The Future Of Web Conferencing: Good Interviews Larry Lehoux
I must say I truly enjoyed this interview. Larry Lehoux of Tenix gave full satisfaction to my quest for hearing and exploring what is not so evident to the naked eye.
The man and his technology go hand in hand. And so does Larry Lehoux and the incredibly effective technology metaphor he has created with Tenix. Though the product is going through some more cutting-edge refinements of its functionalities (to be released in a powerful new version due in the first quarter of 2004), Tenix stands already as a clear pioneer in the online collaboration/Web conferencing industry.
Outside of my involvement with Larry in this interview, I have already asked Tenix to provide me with a battery of testing accounts as I have personally elected this technology as my possible favourite online collaboration tool for the time being, and I am going to utilize it for a full real-world project to test all of its limits and strengths.
I liked Larry's take on several issues and I was fascinated by the depth and vision he revealed throughout the interview. Believe me, this man is one among very few, in this industry, who really understands what collaboration is and what is going to be like.
His take on "the core critical factors that make or break a Web conferencing tool" is right on the mark and his response to my last question just shows how well this man has done his homework.
With the above said, I think you can better understand now how great is the reward and the personal satisfaction when in front of you stand in perfect unison a great human vision and a technology that walks its talk.
Hats to Larry for having both!
Robin Good: What is your definition of Web conferencing?
Larry Lehoux: Web conferencing means something different to everyone and is difficult to define. However, Web conferencing should mimic what a face to face meeting actually is.
The technology should be transparent and enable the participants to seamlessly achieve their objectives. Web conferencing technology should promote the exchange of information and serve as a means to inform and document information.
Far too often Web conferencing solutions get caught up in the technology rather than focusing on what is most important; the ability to communicate and collaborate easily and quickly.
Robin Good: Is Web conferencing going to be around for a while or is this something that will be rapidly superseded by new and better solutions?
Larry Lehoux: I believe Web conferencing represents only a small portion of the collaborative process.
If you examine how people currently work together, Web conferencing is a real factor but only a piece of the collaborative pie.
Collaboration is an illusive term and Web conferencing is one example of that. Other major considerations are document exchange and Instant Messaging while considering integration, ease of use and implementation.
Robin Good: What are in your opinion the core critical factors that make or break a Web conferencing tool?
Larry Lehoux: There five major elements that a good Web conferencing tool makes.
Firstly it must be optimized for moderate broadband connectivity. It has to be usable with slower Internet connections. If all of my clients need huge feeds to the net the technology will fail as by its very nature, no one will conference with themselves alone.
Second, it has to be easily adopted; by that I mean the technology must use existing protocols and rely on technology that is available today for most people or at least technology that they can migrate to with little or no pain. If the users have to acquire or hire specialized resources to implement the conferencing technology, again it will struggle to gain market acceptance.
Thirdly it has to have "presence" in that the conferencing or collaborative elements must be inherent in the application you use today. People will not migrate to someone's proprietary solution and take on a vertical learning curve. People migrate to what they know and what they understand so it makes more sense to embed my technology in what they already know rather than start from scratch.
Also, the technology must be affordable. Web conferencing is most effective if everyone can participate. Pricing the technology out of reach for most people will prohibit its growth so the lowest common user must be able to afford some elements of the technology otherwise its adoption will be stifled.
Finally and most importantly it has to be complete and rich with useful features. There are countless examples of great pieces of technology that are useless to most people. Next time you are in your office take a look at your phone system and examine how many features you use. The vast majority of people use 5% of the features available because the remaining 95% is either too difficult to use or too costly to implement and educate people on how to use it.
Robin Good: Do you believe in contextual collaboration? Why do you think this is such an important concept?
Larry Lehoux: This is the essence of collaboration; if you do not understand collaboration in context than you are missing the big picture.
Collaboration by its very nature has to be contextual. If you ask an engineer they will have a completely different definition of what collaboration is as compared to a consultant or a publicist or a medical researcher. Each will have their own idea of what it is.
If a technology company can implement the concept of contextual collaboration than they will immediately gain acceptance in that market.
Collaboration is all relative to the individual, the applications, the interface, the profession, the industry and so on. This is the essence of what collaboration should be which is what most companies are missing, which explains why it has yet to be widely adopted.
Robin Good: Is it possible to define an ideal set of features and facilities that are needed by ANY online conferencing technology? Which one would they be?
Larry Lehoux: Yes, I believe it is possible to "cookie cut" some high level concepts that comprise any good collaborative tool.
Some of these include document management, security, mobility, transparency, presence and relativity however there is no real list of features that one can put their finger on to say "this is what needs to be included". Collaboration is all contextual and relative to the implementation.
Robin Good: When you think about how people will use Web conferencing tools in the future, what do you see? What will be the main differences from today?
Larry Lehoux: I believe the major difference will come from how it is used and how it is implemented.
