Web meetings on the uptake

It’s not surprising that enterprise interest in Web meetings grew following the attacks on 9/11. But even before that, inquiries into the service picked up, thanks to an economic slump and enterprises desperately searching for ways to cut costs.

Kailash Ambwani, chief operating officer of Montpellier, France-based Genesys Conferencing, a virtual communications solutions provider, has found that the North American market is growing extremely rapidly.

“One of the driving forces behind this adoption [of Web conferencing] was Sept. 11, because that caused people to re-examine their travel plans,” Ambwani said from his Toronto office. “More generally, even before that, there was the economic recession. As people are cutting down on expenses, travel is the first area that tends to get cut, and as people look for more efficient ways to do things rather than through travel.”

Although he said 9/11 had a slight acceleration effect on the conferencing market, David Thompson wouldn’t call it a catalytic effect.

Thompson, vice-president of marketing for San Jose-based WebEx Communications Inc., a real-time communications infrastructure vendor, noted that 9/11 raised the overall awareness of the viability of video and Web collaboration technologies.

A Wainhouse Research Inc. survey done earlier this year showed the use of Web conferencing technologies had dramatically increased.

The Waltham, Mass.-based research firm asked more than 500 U.S. corporations whether access to conferencing – audio, video or Web – is very important to them. Before 9/11 the response was 44.3 per cent, but over the last year that rose to 63.9 per cent.

Andy Nilssen, an analyst with Wainhouse, said there is a definite shift in business travel habits and an increase in the use of collaborative technologies.

“One of the real significant findings was that in-person meetings dropped from over 54 per cent (very important) to 45 per cent,” Nilssen said.

Again Thompson stressed that the trend to Web conferencing was already there, just as the economy had demanded.

He also said that despite the cost savings that Web meetings can provide, the reason customers choose the solution is to answer the question, “How can I be more productive with less resources?”

WebEx plays in the accounting, law and high tech spaces. In Canada, the financial services sector provides some of Genesys’ large customers, Ambwani said.

Ambwani believes these enterprise sectors have gravitated toward Web conferencing because they are information intensive with a short-shelf life.

In the last year, capabilities have broadened to pharmaceutical and manufacturing enterprises.

In the area of sales, Web conferencing can shorten sales cycles, as well as assist in delivering a more effective presentation, Ambwani said.

This has been the experience of Burnaby B.C.’s WebTech Wireless, a Web-based vehicle location system provider, which has used WebEx’s Training Center solution for its sales employees and customers.

The results speak for themselves, according to Trina Ogilvie, marketing director for WebTech. The company utilizes the training centre to sell their product internationally.

Ogilvie said the first contact between a WebTech salesperson and a prospective customer now includes an online demonstration and a majority of the company’s sales occur without an onsite meeting.

– With files from IDG News Service