Web conferencing: It's like being there, virtually
Real-time collaboration services satisfy most meeting needs
World and economic conditions combined with technological advancements continue to alter the business-travel landscape.
According to a recent survey by the Travel Industry Association of America, nearly three-quarters of business air travelers interviewed believe that conducting meetings with colleagues or customers via Webcasting and related tools is somewhat or much more efficient than traveling somewhere to meet face-to-face. Only 37 percent of those surveyed, however, consider use of such technology more effective than in-person meetings as a way to meet business goals.
So if closing deals or fixing a large engagement gone sour requires a personal touch, what’s the role of Web conferencing? In many ways, it can help organizations become more successful and reduce costs. For example, it’s ideal for project reviews, employee training (especially for regulatory compliance), prospective employee interviews, contract negotiations, and keeping in touch with offshore resources.
To discover how Web collaboration has evolved, I evaluated the latest hosted meeting services from Macromedia, Microsoft, and WebEx Communications. I examined the ease with which meetings could be set up and tested each solution’s tools for managing conferences, as well as its collaboration and archive functions, audio and recording features, performance, and integration with enterprise apps.
All three products offer notable improvements over their previous iterations. Each has made it easier for hosts to deliver presentations and for audience members not only to follow what’s going on during presentations but also to offer feedback. WebEx Meeting Center 7 provides clear demarcation between meeting content and management tools, thereby allowing everyone to focus on content. Likewise, Macromedia Breeze 5 successfully employs Flash to create a customizable, intuitive UI. Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2005 integrates with Office applications and offers a streamlined UI.
All three products provide improved integration with audioconferencing services, and each has jumped on the VoIP audio bandwagon. With VoIP, you won’t need to spend money on audioconferencing services for larger events. WebEx Meeting Center and Macromedia Breeze 5 also permit two-way VoIP.
Although these solutions represent the top echelon of Web collaboration, other options exist. Citrix Online’s GoToMeeting offers a low-cost alternative for delivering presentations. IT executives should also track the emergence of solutions that integrate team collaboration with online meetings (see “Livelink Touchpoint Blends Communication Tools,” page 27).
Macromedia Breeze 5
Breeze 5 consists of the core delivery platform and selectable modules for live meetings, recorded presentations, and training. It’s the latter that I first associate with Breeze because of the product’s history of excellent course management, registration, and online delivery. Breeze 5.0 shows key improvements in Internet audio support and audioconference management, provides a more usable Flash UI, and delivers the ability to play prerecorded presentations within a live meeting, all of which make Breeze 5 a strong challenger to WebEx for corporate communications and marketing tasks.