Polycom and the Rise of B2B Video
As the number of options for establishing B2B video conferencing grows, so too does the value of video conferencing investments.
This week in New York City, Polycom made a splash with a series of announcements that it claimed would "transform" the video conferencing industry. I'm not sure I would go that far, but Polycom's moves do go a very long way toward enabling broader support for cross-company video conferencing, and highlight the growing role that consumer technologies are playing in the enterprise.
B2B, or extranet video, allows video conferencing among business partners--and it has become popular: According to our research, 58% of businesses have implemented B2B video conferencing capabilities in 2012, versus just 47% in 2011. What's more, implementing B2B conferencing correlates positively with overall video conferencing success. IT leaders in organizations using or evaluating B2B conferencing report higher overall video conferencing success versus those that aren't implementing extranet conferencing capabilities.
What's more, B2B is driving overall video conferencing growth. Many of the IT leaders we interview tell us that the ability to establish conferences beyond the firewall is a key requirement for their overall video strategy, not just for immersive telepresence investments, but as a driver to deploy desktop video conferencing capabilities across the company.
Given this market dynamic, Polycom's introduction of CloudAXIS, a software solution for easing the challenge of B2B conferencing, is indeed important. The Polycom solution isn't the first B2B offering. Numerous competing solutions exist: Cisco's WebEx Telepresence (fomerly Callway), hosted video meeting rooms from Blue Jeans Network and Vidtel, and an announced free service from Vidyo (VidyoWay). In addition, many service providers offer managed interconnectivity between corporate video conferencing systems. However, Polycom CloudAXIS, along with Blue Jeans and Vidtel, is designed not just to bridge corporate rooms and desktops, but to also enable company-provided video conferencing users to engage with users of consumer services such as Facebook, Google Chat, and Skype.
Approaches vary. Blue Jeans and Vidtel are "bring your own service" offerings. Each establishes hosted meeting rooms that anyone can join from either standards-based video conferencing systems, or from public services. This approach has its advantage--there's relatively no barrier to entry and low setup costs for the enterprise buyer. But there are some drawbacks as well--some corporate IT shops are wary about engaging with users on public services due to concerns about privacy, security, and performance.
Here's where Polycom attempts to differentiate itself. Rather than directly federating with public services for video connectivity, CloudAXIS enables presence and directory federation--the actual video conference occurs using Polycom's web-based client. So a user on a corporate network can create a video conference, invite a Skype user via a federated connection to the Skype network, but when the Skype user joins the video conference, they come in via a web-based Polycom client rather than via Skype.
By choosing this route, Polycom hopes to alleviate the aforementioned security and privacy concerns, guarantee quality of the video session, reduce interoperability concerns, and enable participants to collaborate using screen or desktop sharing in addition to just video. Polycom customers can leverage existing capabilities as well for call recording.
It's worth noting that Polycom isn't the first vendor with the capability to allow external participants to join via browser. Blue Jeans supports this approach, as does Radvision and several others, but the differentiator for Polycom is the ability to federate its desktop client with public services for presence/IM integration, enabling a Polycom user to easily invite an external participant to join an active conference by issuing a clickable link rather than sending them "join" information via email or calendar invite.
Another important aspect to the Polycom announcement is the delivery model. Polycom is providing CloudAXIS as a software package available to both its corporate customers, as well as to channel partners who wish to establish their own hosted service. So Polycom isn't directly competing with the cloud providers, rather it is enabling its partners to deliver B2B as a hosted service, using its software. In this approach, Polycom's channel partners compete with other hosted offerings, rather than Polycom itself becoming a cloud-based service provider.
So what's the downside? For starters, Polycom's solution is designed to work with its own systems. If you are currently a Cisco, LifeSize or Radvision (Avaya) customer, and you want to have the same ease of setting up B2B conferences, you'll need to work with a Polycom channel provider to establish system interconnectivity; using CloudAXIS isn't as simple as going to a web site and signing up for an account.
In addition, since the solution isn't yet available we don't know the impact from a performance standpoint of running the browser-based video client on remote machines. And because the remote participant is using a Polycom web-based client rather than Google Chat or Skype, they are using an interface that is likely unfamiliar to them.
Overall though I'm excited to see the continued developments in the B2B video market. As Metcalfe's Law notes, the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. As the number of options for establishing B2B video conferencing grows, so too does the value of video conferencing investments.