Polycom and Sabre Travel Network, which offers technology solutions to the travel industry, are developing a global reservations solution that will enable customers to schedule video conferences in the same fashion that many businesses now schedule their travel.
Through Sabre Virtual Meetings, businesses and users will be able to schedule video conferencing meetings and reserve rooms, both in a business' own conference room or at a public room that offers video conferencing technology. At the same time, the solution will help enterprises compare the cost of a video conference and the cost of travel to conduct the same meeting face-to-face.
The solution comes as businesses, in the wake of the global recession, look to save money on travel expenses, and as they come to grips with the increasingly mobile workforce, according to Suzanne Neufang, general manager of Sabre's GetThere program. Enterprises are turning to video conferencing to help them address not only those issues, but to also improve employee productivity, so the demand for scheduling and running video meetings is increasing.
"Companies are looking to us to make this a much easier process," Neufang said in an interview with eWEEK. "When there's no travel involved, they want to make scheduling [a video conference] easier."
The two vendors see Sabre Virtual Meetings as an industry-wide offering, that can be used not only with Polycom's video conferencing technology, but also offerings from rivals such as Cisco Systems, according to Sue Hayden, executive vice president for strategic alliances at Polycom. The solution is set up to enable either Polycom-to-Polycom video conferences, or Polycom-to-non-Polycom meetings, as long as the non-Polycom technology is standards-based or supports the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP), Hayden told eWEEK. TIP initially was created by Cisco, which has since enabled other video conferencing vendors to embrace it.
The Sabre solution can be used as both a self-service application on an employee's desktop or used by traditional travel agencies as another service they can offer their customers, Neufang said. Through the service, enterprises can schedule the video conferences and enable enterprises to find either private or public rooms that can be used. According to Hayden, such public rooms can include business centers found in some hotels or other public business centers run by such companies as Regus, which offers more than 1,100 such centers in 500 cities in 85 countries.
Sabre Virtual Meetings is in beta right now, and is due for general release in the first half of 2012, according to Hayden.
Polycom is in a highly competitive market that analysts say will only continue to grow as businesses look to keep a tight rein on spending and are beginning to learn the various benefits of video collaboration, from better employee productivity to open up new ways to communicate with workers, partners and customers.
Analyst firm Infonetics Research in March predicted that the video conferencing and telepresence markets will hit $5 billion by 2015, more than twice the $2.2 billion spent on the technology in 2010.
"Communicating via video continues to be one of the top trends in telecom, as evidenced by strong growth in the enterprise video market," Infonetics analyst Matthias Machowinski said at the time of the report. "Businesses worldwide are looking for richer means of communications with their employees, partners and customers, and enterprise video conferencing and telepresence solutions are a natural fit."
Vendors from Cisco and Polycom to Radvision, Vidyo and ShoreTel are looking for ways to expand their reach and differentiate themselves from an increasingly crowded field. Many recently have brought their solutions to the booming mobile space, particularly to smartphones and tablets, while Polycom also is pursuing an aggressive software strategy.
Sabre Virtual Meetings also could prove to be a boon for that company, which has seen its business of helping travel agencies offer services to businesses and consumers come under attack by the growing number of self-services online sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia.