Finding The Right Online Meeting (Web Conferencing) Solution


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Finding The Right Online Meeting (Web Conferencing) Solution

  1. 1. Finding The Right Online Meeting (Web Conferencing) Solution For many types of business meetings, travel is fast becoming a thing of the past. Recent advances in Web-based collaboration tools are breaking down geographic barriers and empowering working people to conduct more effective virtual meetings, presentations and trainings. The Web is now, among other things, a platform to meet and share ideas – whether for a weekly sales meeting to strategize on increasing revenues, or a series of e -learning sessions to share knowledge with customers. As technology advances, so does that of Web conferencing. There are hundreds of vendors in the space vying for attention, and the numerous features they offer bring many benefits to all types of online meetings, including: • Web conferences: interactive meetings that enable the host to instantly share his/her desktop or a slideshow with multiple meeting participants via the Internet • Webinars: seminars conducted over the Web that usually require attendees to register in advance • Webcasts: a broadcast of information over the Internet that is much like that of traditional television or radio broadcasts. Web conferencing, and to some extent Webinars, have become very popular and considered by many to be “mainstream” now. Wainhouse Research estimates the global market for Web conferencing to be a little over $500 million in 2004 and growing in excess of 26% annually. Business use of webcasting has been slow to take off, primarily due to complexity and cost, but that is sure to change soon. What category do I fall into? The first step to finding a reliable online meeting technology vendor is determining your organization’s needs. Are you looking to host small, interactive meetings? If so, you probably need a Web conferencing solution. Do you need to send out invitations, register people in advance, and conduct larger online events? If so, then you should probably be looking for Webinar solutions. Do you want to stream video and/or audio over the internet to a very large audience? If so, then start your search with Webcasting solutions. Of course, it’s not exactly this simply because there is much overlap in functionality between these categories. 1
  2. 2. Should I In-source or Outsource? The next major decision point is whether or not you want to buy the technology (i.e. hardware and/or software, integration services, etc.) and install it on your own computer server(s), or buy a hosted service. In general, companies with very large usage levels will save money over time by paying more initially and installing an internal solution. Buying from a Conferencing Service Provider (CSP) will make more economic sense for companies with low to medium usage levels, or those with less frequent yet large meetings. Let’s take a look at the major pros and cons of in-house vs. outsourced solutions: In-house Solution Pros: • Save money over time at high usage levels • Potentially superior performance for internal users of high bandwidth applications (i.e. VoIP, video conferencing) Cons: • Higher internal costs to administer • Locked into one technology • Annual maintenance fees Outsource Solution Pros: • Little or not up-front cost; pay-as-you-go • Minimal internal cost to administer • Not locked into a particular technology • No costs for product upgrades; new features Cons: • Costlier at high usage levels • Potentially inferior performance for internal users of high bandwidth applications (i.e. VoIP, video conferencing) What Features? The abundance of features available today can be daunting. It is critical to identify the highest priority features for your organization and cross reference those with the solution that you are evaluating. The ideal technology will have all the features you seek, but not a whole lot more “bells and whistles” – these tend to distract users and take away from the ease-of-use. Below are the most commonly requested and used features: User-friendly interface A simple user interface provides maximum ease-of-use. Requires minimal training. Many of the more advanced products are also difficult to use because there are so many more control buttons, links, etc. Slideshows The host controls what slides attendees are seeing. This is most commonly done with PowerPoint files. Desktop/application sharing The host opens a real-time view for attendees to see his/her entire desktop or specific programs running on his/her computer. Standard phone conferencing (option) Ordinary telephones, without VoIP, can connect and conference with the web conference. Many solutions only offer V oice-over-IP. The phone conferencing can be completely automated, or utilize professional operators. VoIP 2
