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Checking In With LifeSize CEO Colin Buechler
LifeSize (a division of Logitech), the pioneer of high definition videoconferencing, is currently undergoing a transformation in reaction to the trends and sea changes which have redefined the VC industry over the last few years. Some of these trends include lower pricing, greater flexibility, and the shift from big hardware to flexible virtualized software. In addition to technology trends, the target market itself has shifted from its traditional Fortune 500 base, as products and services are now being designed for small and medium enterprises.
As if this wasn't enough of a challenge for the three core traditional VC vendors (Cisco, Polycom, and LifeSize), they also have to contend with a slew of new competitors as nimble, software VC providers have been popping out of the woodwork. These are rough seas indeed, requiring a steady hand at the helm. In the case of LifeSize, that hand belongs to CEO Colin Buechler, who chatted with us about the state of the industry in general, and LifeSize's new direction in particular.
Just to get it out of the way, it wasn't too long ago that a certain announcement by Logitech started a swirl of rumors and dire predictions for LifeSize. I asked Colin directly about the relationship between the two companies and my takeaway is a mix of Shakespeare and Mark Twain. It feels like a bit of "much ado about nothing" along with "rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Apparently, Logitech's recent reevaluation of LifeSize was part of a larger review of Logitech's entire business portfolio. Logitech had an extremely difficult quarter and they were looking at everything. In other words, LifeSize wasn't necessarily being singled out, and the bottom line is that the review is over and Logitech still has confidence in LifeSize.
This doesn't mean that the review didn't have some serious implications and results. Most importantly, LifeSize is tightening its focus on creating solutions that are affordable, and manageable for smaller customers. Keep in mind, the sales price is only part of the cost of a videoconferencing deployment. A large traditional VC environment with multiple users and devices may require a dedicated internal staff, or an external managed service provider, just to keep it all working smoothly. In order to serve small customers, new solutions must not only be more affordable, but easier to manage. Ideally, the users should be able to do most tasks (schedule calls, invite other callers, recording, etc.) without any help.
LifeSize is addressing this usability issue head on with its new "Smart Video" experience. In the last 5 years we have learned quite a bit from the explosion of smart phones and the success of their UIs. For example, we learned that technology gets adopted much quicker if the user experience is intuitive. If reading a manual is required, the application will get less users. A power feature isn't very useful if only one person in the office knows how to make it work.
"The philosophy behind every solution we design at LifeSize is to deliver an integrated, connected experience that we like to call, 'Smart Video.' By coupling infrastructure and endpoint into a seamless, intuitive UI, we are offering the ultimate communications experience to the end user, where the complex technology disappears and making a video call is as easy as using your smartphone. Whether you want to make a video call on a mobile device, through the cloud or in a traditional, room-based setting, I believe you should never have to sacrifice features, functionality or quality. Smart Video is the only solution in the industry that delivers the highest-quality, all-inclusive video collaboration experience to anyone, anywhere." - Colin Buechler
LifeSize's new "Smart Video" experience is perfectly exemplified by LifeSize's new UI and remote control in its Icon Series product (previously covered here). As shown below, the difference between their old remote control (which required serious study to master) and their new remote control, really says it all. The key is the new intuitive, menu driven, UI; which allows you to keep your eyes on the screen, rather than having to look down at the remote. LifeSize Video Evangelist, Simon Dudley, gave us a great demo of the new UI at last week's InfoComm show, and it really is as easy and intuitive as they claim.
With all that background out of the way, Colin and I dug into the real reason for our briefing. The announcement of LifeSize UVC ClearSea (which we used for the briefing itself, with flawless performance). Before the desktop VC world exploded in the last two years, there were only a few business quality desktop clients and ClearSea was one of the better ones, in my opinion. LifeSize wisely snapped up ClearSea several years ago, but up till now I don't think they were fully leveraging it. In the past, videoconferencing was about selling meeting room systems, and desktop was a nice side offering. As a result, room systems seemed to get most of the attention from VC dev teams.
Things have certainly changed, and desktop / mobile may be the new face of videoconferencing. In fact, I predict that in the near future desktop VC usage will massively dwarf meeting room VC usage. We may not be there yet, but the typical desk jockey will be using desktop / mobile VC multiple times throughout the workday. The real use for meeting room VC will simply be to allow people who can't make the meeting in person, to attend VC. Meeting room to meeting room VC will still take place, of course, but will be a small portion of overall VC usage. With this in mind, a vendor's desktop / mobile experience can no longer be an afterthought.
While the previous iteration of ClearSea was already a solid VC client, the new LifeSize UVC ClearSea greatly improves upon it, primarily by integrating it with the LifeSize UVC platform, which we previously covered here. This allows for a shared directory thorough the environment and more flexibility with user accounts. The new LifeSize UVC ClearSea also allows for guest invites and includes the mobile version. LifeSize states that LifeSize UVC ClearSea "offers the broadest mobile support in the industry" with over 50 iOS and Android devices.
One final note on the UVC platform. When we spoke with Simon at InfoComm, he made an "eggsellent" point (sorry for the pun but it couldn't be helped). When we buy eggs, we get them by the dozen. That is fine for eggs. Eggs are cheap enough that it doesn't matter if we have to buy a few more than we need. However, the "by the dozen" model isn't so great for videoconferencing customers. VC connections (traditionally priced by "ports", or connections to the video bridge) tend to be lot more expensive than eggs. Paying upwards of $6k per port is not unheard of. At those prices, being forced to buy a dozen, when you just need (let's say) 8 connections, is literally throwing away tens of thousands of dollars. But with traditional videoconferencing, that was simply the only choice. With UVC, customers can purchase as few or as many connections as they wish. It is technically possible to buy a single connection. More importantly, at ~$1,500 per connection it is significantly more affordable than the old hardware based pricing.
With the recent drama behind them, the LifeSize team appears to have a renewed energy and boundless positivity. Despite the incredibly rough seas, they do have a lot of good things working in their favor. They have a great name, with a great reputation, which is a nice advantage over the upstarts who must introduce and define themselves to the market. They have a powerful platform with UVC, which they continue to develop and improve upon. They have one of the better known desktop / moblie clients with ClearSea, and their new Icon series room systems (with the "Smart Video UI) are some of the coolest room systems on the market.
As if that wasn't enough, they have one final ace up their sleeves which they have yet to play, and that is their relationship with Logitech, which simply owns the desktop peripheral market. I asked Colin why we haven't seen any LifeSize software shipping with Logitech webcams, and he was very aware of the opportunity, but explained that they just haven't found the right package yet. I believe at some point the two companies will go beyond working in harmony, and start working in synergy. If that happens, I think we will wind up with some amazing products, some really happy customers, increased adoption of both consumer and business VC, and some very nervous competition.
While all of this sounds great in theory, what really matters is how customers are adopting LifeSize products in the workplace. For a quick peek at how the LifeSize portfolio is being used at Rackspace, a global IT hosting company, please check out the video below.
About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.
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