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WebEx Meetings Move Beyond SMB Offices

With an eye on small and midsize business users, Cisco adds mobile tools, a persistent free account, and collaboration features to its online meetings suite.

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
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WebEx, the well-known online collaboration platform owned by Cisco, is trying out a new marketing slogan: WebEx Meetings: Not just for videoconferencing!

OK, so they're not really using that tagline. But it is one of the firm's main messages as WebEx Meetings evolves for the mobile, social era. "We do a lot more than videoconferencing," said Janine Pelosi, WebEx Online senior marketing manager, in an interview.

New features include HD video (720p), Meeting Spaces for file sharing and collaboration, instant messaging, pre- and post-meeting management tools, and the first wave in an oncoming tide of new mobile features. Cisco also recently began offering the first ever free WebEx Meetings account--until now it had only offered free trials--for up to three meeting attendees. All of the above was developed around a fluid definition of the business meeting, especially in the wide range of SMB environments.

"[A meeting] is not just interactions that are happening in a boardroom around incredibly strategic projects," Pelosi said. "These are the interactions you're having every day, with people that may sit next to you--or they may sit in another time zone."

[ How do you make new employee social networks work with your existing enterprise tools? Read more: When New Social Networks, Old Tools Clash. ]

Mobility is a key part of that changing definition of the traditional business meeting. Noting the rise in virtual teams, remote workers, and the saturation of mobile devices inside SMBs, Webex has extended the meetings platform beyond the desktop with features like two-way videoconferencing on an iPhone. Pelosi said the rollout began with iOS and Android devices and will soon include other platforms as well. "Being able to be on any device is very critical for us," Pelosi said.

WebEx has an all-encompassing view of the SMB universe that includes freelancers, home-office users, remote workers, and the like. The free entry-level account is likely to appeal to the truly small in SMB. (Some features, such as HD video, aren't included in the free version. Premium plans start at $24 per month.) WebEx is betting that appeal will add to its current 5.5 million registered meeting hosts worldwide.

"It's not a consumer tool," Pelosi said. "We know that there are those tools out there. This is for people who have a professional need."

Pelosi didn't name names, but she's right: Those tools are out there, and many of them are free. Some, such as Join.me or AnyMeeting.com, are designed specifically for videoconferencing and related needs. Others are more consumer-oriented applications that can move easily into the corporate environment, like Skype or Google+ Hangouts. Whether it's an independent professional or an employee of a 200-person company provisioning their own technology, "free" is tough to beat whenever budget is a concern--which is almost always these days.

"We see a need in the market for a free offering that has limited features, and then as those needs grow we have made sure we have [other] packages," Pelosi said. There are two premium tiers above the free account before a company has to call a sales rep for an enterprise price quote.

Social media is a factor here, too, both in terms of feature development and market strategy. Pelosi called the meeting "the oldest form of social media" and said that the newest WebEx features for the pre- and post-meeting experience "are going to allow for a more social experience." (Cisco also just announced at Enterprise 2.0 updates to Cisco WebEx Social, formerly Cisco Quad, its enterprise social collaboration platform.)

Business-grade security, integrated collaboration features, and so forth--everything under that "much more than videoconferencing" header--will be a key to keeping competitors, direct and indirect, at bay. What qualifies as a competitor, though, is a bit blurry. Does WebEx Meetings view social venues like Google+ Hangouts or the Facebook-Skype integration as legitimate alternative for SMBs?

"Cisco WebEx Meetings is an online collaboration tool," Pelosi said via a follow-up email. "[It's] much, much more than a video chat solution, including a full suite of collaboration tools for users to work and get things done anywhere, anytime, on any device."

New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)

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rinkuminakshi
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rinkuminakshi,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/11/2013 | 3:51:58 AM
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