Technologies in the front seat

For some market segments, recent events have been very good for business.

Web, video and audio conferencing tools have enjoyed a spike in demand since Sept. 11. But a long list of other technologies is getting lots of attention, too. Storage and security products, IP (Internet Protocol) telephony and PBX (Private Branch Exchange) extensions, e-mail, instant messaging – even cheap Web cameras and Windows XP’s instant video messaging – are expecting a surge in popularity in coming months.

One week after the attacks, Web conferencing provider WebEx Communications Inc. reported a 100 per cent increase in inquiries; three weeks after it reported a 35 percent increase in sales. “People weren’t calling and asking how much. Instead, they were saying, ‘I need it tomorrow and is that possible?’ ” says Praful Shah, the company’s vice-president of strategic marketing.

Similarly, Voyant, a Denver voice conferencing provider, has seen a 20 per cent to 40 per cent increase in usage. Voyant says its customers – themselves service providers such as Raindance, WebEx and Akamai – are re-evaluating their long-term capacity needs and trying to determine whether the windfall represents a short-term peak or a long-term trend.

Shah notes that his company benefits from that very uncertainty: “Because companies aren’t sure whether they’ll be traveling more soon or will keep travel restrictions in place, they’re opting for services over investments in equipment.”

Even so, market analyst firm Frost & Sullivan expects revenue for videoconferencing equipment and services to increase 25 per cent to 50 per cent in the coming months. And a report released in mid-September from Wainhouse Research predicts the videoconferencing equipment market (combined desktop and conference room systems) will climb to US$1.39 billion by 2006.

WebEx and others are convinced this is more than a spike, too, noting that interest in Web conferencing in particular has grown steadily in recent years as a way to cut costs.

“People try it for travel reduction, but then they discover it can increase productivity,” Shah says.

“Web conferencing has also become more socially acceptable,” he adds. Before Sept. 11, Shah’s salespeople were reluctant to pitch clients remotely, but now find it’s the prospects who want to meet that way.

Storage, voice, security

“We’re seeing a lot more interest in storage products,” says Cathie Fowler, vice-president of marketing programs for Zones, a reseller of IT products for small and midsize businesses. “Most small companies thought they were too small to worry about data recovery and recovery planning, but now backup has worked its way up the priority list.”

Becky Siman, senior product manager for Verizon’s Virtual Office Solutions group, is seeing a new demand for telephony products such as voice over IP and PBX extentions, as well as an increased interest in security services.

“People have been holding off on the voice space until now,” Siman says. “But now they’re looking for something more permanent for their remote workers, a way to extend the corporate phone into the home.”

Security is also a hot topic among Jeff Cagle’s customers. Zones vice-president of merchandising says, “The small guys may not have had a lot of protection built into their networks, and the big guys are looking for ways to beef up their security further. Everybody’s reviewing what they have in place past the basic network security.”

But Joseph Villarosa, a strategic consultant for the small business market, notes that while enterprises typically have strong security in place, many small companies don’t even have a firewall.

Villarosa says they’re just waiting for something to happen before they buy something, but warns his clients they may not be hit by a full-out assault. “Instead their networks could be hit by a gradual release of some funky worms or viruses that take a while to paralyze the system and might go undetected,” he says.

Villarosa adds that given the current climate and concerns of cyberterrorism, remote communications tools could be a double-edged sword. While technology connects everyone virtually, “If there’s a network outage, if the Internet goes down, remote workers will become even more isolated,” he adds. “In that case, people will have to rely on good old-fashioned phones.”