technology today, the leaders will be those who differentiate themselves from the competition by better addressing user needs, by industry, one user at a time. Vendors must realize that while videoconferencing has been around a long time, users are still not satisfied that much attention is paid to their requests for product features, ease of use, and assistance with implementation and ongoing usage.

Desktop videoconferencing is here to stay. Its rise to stardom is dependent on application development, implementation support, network connectivity, and price performance. Use of this technology is changing the way we communicate and collaborate. Customers who ask, "When should I get involved?" are already missing opportunities. Other customers are proving that using desktop videoconferencing helps them improve communications, increase productivity, and hold effective meetings when and where they are needed. Besides, as one respondent noted, itís fun, with no fax, no "fone", and no follow-up needed!