Web-Conferencing Providers Need More Comprehensive Offerings to Retain Busisness: Report

An AMI-Partners survey finds Web-conferencing providers need to offer small businesses more services.

A report from AMI-Partners found U.S. small businesses (SBs, or firms with less than 100 employees) are increasingly adopting Unified Communications (video and Web conferencing solutions), utilizing various free offers available on the market. According to the report, more than 25 percent of U.S. SBs would deploy Unified Communications integrated with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings as paid services, if available from a single provider. AMI researchers cautioned bundling preference proposes a challenge to premium cloud computing, video- and web-conferencing providers to compete with many free solutions providers and build a more comprehensive menu of services.

The trend was on display in January, when Salesforce.com acquired Dimdim for $31 million in cash. A cloud computing firm known for its popular customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, Salesforce.com announced it intends to follow the "Facebook model" combining real-time collaboration and communication into a single integrated service. Dimdim, a free and low-cost web-conferencing platform for real-time, rich-media collaboration and meetings, provides Salesforce.com the solution set for its customers to share desktops, show slides, collaborate, chat, talk and broadcast via Web cam.

"This acquisition represents a developing trend in cloud computing: build a comprehensive solution to prevent revenue erosion," said Brian Galgay, manager of AMI's cloud services group. "Whereas some players are competing in a race to the bottom, offering free or nearly free services, Salesforce.com integrates conferencing into its existing solution and, with this acquisition, can now sell deeper into its large CRM base. U.S. SBs view video- and web-conferencing as an effective, real-time collaboration tool, and are relying more and more on it for daily business use."

Meanwhile, also in January, the Internet telephony and video-conferencing provider Skype expanded its services. The report noted that by removing the beta label from its "Group Video Calling," Skype created a broader definition of its video-conferencing solution than it had previously offered. No longer limited to free one-to-one video communications, Skype's SB customers with Web cams can engage with parties of three or more, paying a monthly subscription fee.

In that same week Skype also acquired Qik, a mostly consumer-focused provider of mobile video software and services that lets users capture, store and instantly share video from anywhere. Qik is available on specific camera-enabled mobile devices on most networks, including Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Vodafone.

"The concept and expectations of premium video- and web-conferencing solutions have continued to evolve in the past few years," Galgay added. "For subscription-based models to succeed in the long-term, these providers need to regularly benchmark competitors, especially against free providers, invest in competitive opportunities and offer a broader, more robust solution. I do not see that trend changing anytime soon."

He said Salesforce.com's move into Web-conferencing with Dimdim should prompt a reaction by other firms to include additional services. Similarly, Skype's expanding set of video-conferencing features not only opens B2B opportunities, but also deepens its stronghold in the consumer space.

Both Salesforce.com and Skype are now competing for a more advanced business customer segment that was once reserved for more enterprise-focused solutions like LiveMeeting, WebEx and GoToMeeting. SBs' expectations are increasing, and premium service providers need to adapt their services. "Otherwise," said Galgay, "they face the threat of losing customers to free service providers."