MeetingZone cashes in on reduced business travel

The Canadian economy is proving well for MeetingZone Inc., which opened an operations centre in Toronto yesterday.

Established in the UK seven years ago, the audio and Web conferencing service provider set up its first North American offices in Boston and Toronto roughly 18 months ago to better service its multinational clients.

But for the last six months, usage has been “through the roof” said Bryan Walkey, president of MeetingZone North America.

As enterprises reduce business travel in order to cut costs, many are increasing their use of conferencing and collaborations tools to communicate internally and with clients, Walkey explained.

“The interesting thing is, travel is down 40 per cent. We are up 40 per cent,” he said. “It’s one of the few good stories business-wise out there.”

Canadian-based operations means MeetingZone can now manage local hours and extended hours for the west coast. Enterprises will also benefit from direct hands-on service for their managed calls, Walkey pointed out.

Kim Leite is the new director of operations for Canada. “Customers get direct access to her instead of going into a big call center as they would at a big Telco or even Bell, who outsources IT,” said Walkey.

MeetingZone serves a spectrum of clients – from SMBs to enterprise to investor relations – with reservation-based day-to-day conferencing calls and high-touch managed call services.

A 2008 Info-Tech Research Group survey found that among organizations that have implemented a unified communications platform, 77 per cent were able to realize travel and commuting benefits, said senior research analyst Jayanth Angl.

And Web conferencing is one of the key elements that organizations target with respect to UC, he pointed out.

“When you start to look at reducing travel specifically, it’s something that’s proven to be a very effective tool for that purpose,” said Angl.

However, Web conferencing tools aren’t necessarily entering a period of dramatically increased growth.

“Whether it’s Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Office Live Meeting or Adobe Acrobat Connect, it’s something that we’ve already seen pretty good penetration of so far. I wouldn’t say that the last few months have changed things significantly in that a lot of people have already been using these tools,” said Angl.

MeetingZone’s boom in business may have more to do with its pricing structure. The company will use the same business model in Canada that led to its success in the UK and Europe.

According to Walkey, Canadian clients can expect cost savings between 30 to 50 per cent. “We’re bringing cost-advantage to the Canadian market. We’re finding that the Canadian rates are somewhat out of touch with global rates,” he said.

Northern Lights Direct Response TV recently switched from Rogers to MeetingZone due to costs. “The majority of the decision came down to price,” said Tom Wilmarth, director of business development. “They basically cut our expenditure down to half.”

While cost was the major motivator for the switch, MeetingZone’s real-time billing system was another strong selling point, according to Wilmarth. MeetingZone customers can get their bills within an hour of a call.

“They can bill back to their clients and not be a month in arrears,” said Walkey. “Real-time billing is a tremendous advantage. It’s also transparent, which means there are no hidden charges and costs.”

The Toronto-based operating centre is also attractive to Wilmarth. “I think they’ll have local staff there now to manage those calls – people we can trust and forge a relationship with as opposed to a large telecom you never know,” he said.

MeetingZone is continuing to enhance Web conferencing services in particular. “We’ve found the Webinar market is exploding because people are cutting down their sales and marketing expense, but still have to reach out to clients. The Webinars is a terrific opportunity for someone to talk to a hundred prospects all at once,” said Walkey.

According to Angl, conferencing features most important to enterprise clients include basic presentation abilities such as sharing desktops and applications during a meeting and moderation capabilities such as group chat within a conference. But interest in Webcam support is growing, he said.

“From a technical perspective, one of the attractions to Web conferencing and particularly Web-hosted conferencing is that they are relatively simple – they are browser-based, there isn’t a new install for each workstation. Enterprise IT involvement is relatively minimal because this is really delivered via the Web,” said Angl.

It comes down to a training issue, Angl continued. “You want to ensure your end users in the organization are making full use of the tools themselves, but also the capabilities that are within…having that salesperson trained in the usage and the features of the tools is pretty important,” he said.

Web conferencing isn’t just about reducing unnecessary travel expenses, noted Angl. The tools can also help improve communications across organizations with multiple offices and internationally distributed users.

“We are in the early stages of seeing that and certainly Web conferencing is one of the key tools that organizations are going to be leveraging there,” he said.

Angl suggested enterprises look at ways to enhance meetings with Web conferencing tools and actually make these meetings more productive than they would be in person. This includes better presentation elements and moderation capabilities and also the ability to include more members.