Few Workers Embrace Desktop Video Conferencing: Forrester

While vendors and business executives alike are excited about the promise of desktop video collaboration, interest is low among workers, few of whom have access to the technology, Forrester says.

Video conferencing is becoming increasingly popular as businesses look for ways to improve employee productivity while driving down costs, and desktop video is gaining attention from technology vendors and businesses alike.

Companies such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and IBM are looking for ways to make it easier for workers to take advantage of video collaboration anywhere, including from the convenience of their desks. Businesses are beginning to see the promise and invest in the technology.

However, according to a study by Forrester Research, while business executive may be excited about what desktop video conferencing can mean, that same enthusiasm is not being shared by the majority of their employees.

"Be aware ... that this technology is still working its way into the hands of business users," Forrester analyst T.J. Keitt said in the Jan. 26 report. "Forrester's workforce data reveals that most of the workforce doesn't have access to and isn't bullish on using desktop video for business purposes."

The desktop is a natural extension of the overall video conferencing push, according to Keitt. Already a rapidly growing number of consumers are using such technology-look at Skype and Apple's FaceTime-Webcams are getting better and less expensive, and many PC monitors-as well as a growing number of smartphones-are offering integrated cameras for video conferencing.

There also is a growing push by business executives, according to the Forrester report, which surveyed more than 5,400 information workers. Fifty-six percent of businesses have deployed a room-based or desktop-based video-conferencing system, Keitt said. Vendors are seeing those numbers and are making a push.

Cisco executives expect that within a few years, more than 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video-based, and that video will be a key driver in a collaboration market that they expect could reach $30 billion or more. Cisco has been aggressive in rolling out video conferencing products at all levels, from enterprise-size TelePresence systems on down to Umi, a telepresence system for the home.

More recently, Vidyo, which already is partnering with HP in video collaboration technology, announced Jan. 25 a plug-in for IBM's Lotus Sametime unified communications platform that will extend HD video conferencing to the user's desktop or laptop via the Internet.

At about the same time, HP announced that it was beginning to sell-through partner Ingram Micro-its HP Visual Collaboration lineup, which includes a desktop client and executive desktop system. HP introduced its initiative in November 2010.

However, according to Keitt's report, there's a disconnect between what vendors and executives are pushing and what information workers are looking for. One point made in the Forrester report was that right now, most of the desktop video conferencing technology is being used in small segments of companies. For example, while 33 percent of workers surveyed said their company has desktop video systems, only 15 percent said they had access to them. In addition, it's the upper-level executives who are most interested in the technology, and who use it most. Forty-two percent of directors use desktop video conferencing, 40 percent of vice presidents and 38 percent of owners or CEOs, according to Forrester By contrast, only 7 percent of individual workers say they use the systems.

In addition, for the time being, interest among those individual workers is low. About 72 percent of workers said they didn't want desktop video conferencing, compared with 13 percent who don't have it but do want it. Another 13 percent use it, and while 2 percent said they have desktop video conferencing but don't use it.

Given that, both businesses and vendors need to be methodical and patient when rolling out desktop video systems, Keitt said. Given the relatively low percentage of workers who want desktop video conferencing, start implementations with those people, with the hopes that such a move will spur further adoption, he said.

"To find them, start by looking among manager and executive ranks, a group that may already be getting significant value from the technology," Keitt wrote. "Also speak with employees already using other video technologies, such as room-based video, to learn whether extending video capabilities to their desks warrants further investment."

Also, let those workers figure out the best uses for themselves. According to the survey, 51 percent of the workers who use the systems use desktop video conferencing for routine internal communications. The second most popular use was executive meetings, followed by distance learning and training, customer meetings and brainstorming sessions, according to Forrester.

Other popular uses included partner meetings, improved connections with remote workers, R&D activities and performance reviews.

Such information will give vendors and executives direction on where to start their implementations. In addition, following the workers' lead could also speed up the adoption process. "Tracking how employees use desktop video in the pilot is essential to gaining buy-in for expansion of the initiative," Keitt wrote.