What is the Future of Web Conferencing? 

Authors: Jim Lundy                        Date: October 28, 2011

Topics: Collaboration          Research Note Number: 2011-18

Issues: 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.

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.

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 inter-enterprise 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 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.

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