I haven’t written about video here for some time, and there is a lot to catch up on. To whatever extent you’re currently using video in your business, I’m sure you’ve noticed an increasing number of options over the course of 2013. I’m also pretty certain that whatever you have seen, there will be even more coming in 2014. Given the spirit of this column, the current state of video should definitely give you cause to re-think its role in your overall mix of communications tools as well as how you support employees to be more productive.
This month’s column was inspired by my recent participation at Tech Day with LifeSize at its Austin, Texas, headquarters. LifeSize is owned by Logitech (News - Alert) and is one of the more innovative players in the video space. When you get an in-depth look at a particular vendor’s roadmap, it affords the opportunity to take a broader view of what’s happening.
LifeSize (News - Alert) represents what they call the fat middle of the market. This is primarily the SMB space, which is highly underserved with video and just starting to recognize its potential. For these businesses, high-end telepresence is too costly and impractical; they would love to have the immersive experience but could never justify the investment. Conversely, they have dabbled with desktop video applications, but realize the limitations don’t make this a long-term choice. The price may be right, but the quality is just okay, and being a standalone service, most offerings have limited ability to integrate with other communications platforms. LifeSize is a great example of a vendor that is clearly focused on addressing that middle ground.
Moving up-market, we have the tier 1 vendors, all of whom are tightly integrating video with their overall UC platforms. Prime examples in the news lately would be Avaya (News - Alert) and Unify, nee Siemens. Avaya’s latest iteration is IP Office 9.0, where video is a key pillar of its overall collaboration solution. The same applies to Siemens, whose enterprise business just went through a complete re-branding, and is now called Unify. The name says it all, and under the Project Ansible umbrella, video is one of several applications that form a unified environment to make collaboration as seamless as possible. These are pretty broad ambitions, but this is clearly the direction all the big vendors are going. Microsoft (News - Alert) and Cisco have similar story lines, and these vendors aren’t talking too much now about stand-alone video systems.
Going the other direction are the cloud-based video players, and I encourage you watch this space. These companies are taking a very different approach to video and are showing there is a ready market for stand-alone video. In terms of a value proposition, they are catering to different needs than the tier 1s. As well, their business model is very different, since very little hardware is involved and their offerings are on a pay-as-you-go subscription service.
This is where a lot of the innovation is happening in video, although it’s still too early to tell if they can monetize their good work on a large scale. Three companies getting early traction here are of particular note – Blue Jeans Network, Fuzebox and Vidtel. Blue Jeans and Fuzebox will get even more traction by virtue of their recent funding – $50 million and $26 million, respectively. Vidtel is the smallest of the three but has arguably been pushing the envelope more than anyone, especially in terms of supporting WebRTC. As a possible indication of what’s to come with WebRTC, Vidtel was acquired in October by Fidelity Investments.
There are many other startups at this end of the market following a similar path, and given how wide open the video space is, businesses have many options to choose from. It remains to be seen how the tier 1 vendors will embrace WebRTC, but they are certainly moving quickly to the cloud.
Innovation and disruption will be the prime forces driving video in 2014, and if you follow where the money is going, it’s clear that startups can have just as much of an impact as the majors. As such, whatever your notions are of what video can do for your business, and what type of vendor will be the best choice, I’ll bet a lot of you will be due for a rethink.
Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.
Edited by Ryan Sartor