Everyone know that saving money on travel costs is the whole point of Web meetings. Could everyone be wrong?I recently had a interesting conversation with Anand Ramanathan, manager of product management (howzat for a redundant title?) for WebEx, Cisco's Web SMB-oriented Web conferencing outfit.
Ramanathan had an interesting take on where the real added value comes from when companies begin to use online conferencing.
After acknowledging the commonly associated benefit of using Web conferences to replace expensive travel, Ramanathan said that the biggest benefit is actually that "It increases the abiltiy for smaller companies to have the right people in the right place in the right situation.
In smaller companies, he explains, there are often a very few experts or other key people who absolutely, positively need to be in the important meetings with customers, suppliers, and so on. That may simply not be possible those key folks have to waste a lot of time traveling.
For example, Ramanathan asked, what if the president of a small company needed to make three customer calls in the same day, at various parts of a large metropolitan area? Its might not be possible without doing the meetings virtually. And that could cost the company business.
Most people come to WebEx thinking that cost savings is the value proposition, Ramanathan told me. "Then they quickly realize it gives them the ability to be in multiple places -- if not at the same time -- on the same day."
To make the most of that capablity, he added, small companies should try to deploy the technology as widely within the organization as possible. The more people in the company that use it, the more quickly the cultural shift to using virtual meetings takes hold. If only a few people "get it," it's too easy for the company to go back to the old way of doing things.
WebEx is also working to simplify its products for smaller businesses, creating a single online administration console where you can manage all of your WebEx accounts, check your bill, make changes, and so on, without having to talk to sales rep. That's due in the second half of 2009.
Longer term, Ramanathan said, WebEx's goal is to help take companies advantage of the "collaboration lifecycle." It can be really challenging to do different things at different times with different programs, he said, so WebEx is moving toward incorporating some of these capabilities into a single place.
He gave the example that when you move from a meeting to email, you "lose the collaboration experience. Wouldn't it be great if you could share the document described in the meeting?" Or what if someone sends you a document and says "Let's meet about this document." Wouldn't that be easier if you could make the meeting happen without switching environments?
It's blurring the lines between conferencing, communicaitons, and collaboration. As someone who emails a heckuva lot of documents, that sounds useful to me. We all know how much Cisco loves Unified Communications, so maybe we should think of this as Unified Collaboration.