From Cloud Conferences to Full-Fledged UC

Cloud-based conferencing might not be the sexiest technology out there, but as the recently released results of No Jitter Research's 2016 Cloud Communications Survey remind us, it's hot enough for fairly widespread enterprise deployment. Cloud-based audio, video, and Web conferencing, in fact, ranked as the most-used cloud communications capabilities in 2016, as they did in the 2015 survey.

However, year to year, the percentage of survey respondents whose organizations use cloud-based conferencing remained relatively flat -- 44% for audio conferencing in 2016 compared to 46% in 2015, 43% compared to 45% for Web conferencing, and 47% compared to 44% for video conferencing. Little wonder, then, that cloud conferencing vendors aren't content to rest on their laurels. There's growth to be had, and market share to acquire.

Earlier this year I spoke with David Chao, chief strategy officer at one of those companies, ReadyTalk. He summed up one of the challenges pretty well -- and while he was speaking specifically to ReadyTalk's issues, his comments are easily extrapolated to cloud conferencing providers as a whole. Historically, ReadyTalk had been good at formal meetings -- its audio conferencing service can accommodate more than 20,000 simultaneous calls, for example. What it needed to get better at, Chao said, was informal meetings -- those increasingly trendy quick-and-impromptu team huddles.

"I wouldn't even call them meetings, but interactions," said Chao, who was hired in part with the goal of addressing ReadyTalk's need to move away from a strategy forged in the glory days of the Internet when providing audio, video, and Web conferencing solutions and webinar services was new and novel. And so over the last year or so, ReadyTalk has been bulking up its services portfolio to become more about UC than strictly conferencing.

The latest move toward that end came last week, with the introduction of a full-featured voice service, also including IM and presence. The service, called ReadyTalk Hosted Voice, is powered by BroadSoft. And with it, ReadyTalk now has a complete, all-in-one UC package comprising not only its traditional audio, Web, and video conferencing solutions and webinar services but also video collaboration and hosted voice, as the company noted in its press release on the announcement.

ReadyTalk Hosted Voice follows on the company's fall 2015 introduction of WebRTC-based FoxDen collaboration platform, for one-click video meetings from Chrome browsers or on Android or iOS devices. With FoxDen, users get personal hyperlinks to their cloud-based team collaboration spaces -- or "dens" -- for distribution to participants, who can then join a video meeting with a single click.

In April, it expanded FoxDen with an in-room video collaboration experience that relies on beacon technology for initiation. The in-room system consists of a Google Chromebox, RadBeacon, mic and speaker, and Web camera, all of which ReadyTalk provides. This system combines with the FoxDen platform, enabling in-room and up to nine remote team members to connect and collaborate via video (display with HDMI input required) and audio. The way it works is that the beacon technology will trigger a user's mobile device to recognize that it is in a meeting space, which then automatically initiates an on-screen FoxDen meeting, the company said in a press release.

Certainly, traditional cloud conferencing companies -- whether of the audio, video, or Web ilk -- are feeling the pressure to innovate and broaden their reach. Also last week we saw cloud-based video communications provider BlueJean Networks similarly move from the cloud and into the physical meeting space. Its offering is called BlueJeans Huddle, a cloud-connected video system aimed at simplifying the launch and management of those tricky impromptu team meetings with both on-site and remote participants.

To those traditional cloud conferencing companies that have not yet done anything by way of innovation: Ignoring the competitive threat from the growing class of mobile-first, cloud-based, video-enabled team collaboration tools would be foolhardy indeed.

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