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The coronavirus crisis has thrust video conferencing adoption into the spotlight. With millions upon millions of people working from home or tuning into virtual classrooms, video meetings are the new norm as colleagues collaborate remotely and schools launch distance learning initiatives.
In the past few weeks, video conferencing vendors have seen record levels of video traffic. Cisco, for instance, said in early March the average time spent on Webex video meetings doubled among users in Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Video conferencing provider BlueJeans also reported huge increases in meeting minutes across the globe.
During uncertain times -- whether it's pandemics or unstable economies -- history has recorded significant upticks in remote work and video conferencing. Amid the Great Recession, for example, organizations trimmed budgets and travel and relied on video meetings to get work done. Now, in the midst of coronavirus, organizations are once again turning to business video meetings.
Fortunately, consumers are accustomed to video calling, thanks to the likes of Apple's FaceTime. People are used to the idea of turning on a video camera for a call. But chatting with cousins on an iPad is not exactly like a video business meeting. The decorum and features are different.
The benefits of business video meetings
For organizations without video conferencing tools, coronavirus and associated stay-at-home policies have sent them scrambling for proper collaboration services. For organizations with existing video tools, the virus has forced them to delve deeper into feature sets.
As a result, when organizations scrutinize their collaboration tools more intently, they may realize some of their video services overlap. Increased video conferencing adoption, meanwhile, highlights the benefits and shortcomings of these tools.
In general, though, video meetings are often more effective and efficient than traditional voice-only calls, said Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research, an advisory firm based in Morgan Hill, Calif. In a recent report on web and video conferencing, Aragon said meetings are 40% more effective when conducted by video as opposed to voice alone.
In a voice-only call, the first few minutes are usually spent trying to figure out who's on the call, which can sap productivity. On a video call, co-workers can instantly see who's on the call, which helps save time. In addition, people can better remember what they see rather than what they simply hear. So, the visual memory of a video meeting is an added benefit, Lundy said.
The merger of messaging and meetings
As companies use unified communications (UC) tools at a higher rate these days, they may realize some tools are good for internal use among co-workers, while others are preferred for external communications with business partners and customers.
For example, some organizations may prefer Microsoft Teams for small internal meetings but use another tool for external meetings or webcasting. As a result, organizations may have two or three collaboration services, which is fine, Lundy said. But having two different products for internal use doesn't make much sense, according to the Aragon report.
Increasingly, Aragon said the gap between team collaboration, or enterprise messaging, and meetings is disappearing, predicting with a 70% probability that the messaging and web meetings markets will converge by the end of 2022. The UC market has already seen evidence of this trend. Video communications provider Zoom largely launched as a video service. But, over time, it added phone and chat capabilities.
"With communications and collaboration more intertwined together, it makes more sense to use one provider for both messaging and meetings," the Aragon report said.
Additionally, in order to broaden their platforms, web and video conferencing vendors are integrating their capabilities with third-party applications, such as Salesforce. Video meetings are also integrating with day-to-day work applications, such as chat, mail, calendar and CRM.
Organizations need to consider their communication needs
Cloud computing spawned several video and web conferencing tools. This market can be tricky to navigate as enterprise tech buyers evaluate several different flavors of video tools. For example, do organizations opt for a UC platform and integrate a different stand-alone video service? Or do they focus more on webcasting because they need to share content with external audiences?
Every organization is distinctive and has different needs. A small business will have different goals than a large business. Aragon suggested enterprise buyers first consider their core requirements for web and video conferencing. They should evaluate which features and products best fit their enterprise use cases.
"It's a buyer's market," Lundy said. "There's a lot of great offers out there, so people can try things. But the big thing we advise is you have to understand what your communications strategy is going to be."
The pandemic's long-term influence
Going forward, coronavirus could have a lasting effect on companies. After the crisis ebbs, Lundy said, some companies could keep using video conferencing tools as a fundamental part of their everyday business.
Video conferencing users and providers should see some declines in usage compared to peak traffic times recorded during the outbreak. But the baseline for usage will be much higher than it was previously, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research.
"I think video conferencing is here to stay," he said. "I think video will increasingly become the norm rather than the exception, accelerating a trend we've been seeing for the last few years."