Team Working and Conferencing – If the Glove Fits…

Conferencing has become far more personal in recent years with desktop, web based applications readily available and compatibility issues swept aside. At the same time video and audio conferencing has become a key part in any team working and collaboration application worth more than a pinch of salt with a range of applications and hardware to suit any set of audience numbers and locations.

You could say that in terms of market drivers and forces the conferencing market has been enjoying a ‘perfect storm’ for some years.

Conferencing has the ability to reduce the use of resources associated with travel – time and ever rising costs, as well as provide the potential to improve productivity and to facilitate home and remote working.

We can now add Digital Transformation (DX) to this mix as firms worldwide seek out that elusive digital differentiations collaborative working, to both avoid disruption and gain competitive advantage. And it is here that we start this report by looking at the potential impact that the growing number of team-working apps could be having on the conferencing market.

What impact are team working apps having on the conferencing market?

Jeff May, Regional Sales Director at Konftel, says that team working apps are increasingly being used by organisations who want group activities, information flows and data to be managed and accessed from centralised applications, which increasingly are tablet or mobile based.

“All of the main system vendors are offering them as part of their UC applications portfolio.

With respect to the conferencing market, users want to convene meetings the same way and so App’s such as our Koftel Unite allow users to invite and join meetings from their calendar on their mobile or tablet, and manage and develop the meeting from their own, familiar device.

When you consider that today we use apps to communicate, pay our bills, book our travel, turn on our heating and even mow our lawns, then it is logical and necessary that we use Apps in our Business life and specifically for our meetings and personal collaboration. It’s simple, free, convenient and familiar. It removes the hassle and uncertainty of using unfamiliar devices for important meetings, as people can use their own devices for everything.

Then, as well as convening meetings easier, which in turn leads to more of them, there is then a need to provide great devices to connect with and broadcast the meeting when it involves groups of co-located people.

With more and more remote working, we are all jumping on to calls and webinars with our colleagues to chat with remote colleagues, partners, customers, suppliers etc.

This ease of use is fuelling demand for more and more conferencing devices. The more flexible that these are, for example wireless units to connect via USB and Bluetooth and/ or a fixed network, even simultaneously, the more useful they are and the more productive the meetings become. We call this ‘Hybrid Conferencing’ which allows people to use the same tools in different ways that suit them.

In our own recent survey we found that well over 80% of all Businesses report that they conference in some form or other and 50% allow/encourage remote working.

So, as we all engage more often with colleagues in distant places, the demand for collaboration tools increases too.”

According to Mark Sumner, Exertis UC Product Manager – Devices, voice, chat, video and business critical applications in one collaborative solution is providing anytime, anywhere access to a full suite of communication tools and greater efficiency and productivity for companies.

“Team working apps have been an interesting development and are having a positive impact on the market – some of the system vendors, such as Mitel, are starting to incorporate these into their UC system applications portfolio, often tablet or mobile based. Konftel is another, embracing this change with the introduction of their Unite app. This app syncs with your mobile phone so when you go into a Unite approved room, you can tap your mobile on the conference phone (NFC) and your mobile manages the conference phone and meeting. Video conferencing manufacturers are quickly making their units compatible with these apps to ensure the business meeting room has the means to utilise these apps via their products. We are seeing a rise in USB conferencing as businesses see the opportunity for low cost video conferencing engaging with and using these applications. The full multi-suite codecs will continue but will need to adapt to the market both in features and price.”

Nigel Dunn

Nigel Dunn

Nigel Dunn, Managing Director of Jabra EMEA North, believes that team working apps will allow more people to facilitate conference calls via their chosen telephony platform as they start to become integrated into conferencing packages.

“To complement this and further improve flexibility, USB headsets, for example, can be used in conjunction with these apps to allow for a cross-platform, quick and easy ‘plug-and-play’ experience without the downtime of dialling into a conference call bridge and getting confused over long dial-in numbers and passcodes. It’s essentially ‘collaboration made easy’. Moreover, the applications eliminate the need for licenses, making conferencing a much more viable and cheaper option than it has been in the past.”

Kara Howard, Trading Strategy Manager – Voice & Communication Services at TalkTalk Business, makes the point that team working apps have definitely brought more of a focus onto conferencing and how beneficial it can be to achieving business outcomes.

“Previously conferencing used to be something in the background that people hardly ever used. Now with the nature of business changing and companies needing to work with many more third parties, team working apps have helped break down the barriers between different teams and enabled more fluid collaboration.

For example, people now have the option of dipping in and out of editing a document when it’s convenient to them, with all changes tracked and all team members working from the latest version. This has created a project based approach to collaboration rather than a session based model where people are mandated to join a call at a specific time.”

Paul Emery, Vice President of UK and Ireland at ScanSource Imago, says the increasing prevalence of team working apps is partly driven by millennials who are set to represent 40% of people in the workplace in the next few years.

“As these users are accustomed to certain interfaces, user experiences and ways of communicating in their personal lives, workplace conferencing solutions are increasingly mirroring those.

Compared to previous generations, millennials see their personal and working lives as more closely connected, so team working apps enabling the transition between the two are therefore rapidly becoming a popular solution.

