No matter how full-featured the interface or how fast the video frame rate, its really tough to collaborate virtually without voice. For this, the telephone is the most natural tool. Weve been collaborating virtually over our phones for more than a hundred years now, so almost everyone has a phone and knows how to use it.
Still, the fact that phone calls are typically charged by the minute, combined with the reality that Web-based meetings are designed to accommodate variable numbers of attendees for variable durations, can make it difficult for companies to budget accurately for Web-based virtual meeting costs.
The inability to accurately plan for Web-based virtual meeting costs stood out as one of the most common concerns of the judges who participated in our eValuation tests at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis., so its no surprise that nearly all of them expressed interest in VOIP (voice over IP) as an alternative to standard phone traffic for virtual meeting audio.
VOIP can be good for dial-up users who dont have separate lines for data and voice, and the technology also provides for other compelling features, such as helping to identify whos talking and enabling presenters to manage who has the floor.
Of course, providers of integrated teleconferencing and Web meeting services such as Latitude Communications Inc. or Genesys Conferencing can provide those same features over standard phone lines.
VOIP can lead to substantial cost savings for companies that use it. To a certain extent, however, you get what you pay for—when it comes to reliability and quality, VOIP sometimes seems as fledgling as telephones are mature.
Beyond these obstacles, one of the main difficulties with VOIP involves client hardware—most corporate desktops support audio, but its not at all uncommon to find them without speakers. Even when theres support for audio output, these machines are rarely outfitted with microphones for audio input.
We expect advances in array microphones and better audio processing to pave the way for better virtual meeting experiences.
Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]
Points to Consider
Points to Consider When Drafting Your Virtual Meeting/Collaboration RFP
The product or service must support the full range of client platforms with which you intend to interact:
- What are the vendors browser, hardware and operating system requirements?
- If the product offers limited support for non-Windows platforms, what, if any, functionality is restricted?
- What level of IT involvement will the product require for attendees outside your organization to install and use it?
The product or service must suit the needs of presenters and attendees:
- Beyond basic slide presentation features, does the product include tools for annotation, whiteboards, application sharing, remote control, Web touring and file transfer?
- Does the product allow for feedback through polling, chat and emoticon signaling?
- How easy is it to hand off presenter rights from one attendee to another, and is there support for multiple presenters?
- Does the product contain support for integrated teleconferencing, VOIP and video?
The product or service must include effective tools for managing virtual meetings:
- Does the product integrate with groupware applications?
- Is there support for recording meeting proceedings, and, if so, are there additional costs associated with these services?
- Can the product cull attendee information for meeting invitations and scheduling through directory services such as LDAP or Active Directory?
- Does the product allow for company branding, and is there an additional cost associated with this?
- What are the reporting capabilities of the product?
The product or service must meet security and scalability needs:
- What levels of security are available for use with the product, including log-on passwords, data encryption and interaction with third-party security tools?
- If company data is stored off-site, how is it secured, and how frequently is it backed up? Are there additional costs associated with these security measures?
- How many simultaneous meetings/presenters/attendees are supported?
- If the product is self-hosted, what are the system requirements, and how easy is it to add servers?
Source: eWeek Labs