Citrix Online Developing Video Capabilities for Its Collaboration Products

Citrix Online officials say they are working to bring video features to its line of Web collaboration products, such as GoToMeeting. The demand is growing, they said, but they want to make sure that the technology is done right. Current desktop video conferencing offerings are hindered by such issues as low resolution, according to Citrix Online.

Citrix Online is the last of the major online collaboration vendors to not include video capabilities in its offerings.

That could change over the next few quarters.

The six-year-old company is working to bring video features to its portfolio of online collaboration offerings, including GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar and GoToTraining, according to Bernardo de Albergaria, vice president and general manager of global marketing and e-commerce for Citrix Online.

Like its rivals, Citrix Online is seeing growing demand for video, particularly in such arenas as webinars and training sessions, de Albergaria said in an interview in Boston. The key for his company, he said, is ensuring that when the video capabilities are released in the online desktop collaboration products, they are done in such a way that businesses will want to use them.

"We're looking at [coming out with video features] in the next three quarters or so," de Albergaria said. "[But] we're not just going to push it out there."

Top players like Cisco Systems and Microsoft see video being a key part of their collaboration efforts. Cisco officials have said it will be a cornerstone of the overall $34 billion collaboration space.

The fast-growing collaboration market is being driven by the desire of business executives to increase productivity while reducing expenses, which include travel costs. A trend already in place was only fueled more by the worldwide recession, de Albergaria said.

"[Businesses] had talked about it before," he said. "They finally adopted the tools because they had to, and it's saved them money."

Citrix Online-which is looking to differentiate itself from competitors with such features as greater simplicity, a flat-rate fee and the integration of VOIP (voice over IP) and audio conferencing on the same session-was a beneficiary, de Albergaria said. In 2009, with the recession under full swing, the company's overall revenues grew 19 percent, and revenues from its collaboration products jumped 30 to 40 percent, he said.

"[Online collaboration technology] saved some companies," he said. "We heard from companies who said they could not have survived if they had not cut travel costs."

That was particularly true of SMBs, which make up a good chunk of Citrix Online's customer base.

And video will be a key component of online collaboration as the space grows, de Albergaria said. However, up to this point, the user experience for video conferencing on the desktop hasn't been great, he said. Offerings from vendors have been hindered by such issues as low resolution and a disconnect between the Webcam and the PC screen-because people are looking at the screen and not at the camera, it looks to the person they're talking to that they are looking at their neck rather than their eyes.

Such problems aren't present in the immersive telepresence arena, but many of those products cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so then cost becomes an issue as well for many businesses. Still, providers like Cisco, Polycom and Vidyo are working to drive down the cost of telepresence technology.

The result has been a relatively low use of video in online collaboration sessions, de Albergaria said. About 10 percent of sessions use video when businesses first get the capability. After the first month or two, that percentage drops, sometimes to as low as 2 percent, he said.

In addition, video is in less demand for ad hoc meetings, with interest increasing for training sessions and webinars.

"The demand for video rises with the complexity and with the number of attendees [in an online conference]," de Albergaria said.

Like other features offered by Cisco and other online conferencing vendors, video becomes something that users are offered but seldom use.

Much of what Citrix Online officials is true, according to Roopam Jain, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. However, demand for video capabilities is only expected to grow.

"We are starting to see a strong demand for video, in all its forms," Jain said in an e-mail to eWEEK. "The buzz around telepresence and prosumer use of tools like Skype video has created tremendous awareness. We are starting to see pent-up demand for video among the enterprise users since it adds a visual component to online meetings."

In addition, despite the less-than-optimum user experience of current offerings, video does add to the overall online collaboration session, she said.

"It makes online meetings more effective, more productive and gives a stronger incentive to reduce travel," Jain said. "I believe mainstream desktop video adoption in the enterprise is coming in the near term future."

Standards like SVC (Scalable Video Coding) will help improve the quality of video, she said. In addition, the growing trend toward mobile video, in products like the newly released HTC Evo 4G, will only increase the demand.