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Notes from the Web Conferencing Front

This week, Citrix Online held its industry analyst conference live and in person in Denver. As part of the event, the company held a "salon" with about a dozen customers. It was a refreshingly open, animated discussion, and I came away from the afternoon session with some interesting takeaways about web conferencing in general, and Citrix Online in particular.Citrix Online is one of the largest players in the web conferencing market, and it claims to be the fourth-largest SaaS vendor, period. Certainly, the customers we saw were seeing clear value from the products they were using (primarily GoToMeeting and GoToAssist)-and it appeared that in all cases, Citrix displaced an incumbent product that just wasn't working the way its users hoped it would. Citrix software was widely applauded as easy to use, reliable and cost effective. Most of the customers fit squarely in the SMB space--Citrix's target market-but one, Travelers Insurance, is a large enterprise, with more than 30,000 agents in 7,000 locations. (That said, the division within Travelers that is using the product is relatively small-the company has 100 licenses, which it uses primarily for agent training.

All the customer examples were of organizations using the technology for training (whether internal or external) and customer or technical support. If companies are using Citrix Online for internal team collaboration, we didn't hear about it.

The fact is, in any organization, web conferencing is used by somewhere between 10-25 percent of the employees (and 25 percent is at the high end, according to Frost & Sullivan research). That's because it has traditionally been used not as a collaboration tool, but as a replacement for in person meetings-typically sales calls, service and support engagements, and training. It serves that purpose well, but there are only so many such users in any given organization. For penetration to grow, companies must deploy the technology to all knowledge workers, and encourage them to use it all the time, for all kinds of communications and collaborative interactions.

The question is, will Citrix Online be able to fill that gap, or will those knowledge workers get the UC&C features they need from a different vendor-say, the one that already sits on their desktop (i.e. Microsoft and IBM). Granted, small and mid-size businesses are more likely to look for easy-to-use third-party services than large enterprises are-and Citrix GoToMeeting, one of my favorite web conferencing tools, could fit that bill. But in the SMB knowledge--worker market, Citrix Online will find itself competing with free.

On another note, customers are clamoring for live and streaming video to be part of the Citrix Online product. Video is "expected" and "critical" according to one customer who specializes in helping clients run successful webinars for their business, and another pretty much demanded to know when the vendor would be releasing such capabilities. The majority of customers also asked for integration with specific business processes (CEBP), such as payment processing and CRM systems. And most wanted a concurrent-user license program, rather than the named-user system currently in place.

Utterly fascinating to me was this comment from Mike Dennis, from Comex Group, which makes paint and coatings. "The industry changes almost daily thanks to regulation and market changes. There's an extremely high turnover rate because of the intensity of the paint and coatings industry." Who knew?

Of course, that's what makes Comex great users of web conferencing, since all those employees, new and old, need to get trained on a (remarkably) regular basis.