Can the Videoconferencing Boom Last?

It's a familiar story line. Whenever travel becomes too expensive or difficult, there's a deluge of stories about how business travel will become a thing of the past and how everyone will be meeting and doing face-to-face sit-downs via videoconferencing. Whenever this happens, there's a rush to invest in videoconferencing systems, which see heavy use for a time. And then, as the economy improves or travel once again becomes affordable, these videoconferencing rooms see less and less use, and people once again start doing their meetings in person. Right now we are clearly once again in a boom phase for videoconferencing. With the high cost of travel and rising energy costs, many businesses are once again taking a very hard look at implementing videoconferencing solutions in the hope of cutting down on travel costs and improving worker productivity. But the question is, Can this current generation of videoconferencing maintain the momentum of this current cycle and remain a fixture of modern business life or will it once again fade into the background when (or if) travel once again becomes affordable?

Jim Rapoza

It's a familiar story line. Whenever travel becomes too expensive or difficult, there's a deluge of stories about how business travel will become a thing of the past and how everyone will be meeting and doing face-to-face sit-downs via videoconferencing.

Whenever this happens, there's a rush to invest in videoconferencing systems, which see heavy use for a time. And then, as the economy improves or travel once again becomes affordable, these videoconferencing rooms see less and less use, and people once again start doing their meetings in person.

Right now we are clearly once again in a boom phase for videoconferencing. With the high cost of travel and rising energy costs, many businesses are once again taking a very hard look at implementing videoconferencing solutions in the hope of cutting down on travel costs and improving worker productivity.

But the question is, Can this current generation of videoconferencing maintain the momentum of this current cycle and remain a fixture of modern business life or will it once again fade into the background when (or if) travel once again becomes affordable?

Unlike past videoconferencing systems, the current-generation systems do have a few factors in their favor. For one, the video quality nowadays is much higher than in past systems, providing a much clearer picture of colleagues and meeting associates (though depending on the people involved this may or may not be a good thing).

And the new wave of advanced telepresence videoconferencing rooms use high-definition video, multiple video screens around a table and even integrated lighting to provide a videoconferencing meeting environment that is as close to being really there as can be imagined.

But these can come with more than a few issues of their own. As always, high-end videoconferencing solutions are very expensive, easily passing into the high six figures or even seven figures for some implementations.

And while many have integrated systems to allow meeting attendees to share desktops and documents, these don't always work well for traditional ad hoc meetings where more than one person has data to share. This situation can lead to the classic situation of attendees sitting in a high-cost videoconferencing room all staring at their individual laptop screens instead of the video monitors.

The other challenge for modern videoconferencing systems is the increasing number of workers who telecommute from home. While newer systems, such as the Radvision solution that my colleague Andrew Garcia recently reviewed (click here to read Andrew's review of Radvision's Scopia Conferencing Platform), do provide nice features for integrating those who are using Webcams to attend a meeting from home, in many videoconferencing systems these types of attendees are definitely second-class citizens compared with those actually in a meeting room, especially in the case of advanced telepresence systems.

Probably the biggest challenge to modern videoconferencing is the increasing growth of Web 2.0 and social networking-based collaboration tools. For many modern workers, while being able to see a colleague on video is nice, if they have to choose between collaborating in a videoconference without access to Web 2.0 collaboration tools or using Web 2.0 collaboration tools without video, they'll often choose the latter.

That's why in order to survive past this current boom cycle videoconferencing systems will need to be able adapt to and integrate with the changing way that modern workers collaborate and meet.

But for now videoconferencing will continue to rise with the current state of bad travel and economic news. Because even with videoconferencing's shortcomings, anything is better than the current air travel experience.