Where Does Web Conferencing Technology Make Sense?
Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Citrix Online Executive Meet-Up here in Boston; as an East Coast-based technology analyst, I rarely see the vendors I cover in person without hopping on a plane. For those unfamiliar, Citrix Online is the maker of popular remote access and Web conferencing technologies GoToMyPC, GoToAssist, GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. The centerpiece of this event was a customer panel exclusively made up of marketing professionals who use the conferencing technologies for customer and channel interactions. It was a fact I made sure to jot down in my notebook – why such a marketing-heavy panel? This prompted a broader question: are sales and marketing the real killer applications for Web conferencing?
A myriad of companies occupy the Web conferencing market, offering solutions that address four basic use cases:
- Ad hoc meetings: collaborative sessions that need to happen on short notice. These could be quick screen sharing/document sharing sessions, technical support or demonstrations.
- Formal meetings: planned sessions with formal agendas that are centered on a group considering one or more pieces of content.
- Large & small group presentations: more formal events where a presenter addresses a group of some size with varying degrees of interactivity.
- Training sessions: educational sessions where participants get information, have interactive learning sessions and can be tested on content.
Despite the broad applicability of these uses, and the glut of vendors providing tooling to facilitate them, only 14% of US, Canadian, and UK information workers use Web conferencing technologies. Why are so few using? Excluding those who say their business does not provide the technology, the majority of information workers not using say that it simply isn’t necessary for them to do their jobs. And this brings me back to my initial question: for whom is Web conferencing relevant?
Looking at specific roles, what we find is that the biggest users of Web conferencing technology are engineers, sales professionals and marketers. This outpaces those in professional services jobs (consultants, IT specialists, etc.), human resources roles and design positions. So what does this tell us? Well, it says that engineers working together on things like code or schematics, salespeople giving presentations to clients and marketers holding informational sessions have seen value in using Web conferencing for these functions. It also says that most information workers doing other types of unstructured work – writing reports, analyzing data, ideating, etc. – have not seen the same type of value.
Though many vendors would disagree, at the end of the day, Web conferencing tools are essentially presentation technologies: they allow an individual to present content to others. So, for those jobs where presenting materials to others is important (re: sales and marketing), Web conferencing solutions make perfect sense. There is traction for using Web conferencing in other types of jobs (see engineering) where no other solution allows individuals to look at something together in real time, but this is a niche use – and one that evaporates as software vendors cook up ways for users to work on things collaboratively within their applications (see co-authoring in Office 2010 and Google Docs).
So, to answer my question, at this point in time, the killer application for Web conferencing is marketing and sales because that is where more users are seeing value. However, this does not need to be the case in the long term. Going back to an earlier point, adoption of a technology requires an information worker to see applicability to her job. So, product managers at Web conferencing providers, this signals that your job is not to convince information workers to alter their business process to take advantage of your technologies, but to find ways to embed yourself where they are. How about the ability to launch a Web conferencing session from the email client? Or the CRM system? Or the ERP system? The bottom line is that broad adoption requires putting aside the notion that you can steer workers to your application and start thinking about what business processes you can tie directly into.