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Multimedia Conferencing � Power and Purpose

By Martin Milner

November 2006, Volume 9/ Number 11

 

Multimedia conferencing solutions come in many shapes and sizes but they all aim to facilitate, accelerate and support your day-to-day business processes. Conference any time, anywhere with anyone using these easily accessible and highly functional products.

The Whys and Wherefores

Conferencing and collaboration products today are on the ascendancy because they support, accelerate and enhance fundamental business processes within the enterprise by:

Saving Time by cutting down and compressing project schedules and timelines.




Reducing travel expenses and associated costs by connecting team members in different places around the world and inhibiting the effects of dispersal in today�s businesses. This results in an overall lower cost of service delivery and considerable savings, depending on the size of the company.

Genesys Conferencing polled one of its international Fortune-50 clients about this, asking how many business trips they had avoided during the previous six months as a result of using the Genesys Meeting Center. The results were astonishing. The average was 5.6 trips at an assumed cost of $100 per trip. Multiplying this by the 3,306 responses received reveals that the company enjoyed savings of over $18 million.

Allowing users to conduct more effective communications making �phone tag� a thing of the past by broadcasting messages that can be picked up when a user returns to his computer or providing instant messaging enhanced with presence functionality.

Improving overall productivity by keeping people connected and collaborating. They can also facilitate project monitoring, supply feedback into business processes leading to improved decision-making, and foster better availability and use of information and company resources. For example, subject matter experts can be identified and accessed more quickly and questions can be answered without having to wait for a return email or a telephone call. The use of these products can also improve client satisfaction, the overall quality of a product or service and help a company to quickly recover its return on investment. Many, by virtue of their scheduling and organizational features, also facilitate the creation of teams and their assignment to specific projects, thereby shaping work flows.


As Peter Goldmacher a software analyst of Cowen & Co. states in Barrons Online in June 2006, �Web collaboration software is the most horizontal tool since email,� meaning that it will reach a broad base, and so �there�s no limit to its market adoptions.� Could it then also be the killer application that VoIP has been looking for?






Miercom reviewed three very different conferencing and collaboration products in September 2006, all of which achieve the above aims but which also bring something of their own to the conferencing and collaboration market. Testing was by way of interview, product demonstration and hands-on testing.

LINQware Communications presented its Collabrix product, Genesys Conferencing its flagship Genesys Meeting Center and WebEx Communications its high impact webinar-ready product, Event Center. The main features of the submitted products are presented in The main features of the submitted products are presented in Table 1 � Product Features and Functionality.

Table 1 � Product Features and Functionality.
Item LINQware, Inc. Genesys Conferencing WebExCommunications, Inc.
Product & type Collabrix 6.2, build 322 Software download Genesys Meeting Center Version: 3.9 Services Event Center WebEx Business Suite 23, Event Center 5.7 Services
Suited to Smaller events requiring any form of collaboration. Large Enterprise customers. Larger, high profile, high impact events.
Max # of concurrent users Up to 200. Up to 5000 participants on phone and web From hundreds to thousands (large meetings).
Communications and Media
Email When a contact is offline or away from desk or even �do not disturb� an email can still be sent. Not applicable Used to send out many event communications that can be automatically generated.
Broadcast Msgs Send a message to be picked up later if people are away from their computer. Not applicable Not applicable
Conferencing: Audio and web Collabrix audio is an outbound service that eliminates 800 number issues, and passwords and PINs. Even if Collabrix client is shut down, audio connectivity can be maintained. Web conferencing is easily launched from instant message. Audio management via the web. Fully hosted, automated, on demand multimedia and collaboration service. Integrates voice, web and desktop video conferencing. Audio management via the web. Offers moderators combined audio and web conference controls. Integrated audio can be controlled via web interface. Audio can be toll, toll free or VoIP.
Instant Messaging (IM) Built on proprietary instant messaging platform. Supports MSN Messenger and Lotus Notes SameTime. Works with AIM Pro enterprise grade IM.
Video Support Unavailable at this time. Desktop multipoint video, works with standard webcam. Up to 10 people can send video during a meeting. Dekstop multipoint video, works with standard webcam; Displays in power panel. Can be restricted by moderator.
Flash animations Supported Yes � attention is given to quality of product, including audio and visual elements. Genesys also supports animated PowerPoint presentations. Yes � strong emphasis on the visual, including mood transitions, 3D graphics and Flash animations.
Streaming Can stream audio over PowerPoint presentation to attendees� desktops. Users can listen to conversations and watch slides if meeting is not interactive. Streaming technologies can be used with Event Center for high impact one-way meetings.
Voice-over-IP Available but currently only recommended for 3-4 participants because of voice degradation. VoIP softphone allowing participants to join the voice portion of a conference over the Internet is available and system can be tailored to use SIP-based phones. Available but used for meetings of 500 persons or fewer with limited application share activity.
Collaboration and Conference Interactivity
Annotations On any document or slide draw boxes, circles, arrows, lines. 7-color palette. Draw and fill in shapes, text, fonts, lines, flowcharting. Panelists have access to these tools and can save a presen-tation with its annotations.
Webtours Yes Moderator controlled Yes
Sharing desktop and applications Host and participant can see/share each other�s desktop if allowed. Sharing controlled by Meeting Control window. Applications selected from a list of those available. Anything on the desktop can be shared. Not usually required in a large event where audience control is paramount.
Whiteboard Annotation of slides/documents; no specific whiteboard. Yes, a single whiteboard is available. Whiteboard functions available.
Control passing Any combination of host and participant is supported Any combination of host and participant is supported. Not usually required.
File transfer Yes Yes Yes
Providing feedback
Chat All configurations. In contact center environment used for customer help. Default is all can chat. Group and private instant messaging also offered. Participants use emoticons to convey specific messages to moderator. Useful in larger meetings for messages such as �we are running a few minutes late.� Can be saved to desktop for responding later.
Q&A Via instant messaging; also incorporates hand raise function that brings attendee to the attention of the Host. Prior to point of joining instant message conversation is protected. Via text chat. Questions can be private or to group. Via text chat (when enabled). Can be set up so questions are not seen by others. Threaded Q&A links questions with corresponding responses.
Polling, Surveys and Quizzes Not required in small, collaborative meetings. Extensive. Customized surveys and quizzes, used in real time and in archive. Can grade for e-learning purposes. Used to gauge responses of a group. Time limit can be imposed. Results shown as percentage and as bar chart graphic. Can drill down individually and save results to CSV file.
Tools
Recording Audio saved in WAV file, web saved to .AVI file. Recording saves session annotations. Default is audio and web Uses WebEx Recorder for audio and web.
Archiving Yes. Accessed- via the Command Center�s History function. Yes. Through Conference Manager. Event can be archived and hosted on specific Event Center website.
Reports Yes � Provided by Collabrix Administration System, Can be customized using Crystal Reports. Web Summary, Meeting Usage, Survey, Quiz and Archives. Attendance reports and specific campaign reporting based on leads (and scores).
Product Integration
Integration MS Outlook MS Outlook, MSN Instant Messenger; Lotus Notes SameTime. MS Outlook and Lotus Notes calendar functions, AIM Pro. Other customized links can be provided.


All products reviewed offered the following features with varying implementation differences:

� An interface that has been purposely designed for conferencing (and collaboration).

� Means to start, stop record, replay, report on and archive the results of conferencing and collaboration activities.

� The ability to present information in full screen mode (sometimes called Presenter Mode).

� A high level of security, often as high as that required by financial institutions.

� Ability for users to share and collaborate via application sharing technologies on most MS Office documents including PowerPoint, Word, Excel and in some instances Adobe Acrobat.

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