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The VC Divide

As more videoconferencing vendors enhance their existing group lines with new desktop systems and software, the future of the traditional videoconferencing market is in flux. With different applications and potential customers, integrators should find opportunities on both sides.

PVC trends

The most interesting trend in PVC is the move from VC serving as a standalone application to a feature within a larger system. Boston-based visual collaboration and rich media communications research firm Wainhouse Research believes that the battle for the future enterprise desktop is taking place on three fronts.

First, you have the PBX (telephony) vendors working to include audio-, video-, and webconferencing as features controlled by their PBX servers. All the major vendors here, including Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Mitel, Alcatel, and Siemens, have programs to enable VC from their PBX handsets in one form or another. We expect these vendors to reach out to the large installed base of room VC systems as well and to enable connections between room systems and their PBX endpoints.

Another trend in the PVC space centers on existing enterprise workflow applications from such vendors as Siebel Systems, SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and others. The concept is to enable audio and video communications from within the higher-level enterprise software. Users running a CRM application, for example, would have a “collaborate” button to call on the appropriate person for conflict resolution, etc. The advantage here is there would be little for the end-user to learn. On the other hand, the suitability of this conferencing application for general-purpose meetings or for calling outside the enterprise is highly limited.

Finally, there's a trend toward the development of conferencing and collaboration portals, which are communications applications (not add-ons) that bring audio-video-web tools together in one virtual location where users can schedule, launch, and control their meetings. Portals are highly flexible, suitable for meetings, briefings, training, and many other enterprise applications. Portals today deliver video performance that ranges from 2 to 30 f/s in video windows ranging from very small to full screen.

Wainhouse expects to see some crossover between these three different approaches. Indeed, Microsoft, Alcatel, and Siemens are already working in multiple areas, and many portal developers are likely to partner with PBX vendors and software developers to integrate their solutions.

PVC attributes

While GVC systems are used in scheduled, structured environments where AV quality is crucial, the opposite is generally true for PVC applications. These are personal systems, and just as people don't generally schedule or reserve their telephones, they don't want to do so with their desktop video systems either. Tolerance for audio-video glitches, while not high, is still higher than it is with room systems. The key for PVC systems is to support ad-hoc calling, and ad-hoc multipoint. Even more important from the AV integrator's perspective is that the primary function of many enterprise video calls (not so for consumer video calls) is to discuss a document or presentation, so that the focus of the conference is on content first, audio second, and video a distant third. Therefore, many PVC systems use small display systems or display small video windows on computer screens. As a result, integration skills in the PVC world are typically focused on network integration and on integrating the PVC systems to other enterprise desktop applications such as scheduling, workflow, or the enterprise Presence engine, rather than AV (see "The Importance of Presence" sidebar.)

PVC future and integrator implications

While no one can be 100 percent certain how the enterprise desktop VC market will develop, it appears that the major implication for AV integrators is not a growing opportunity to get involved at the desktop, but rather an opportunity to support room systems that will see increased use as enterprise workers are exposed to the benefits of rich media conferencing and collaboration tools. If there is an “overhang” in the market today it's that many GVC systems are underutilized. While it's hard to justify video enabling more conference rooms when existing rooms see utilization rates well below 10 percent, as measured by Wainhouse Research, AV integrators will see demand for their services soar as VC becomes mainstream in the enterprise, driven by higher quality and reliability, lower cost of ownership, and persistent demands on enterprise users to be more efficient.

Andrew Davis is the managing partner with Wainhouse Research in Boston. He can be reached at

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