  3. 3. Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows participants to talk to each other over the Internet and avoid long distance charges. Multiple OS support Attendees can participate from computers running just about any operating system. No downloads Attendees do not have to download and install software to participate. Control passing Host can pass control of the web conference to any attendee. Remote control Host can allow an attendee to control the mouse and/or keyboard on his/her computer. Microsoft Outlook integration Users can schedule web conferences from within MS Outlook and send invitations via e- mail. Instructions for invitees to join are automatical ly included. Scheduling and e -mail invitations User can go online to schedule web conferences and send e- mail invitations. Instructions for invitees to join are automatically included. Instant text messaging During the online meeting, the host can exchange text messages with attendees and visa versa. Annotation/whiteboard Annotation, allows one or more participants to mark up slides or other “whiteboard” areas for group collaboration. Usually, each participant will have a unique color. Polling The host can create polling questions, conduct audience polls, and display real-time results in a graph to the attendees. Post-conference usage reports The system automatically sends the host an email after the meeting with a list of attendees, polling results and more. Record & playback The host can record the meeting, including audio, and make it available for later playback via the internet. Video conferencing (desktop) One or more participants can turn on their webcam or desktop video camera for others to view him/her. Branding The login page and other user touch-points can be custom branded with things like logos, colors, fonts, etc. Event Management For larger meetings, webinars and webcasts, the user has the ability to send custom invitations, register attendees online, view real-time reports of registrants, send reminders via e- mail, charge registrants for fee-based events, conduct post-event surveys, etc. Pricing flexibility any pricing models offered so that you are more likely to find one that fits your needs – and budget. No contract or setup fees No long term commitments or fees in advance just to get started. Easy-to-read reports and invoices 3
  4. 4. Post- meeting usage reports and monthly invoices are easy to read and provide all the necessary information. Dedicated account manager Single point of contact at the vendor that knows who you are and what your needs are. Service guarantee or warranty There is no charge if the solution doesn’t meet acceptable levels of reliability, usability, etc. How do I want to pay? (Pricing models) When buying a solution to install onsite, there tend to be fewer pricing options. You will most commonly be paying by the “port”, or number of simultaneous meeting participants - across all meetings. Some vendors will break it up into monthly or quarterly payments, but the net-net is that you will be purchasing the software and/or hardware, and sometimes integration services. Under this model, you will most likely also be paying maintenance fees in subsequent years. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of your internal administrators time. Outsourced solutions through service providers generally offer more pricing models. The most common are: • Per-minute: This is a pay-as-you-go model. You pay by the minute per person connected. Generally, there are no setup fees, monthly minimums, or long term commitments. This is a monthly post-pay service and tends to work best for companies with very low usage levels. • Per-room: This is a monthly pre-pay model with a fixed rate. You get unlimited usage, or unlimited meetings each month. The only rule is that you cannot exceed the maximum connections for the room size you purchased. Think of it like your room size. This option works well for small to medium sized companies with moderate usage levels, but scheduling of rooms – sharing a limited number of rooms across the entire user base – can be challenging. • Per-port: As with the onsite licensing model, a “port’ defines the total number of people that can be connected to the system across all meetings. This is a monthly pre-pay service based on the number of ports you purchase. Per-port pricing generally works best for medium to large sized companies with higher usage levels and/or large user bases. • Media Minute: Some service providers now offer a per-minute rate that applies whether you use their phone conferencing, web conferencing, or both. The call it a “multimedia minute”. This model can be good or bad depending upon the rate offered, and your breakdown of web conferencing vs. video conferencing vs. phone conferencing. Often times companies end up paying a lot more for their audio-only minutes of usage. Benefits Regardless of what technology or pricing model you choose, there are many benefits to be had from a well planned roll out of web conferencing. • Improved communications • More productive virtual meetings: adding a visual presentation to a phone call or teleconference has been scientifically proven to increase the retention of the subject matter by the participants. • Reduction of travel expenses • Increased leads • More effective distance learning • Increased audience reach (webinars and webcasts) If your organization has not started meeting online yet, you’re missing out. 4
  5. 5. About the Author Keith Maddox is the President and co-founder of Infinite Conferencing, based in Millburn, New Jersey. The trusted provider of reliable phone and Web conferencing, webinar and webcasting services, Infinite Conferencing delivers feature -rich solutions that range from on-demand phone and web conferencing to full-scale online event management. The Company offers further value through its team of experienced communications experts who help tailor each solution to their clients’ specific business requirements. For a free, no -obligation free trial or consulta tion call 1-888-203-7900 or visit 5