Easy to use, uncomplicated and economical web conferencing software is what virtual teams and global employees look for when they decide to introduce web conferencing to their enterprises. Besides the ease of use factor, the major expectations include world-class feature sets, as well as security and the ability to work in all standard environments. There is no doubt that the requirements of small to medium-sized organizations will be different from that of large companies. However, there are some insights that are common to all buyers of web conferencing systems.
One of the very first considerations is, who are you buying the software from? Vendors will either sell direct or through integrators or resellers or sometimes in both ways. Whether or not purchasing the software and equipment directly is unlikely to make much difference, but when purchasing web conferencing as a hosted option, there is a hidden risk. Some vendors offering hosted conferencing services will run their own data center, hosting the service themselves, while others will rely upon partners and resellers to arrange for hosting independent of the vendor. In the latter case, more scrutiny is required. Even though the primary vendor may be reputable, the company doing the hosting may be unknown and unproven.
It is easy to overlook important elements in the web conferencing deployment. In addition to examining web conferencing systems, it may also be necessary to take into account other related applications and whether or not they need to be integrated, and the possible need for additional infrastructure. For example, if you are hosting your web conferencing in-house and are planning on extensive video feeds, it may be necessary to plan for additional bandwidth to accommodate the extra traffic. In addition, it is important to take careful account of compatibility issues. Many web conferencing packages offer easy connectivity from any standard web browser, but this may not mean that everyone who wants to participate will have the ability to access all of the features. Most of the web conferencing software available today is Mac-compatible, for example, although some features may not be compatible with the Mac environment, depending on the vendor’s implementation.
Web conferencing has entered a stage of maturity, and now it is certainly possible to find a vendor with a solid reputation – and, in the case of a hosted provider, one that has a robust global network with a detailed Service Level Agreement (SLA). The SLA is another often overlooked aspect of obtaining web conferencing solutions. The SLA should offer very specific uptime metrics, as well as actions that will be taken should the guaranteed uptime not be delivered. In general, 99.9 percent uptime capability is the minimum desired. The mere existence of an SLA means very little; take the time to examine it carefully. Some vendors use an SLA merely as a marketing tool and create it using vague and subjective terms. An SLA that promises to deliver “sufficient” uptime means nothing. An SLA that guarantees 99.9 percent uptime is the real deal.
And lastly, security may be an important issue, depending on use. Standard authentication through passwords or hardware token should be incorporated into the conferencing system. But beyond the login procedures, there may be additional security concerns. Will the web conferencing system work with your corporate firewall, and the firewalls of any external participants? If it does not, it may become necessary for participants to temporary shut down their firewalls, thereby creating a potentially dangerous situation. The conferencing system should be able to function while the firewall is enabled. Ask the vendor whether the system will work with your specific firewall.
When considering a web conferencing system, whether hosted or on-premises, the following basic steps can be followed to ensure success:
Web conferencing has come down in price considerably since its first appearance, when it was mostly limited to larger organizations. Today web conferencing is affordable for almost any company, no matter how small. The least costly option is usually deploying web conferencing as a hosted service, because this eliminates the need for most up-front capital expenditures. Within the hosted service option, the pay-as-you-go format is the most basic, and most appropriate for newcomers with only occasional conferencing requirements. Pay-as-you-go simply means you pay by the minute and per participant, without the need for a long-term contract. Although the per-minute cost may be higher, if use is only occasional, the bottom-line expense will still be less with this option.
For those who plan to use conferencing more frequently, vendors of hosted services also offer pricing models based on number of seats, often with unlimited conferencing allowed.
On-premise web conferencing systems may be costly, but for larger organizations with very frequent conferencing requirements, this may be the better option. The software licenses may run tens of thousands of dollars alone, and to that must be added the cost of equipment, as well as the added cost of in-house administration and manpower.
When considering pricing, return on investment (ROI) is a consideration. The web conferencing software should be able to deliver a measurable ROI. The first and easiest aspect of ROI to measure is travel reduction; however, the bottom-line benefits go beyond cutting back on travel expenses. The presence of web conferencing may also result, at least indirectly, in an increase in sales, as it gives sales reps a tool to reach customers more efficiently. Furthermore, it enhances collaboration overall which may lead to easier and quicker decision-making. Lastly, training and support costs can be reduced with the use of web conferencing as well.
What Features to Expect from Web Conferencing Software
The features of web conferencing software are different from vendor to vendor. There is an endless array of bells and whistles available, but not all of them may be necessary for all users. Following are a few of the more common features and aspects to look for in a web conferencing solution:
New Web Conferencing Technology
You understand the technology, and you know what you want. But as is the case with any technology, vendors are constantly innovating.
The 3D interface is one excellent example of a new addition to the web conferencing feature set. Tixeo Soft’s Workspace 3D for example, allows a conference leader to create an interactive, 3D environment to the conference. This delivers a tremendous advantage, especially to conferences that lack a video feed. Live video adds the advantage of being able to see visual cues, but it can be costly and require additional bandwidth that may be lacking. In this case, the 3D addition will add back in the ability to see visual cues and emotions. A user is also at liberty to simply display panoramic images of their office during the meeting. From several photos of your office a panorama can be created for a very realistic rendition of your actual environment.
One of the novel features introduced by DimDim Web conferencing software is the introduction of a webinar widget. A user can share this widget on any website by way of FaceBook or Twitter. The main advantage of this widget is anyone can register for the conference event by just entering their email address. On successful registration a confirmation email is sent to the entrant followed by another email informing them about the start of the meeting.
Yet another feature introduced by TurboMeeting Web conferencing software version 4.0 provides its users with an improved capacity to host and administer extra large meeting groups. By using 4.0, enterprise teams can currently host web conferencing for up to 200 attendees.
Finally, more web conferencing solutions are incorporating mobile support, so that participants can join from their mobile devices such as the BlackBerry or iPhone.