VIDEO CONFERENCING

Budget cuts, scandal fuel video conferencing boom

Video conferencing isn’t new; it’s been around for decades. But shifts in today's market are bringing it fresh attention and creating new opportunities for leaders in that space.

In short, business is booming for video conferencing vendors, with growth fed by sequestration, budget cuts and scandals surrounding government conferences.

Video conferencing these days is an “integral part of the overall communications strategy of any agency,” said Matthew Schneider, operations director, U.S. public sector collaboration at Cisco.

The federal government, especially the Defense Department market, has been a leader in the video conferencing market for a while now, as opposed to the civilian side of public sector, Schneider said.

Lately, though, as a result of things like sequestration and conference scandals, travel budgets have been curtailed, and video conferencing usage has been up.

“It’s forced the business side of government to come to the technology teams and encourage the conversation of ‘how can I save money by leveraging technology,’ as opposed to, historically, the IT teams going to the lines of business and bringing them technology as a solution,” Schneider said.

Going forward, video conferencing will continue to be important to organizations, but it will evolve, just as it has for the past few decades. Schneider expects it to become even more integrated in organizations than it is today.

Cisco sees video conferencing becoming a part of the federal government’s process; “Ultimately, we view video moving into citizen service; we view it as an opportunity for the government to engage in a more expeditious way with the citizens eventually,” Schneider said.

He offered also some advice to other companies and agencies that are dealing with cutting travel expenditures

“As we look at saving money on travel, we’ve seen from our own experiences  that you need to take a  portion of that savings and continue to invest it back into technology if you want technology to be successful,” he said.

Historically, the government isn’t set up that way; travel budgets are not tied to the technology budget, but it’s important to make that connection to save money, he said.

The government is maximizing on the video conferencing capabilities that are out there, though. Just ask Adobe, whose video conferencing solution, Adobe Connect, has lately been very popular in government circles.

Adobe Connect is all about usability; it doesn’t require any type of specialized hardware or equipment or communications protocols, and it runs on PCs and on Macs, and runs on mobile devices and tablets, said Barry Leffew, vice president of public sector at Adobe.

The software “allows agencies to essentially open up collaboration to their entire organization, not just those who have access to high-end equipment,” he added.

Adobe Connect has been seeing a boost in usage lately, and Leffew believes it to be directly correlated to reductions in travel budgets.

“Given the mandate to reduce travel and eliminate conferences, there’s still a very strong need among government agencies to collaborate, to share information, and to participate virtually in conferences,” Leffew said.

The “decrease in spending on travel has been an increase in the usage of our Adobe Connect software,” he added.

One such example is the Defense Department, where Adobe runs a program called Defense Connect Online, and in the past year, the number of registered users has grown to 900,000.

Going forward, Leffew believes that we will see continued reliance and usage of video conferencing software, and characterized video conferencing of the future being crafted around the idea of “anytime, anywhere,” he said.

The consensus among videoconferencing vendors is that video conferencing is has grown because it is benefitting from a number of trends and not just budget cuts.

Another factor that plays into its rise is the explosion of BYOD, or “bring your own device” protocols, said Russ Colbert, U.S. federal government market director at Polycom.

Since video conferencing software is compatible with mobile devices, it is automatically more integrated into peoples’ lives, giving them even more access to these capabilities, he said.

Polycom has developed their CloudAXIS solution, which lets “unlike video conferencing systems communicate together,” Colbert said.

“With our CloudAXIS, we’ve developed a software that kind of bridges standard-spaced video conferencing like Polycom with non-standard-spaced like Skype or Google Talk or Facetime, those more commercial, more consumer-grade video conferencing systems,” Colbert said.

He is hopeful that, in the future, video conferencing will be even bigger and better than it is now.

“Because I’m a user of the technology, I know it can be used to save a lot of money,” he added. “I’ve had about five conferences already today, from my home office, and I connect at 2 megabits per second, so that’s high quality HD communications from my home for $65 a month,” he said.

With everything that’s going on in the market today, from travel cuts to BYOD to programs that facilitate video conferencing across platforms, companies like Cisco, Adobe and Polycom are betting that now is the time to get in the game.

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