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SMBs Want To Enjoy Video Conferencing Too!

May 26, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
By: Sagee Ben-Zedeff via Radvision Blog

Everybody's talking about telepresence these days. And it doesn't really matter if this is "true" telepresence or just a marketing term, it seems that everyone wants in on the video conferencing game. And while telepresence is great for big enterprises, Fortune 500 companies, or service providers, there's a giant market out there that is being mostly ignored by our industry so far - The Small and Medium Businesses (or SMBs).

In July 2009, a Wainhouse Research study entitled "Benchmarking the Benefits of Videoconferencing Deployments" showed that SMBs and large enterprises are not any different in terms of their ROI on video conferencing: they save on travel costs, reduce time to market, save money on training and reduce sales-related costs just like those big companies.

The study also highlighted the key reasons why SMBs implement video conferencing solutions - they want to improve teamwork and maintain their connections with partners and suppliers.

But while those big companies can get by with investing a few thousands of dollars into high-end video conferencing equipment and infrastructure, SMBs cannot. They are looking for alternatives, and it seems that none really exist - or at least none that can be taken seriously.

Sure, you can argue that a "personal" telepresence system, that costs $30,000, is a solution for the SMB market. But SMBs are not THAT small - in fact, RADVISION, with its 500 employees worldwide, is a small business; Medium at most. Buying one ( ! ) endpoint for the entire organization may be affordable (some room systems sell for as low as $15K), but it doesn't make much sense.

On the other hand, SMBs are not rich enough to spend thousands of dollars on various conference rooms and pricey infrastructure. A while ago I read an article in Network World that was talking about a $1,000 endpoint, without a monitor, to be the mainstream for the SMB market.

And yet SMBs are the majority of businesses today; the long tail of the video conferencing market, if you may. They are multi-national, they work with customers and partners around the globe, and they operate in multiple locations. - Video conferencing is an ideal solution for SMBs, especially at this time of economical turmoil.\

SMB_Telepresence.jpgWhy Current SMB Offerings Aren't Good Enough
It's not that there aren't "SMB solutions" offered by every vendor in the video conferencing industry. It's just that it seems that most are just compromises, trying to come up with something that would have a nice price tag to it, but fall short when compared to what the large enterprises enjoy.

On one hand, there are the 'off-premises', hosted services that are being offered by a variety of service providers. This may be cheap, but I doubt that it's cost-effective. Hosted video conferencing today is not ad-hoc, it requires pre-scheduling and usually doesn't let every employee use it when they need it and with whomever they want to use it.

On the other hand, there are personal video conferencing systems that can be deployed in some offices for under $10,000. They provide a good solution for point-to-point calling, but don't really provide the conferencing experience that large enterprises can enjoy.

Endpoints with embedded MCUs in them are another way to go. This will allow connecting a few participants to a conference, even without an external MCU. But these are much more expensive (around $20K), allow connecting a limited number of participants (usually 4 only) and are not scalable - you can't really connect them to any other piece of infrastructure, when the time comes.

So What Do SMBs Want?
I guess that they need what every other enterprise, big or small, requires, only on a smaller scale. So here are the basic necessities:

  • Easy to manage solution - easy to deploy, easy to operate, easy to use.
  • Cost-effective - pay for what you're getting, and get the most out of what you're paying.
  • Scalability - when the time comes and your business grows, the infrastructure grows with you.
  • Complete connectivity - connect meeting rooms, executives, regular employees, road warriors, you name it, to the same conference with the same experience.
SMBs deserve (and I believe want) to get all the functionality and feature sets that any other enterprise has, only scaled down in terms of capacity and of course price. An endpoint is a great way to connect to the rest of the world, but an end-to-end solution for an SMB must include solutions for the entire spectrum of users and uses:

  • A way for every employee to connect to a conference using their desktops.
  • A way for the executive to connect to a conference while on the road.
  • A solution for the manager who wants to stay in his office and work, while staying on top of the meeting.
  • The ability to schedule conferences easy, with known tools such as Outlook.
  • The ability to call someone from your desktop, just like the big boys do.

I really think that the time has come for the video conferencing industry to offer a real solution to the SMB market, and through this solution gain that mass deployment we are all fantasizing about.

According to Access Markets International (AMI), SMBs are set to spend $2.6B on conferencing solutions by 2012, with an annual growth rate of 5.9% between 2006 and 2012. We should offer them good value for their money and a great solution for their needs.

SMB want to enjoy the full experience of video conferencing, not only a small part of it.

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