Team working apps are catering for new ways of working, they offer a seamless, flexible and collaborative working environment when combined with traditional conferencing and collaboration solutions. As such it seems to be beneficial to the conferencing market as these apps are only part of an entire solution. For example, manufacturers such as Polycom are now offering significant integration and enhancement to these applications, allowing for a higher quality video experience while still benefitting from the features of team working apps.”

“Personally, I’m very excited by the emergence of platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and others,” says Joan Vandermate – Head of Marketing, Business Collaboration at Logitech.

“Cloud-based video solutions like Zoom, BlueJeans and Skype for Business/Office 365 have already democratised video conferencing by making it highly affordable for any business.

At Logitech, we view all of the emerging team applications in a similar way. They represent additional opportunities for our customers to incorporate video collaboration into their daily workflow. And because Logitech ConferenceCams and webcams are plug-and-play USB peripherals, they’re platform-agnostic, making it easier than ever to incorporate video into your collaboration sessions. The newest working apps take this capability a step further when it comes to end-to-end team collaboration.”

Ian Brindle

Ian Brindle

Team Working Apps Impact

Ian Brindle, Head of UC Devices at Nimans, “I think team working apps and general collaboration has been one of the biggest changes in the desktop conferencing market where big headset players such as Jabra, Sennheiser and Plantronics have moved into the personal and huddle style conferencing space. Millions of pounds worth of business is being generated both here and beyond.

This has had a big impact on traditional desktop devices where USB-style solutions are beginning to take over. It’s scalable too, portable devices that can be used by up to six or eight people. Skype for Business is further driving demand.

More significantly we are starting to see a decline in analogue equipment sales. IP and SIP devices are taking over. A tipping point has happened. In addition there’s huge demand for devices such as the Polycom Trio that combine video with content sharing as well as voice. Sennheiser TeamConnect is another major step forward where a completely wireless four pod solution can easily accommodate up to 30 people. Yealink is another strong market name.”

Daniel Yin, Head of Product Management at RingCentral in EMEA, puts his finger on the pulse when he says, ‘Team working apps and conferencing tools are all really aimed at satisfying the same high level goal – making remote and disparate working easier and better’.

“So let’s talk about the experience and end-users first – for them, this suite of tools are making the overall experience better, from several points of view.

  1. they are getting a broader set of tools to fit more, and specialist use cases and
  2. they are getting the benefits of sets of tools that integrate and work well together, boosting overall productivity.

Net of these points – team working apps have boosted the conferencing market significantly. They provide a set of tools that encourage the use of real-time conferencing – for example, being able to move seamlessly from a team chat with 4 or 5 participants, to a video and audio conversation, without having to do any planning like send out invites and hence break the flow of the conversation.
Konftel-Unite
There is certainly no sense that these tools are cannibalising the conferencing market. To add to that, these apps help develop an ecosystem that encourages use cases like remote working – which in turn increase the need for more and better conferencing.

One other impact is the significant increase in competition from completely new players in the space, offering complete experiences out-of-the-box. These competitors have come from the apps and team collaboration space and moved into conferencing. Think of G-Suite that on top of their productivity tools have a full set of conferencing tools in the form of Hangouts and Meet to complete their solution. RingCentral only offer a complete package of tools including team collaboration and conferencing – with the philosophy that users will benefit most by consuming all these tools together.”

Looking Ahead… What is the next stage of evolution for this market?

  • Nigel Dunn, Jabra
    “…increasing emphasis placed on furthering conferencing ease-of-use, as well as developing additional ways of making the technology cheaper and available to all different types of end-users.”
  • Mark Sumner, Exertis
    “…The rise of Facebook Live, WhatsApp and other social media platforms have demonstrated what can be achieved through collaboration. It seems logical for manufacturers to take this on board…”
  • Kara Howard at TalkTalk Business
    “Technologies like Web RTC will become more important to enable more team members to collaborate via a web browser from any location.”
  • Paul Emery, ScanSource Imago
    “Millennials are more connected and are used to the likes of FaceTime and Hangouts.”
  • Joan Vandermate at Logitech
    “Video will also slowly push voice-only conference calls out of the mix. I am stunned at how many people still rely on old fashioned voice-only conferences.”
  • Jeff May, Konftel
    “Demand is forecast to grow at more than 10% CAGR for the foreseeable future, fuelled by the increasing provision of collaborative spaces (huddle rooms) as well as traditional meeting rooms.”
  • Ian Brindle, Head of UC Devices, Nimans
    “Over the next 2-3 years it wouldn’t surprise me if analogue devices begin to be phased out. Demand is dropping off.”
  • Andrew Cooper, UK Sales Director, NEC
    “At NEC we’re seeing a wave of sales with our InUC solution which uses WebRTC technology.”

 

Ed Says…

The quality, accessibility and utility of video is skyrocketing. With it, the number of organisations for which video is a vital part of daily operations is growing rapidly. Video is deeply embedded in today’s connected experience. It’s packaged for access on the go, it’s ever-present in social media feeds and it’s at the ready throughout the home, on connected TVs, set-top boxes, and a growing number of devices. At the office, video is a click away on the desktop, in the meeting room, in the training room or in the conference centre.

As video has become more and more prevalent, viewers’ expectations around its accessibility, quality and relevance have increased. Audiences now expect to watch the content they want, when they want, on the device they choose, with the best possible picture quality. As I said – a perfect storm.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine