As our nation struggles to affect a return to some sense
of normalcy in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of
September 11, I would like to take this moment to offer
my condolences to the families and friends of those who
lost loved ones that day. I would also like to offer a
measure of gratitude to the heroes who stepped up when
called upon to do so: The volunteers and the medical
personnel, the iron workers and EMTs, and of course the
police and firefighters of New York City, who in the
face of tremendous personal adversity carried on and
continue to do their jobs admirably.
Anyone within reach of a television or a Web
connection has seen and heard about the incredible way
in which the people of our nation have come together in
the wake of the attacks. Volunteers came out in such
force that people were being turned away for lack of
anything to do. The spirit of volunteerism was evident
in the communications industry as well. The video
conferencing segment of our industry deserves some
measure of thanks for their quick response to the needs
of the many businesses that found themselves in need of
their services. Andover, MA-based PictureTel
was among the leading companies driving an initiative
called Video Relief. Together with many of their
partners, competitors, and resellers, PictureTel formed
Video Relief, a worldwide video conferencing network to
help the victims, families, and relief agencies affected
by the attacks of September 11. The vendors offered up
their video conferencing facilities to arrange -- free
of charge -- video conferences anywhere in the world.
I had the opportunity to speak with Lew Jaffe,
PictureTel's president and chief operating officer,
about the company's Video Relief initiative.
RT: Please describe the response to the
Video Relief initiative.
LJ: The response from PictureTel's partners,
customers, and competitors has been overwhelming. Video
Relief participants have opened their doors to more than
300 video conferencing sites in 40 countries around the
world. We have also made units available to FEMA
(Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other
humanitarian relief organizations in an effort to
bolster existing deployments or to create an alternative
means of communication during this time of crisis.
RT: What about your competitors? Are they
joining PictureTel in this effort?
LJ: Polycom has joined with PictureTel in the
Video Relief program by opening its own sites around the
country to those in need and encouraging its own
customers and partners to do the same. Along with
PictureTel, Polycom is providing information on Video
Relief on its Web site. PictureTel and Polycom resellers
have likewise joined the effort.
RT: How would you measure the success of
LJ: We are measuring success in terms of the
comfort we can offer -- and the program has been
extremely successful. I am proud of our industry.
RT: Do you have any available numbers that
reflect to what extent victims have taken advantage of
the services being provided by PictureTel?
LJ: Due to the nature of the program there are no
numbers available. Individuals or companies interested
in holding a video conference go to our Web site to find
the location nearest to them and a site closest to those
who they would like to call. They contact the site
directly to arrange a time and date to hold the video
conference. We knew that a decentralized approach would
be fastest and easiest for those in need of two sites.
RT: Would you like to add any additional
thoughts or comments?
LJ: Our thoughts and prayers are with those who
have suffered and with those on the front lines. For
more information on Video Relief, please visit our Web
site or call 877-532-1841.
FOLLOWING THE TREND
The attacks of September 11 will certainly affect
business travel for some time yet. Many companies are
taking a bit of a break as far as sending their
employees on trips, but it should be noted that business
travel was on the decline even before the terrorists
carried out their evil deeds. On September 6, PictureTel
announced the results of a survey conducted at their
user group conference, which was held in late August.
The survey noted a marked jump in the number of video
conferences over the preceding 12 months -- with 92
percent of respondents reporting an increase. More than
half of respondents noted that their organizations are
placing restrictions on business travel and mandating
video conferencing as an alternative. While the majority
of users reported a reliance on ISDN, nearly half of the
group report having some systems connected to IP
networks for video conferencing.
And, in terms of return on investment, 75 percent of
respondents report that their video conferencing systems
have paid for themselves and have started saving their
organization hard dollars in 12 months or less.
Video conferencing stocks surged when trading in New
York finally resumed on September 17. Shares in
companies like WebEx,
Polycom, and ACT
Teleconferencing skyrocketed, gaining anywhere from
30 to 48 percent in just a day's trading. But as the
PictureTel user group survey showed, the video
conferencing market was already trending upwards due to
economic conditions, travel restrictions, and advances
in video conferencing technology.
Another recent report, one announced on September 24,
sees a short-term market turnaround to be followed by
steady growth, driven by price and performance
improvements, IP networks, and increased interest in
alternatives to business travel.
The report, from Brookline, MA-based Wainhouse
Research is entitled Conferencing Markets and
Strategies Volume 2: Conferencing Clients: Video &
Web Clients for Group and Personal Conferencing.
Wainhouse Research sees the overall market declining in
the first half of 2001, but predicts a robust last
quarter, driven in no small part by the terrorist
actions of September 11, and by renewed interest in
avoiding business travel.
According to Wainhouse managing partner Andrew W.
Davis, "Even with a strong Q4, however, we believe that
growth from 2000 to 2001 will be negative for the
industry as a whole. But 2002 should be strong. We think
many factors have finally combined -- price,
performance, availability of IP bandwidth, PC data
integration, remote systems management -- so that people
exposed to the current crop of conferencing solutions
will stick with the technology over the long term."
By the end of the forecast period, Wainhouse Research
believes as much as 80 percent of the conferencing
industry will have moved to IP networks for their video
conferencing and visual collaboration applications.
And so, in our quest to return to normalcy, we must
once again pick up where we left off. It was so
inspiring to see how people came together in the days
and weeks following that dreadful Tuesday, September 11.
Rather than falling apart and collapsing in our own
self-pity, our nation -- the people and businesses that
make America truly great -- rose to the challenge.
To The November 2001 Table Of Contents ]