In the future it will be initiated with a couple of clicks and will have the infrastructure needed in order to make the technology useful. Today we see pockets of collaboration, but as these pockets meet it will be easier to use and will become as common place as email is today.
Robin Good: In your opinion, what are the factors that discourage people the most in adopting and utilizing these tools on a daily basis?
Larry Lehoux: There are two main reasons that impede this technology from being adopted. The first being the learning curve. People by nature are lazy and if the return on investment has not been explained well enough very few will make the effort to learn new technology.
The second obstacle is that collaboration has yet to be embedded in the daily process. It has to simply happen without thinking while working in your favourite applications. This is what I am referring to when I say transparency. Collaborative technology has to converge these processes into a simple click that is transparent to the user; once that happens it will be adopted.
Robin Good: Is video a critical element in online collaboration?
Larry Lehoux: No it is not, at least not in the very near future. The infrastructure has to mature before one can consider the implementation of the technology useful.
Robin Good: What do you think is the most misunderstood concept about online collaboration and how it should be like? (That one thing that if done differently would radically change the way think of Web conferencing or real-time collaboration online.)
Larry Lehoux: The most misunderstood concept in short is that people who use email to communicate believe they collaborate when in reality email is only a small part of online collaboration.
To prove this point, how many people can control document revisions in their email application? The answer is a paradox; email is so widely adopted but it is also the most widely abused and misunderstood technology.
Until people start to feel the limits of email, (which is already happening), collaborative solutions will be seen as more of a luxury than a necessity.
Robin Good: What do you think of online meeting spaces as actual buildings, conference centers, classrooms? Do you think carrying over the analogy of physical spaces and their constraints is a good idea?
Larry Lehoux: If the term helps the user understand what is happening, than it will work. We have seen examples of this in the past that have worked with the concept of a "folder" and a "file" to store my documents and the idea of a "shopping cart" when I make an online purchase. If it bridges the gap in comprehension then it will work however in terms of collaboration the jury is still out on this decision.
Robin Good: For people meeting and collaborating online is security going to be a critical issue in the near future?
Larry Lehoux: For certain, security is always a looming concern but a good collaborative solution should have security there by default and it should happen without user intervention.
Robin Good: In which ways are the SOHO and "enterprise" markets substantially different when it comes to video and Web conferencing?
Larry Lehoux: At the moment the only difference is that the enterprise can afford it and the SOHO market cannot. Both can use the technology and benefit from it, however it all boils down to the ROI model and the cost of implementation.
Robin Good: Are open standards important for the future of Web conferencing?
Larry Lehoux: This idea looks good on paper but is very difficult to obtain agreement upon. As there is no clear market leader, all the players will be positioning for market share and the likelihood of them playing nice is slim to none; however in the future it will become an issue.
Robin Good: What do you think is the greatest obstacle to standardization and interoperability of these collaboration tools?
Larry Lehoux: The ability of the market leaders to work collaboratively is by far the greatest obstacle.
Robin Good: Can you name three technologies, outside of your own, that have truly impressed you recently?
Larry Lehoux: I recently had seen a PDA keyboard peripheral that projected laser light on a flat surface that displayed a keyboard. This technology was impressive until I asked the company who designed it if it worked in sunlight.
They said "No" so I walked away somewhat deflated.
I've also seen some really good data optimization objects that make data transfer much faster over the Internet that I think has promise.
Robin Good: How does the future of Webex, Centra, Live Meeting and other big enterprise players look to you?
Larry Lehoux: Well again, I believe these products only offer one or two features of collaboration and I think they will struggle to stay leaders without taking into consideration all of the other collaborative initiatives.
Robin Good: What are going to be the major obstacles that these companies are going to meet?
Larry Lehoux: The obstacles include making that mental leap to consider all of the collaborative elements coupled with the marketing obstacles to express to the consumer how their products go beyond what they currently do.
Robin Good: What chances do small companies have to play an important role in this market?
Larry Lehoux: Small companies have an excellent chance to have an impact in this market.
Collaboration is in its very early adoption phase and the market is wide open waiting for a leader to step up with some good and affordable technology.
The market winner will not necessarily have the deepest pockets, but the market will be won the company whose product offers the greatest return on investment.
Robin Good: What do you think has been the major marketing mistake done by Web conferencing companies when it comes to marketing their products?
Larry Lehoux: The marketing of Web conferencing has two major flaws; the first being most companies considered Web conferencing as the main element of collaboration when in reality it only represents a portion of the collaborative process.
The second mistake is a classic one in that most companies marketed the high tech element of Web conferencing when in reality they should market the benefits of Web conferencing to the non-technical audience.
Early Web conferencing was clunky, expensive and only those early adopters made use of it.
People will only adopt technology that makes sense and in today's market that means a very short time to reap the financial benefits of their technology choices.
Larry Lehoux is President and CEO of The Data Corporation. Larry has developed strong skills in leadership and collaboration and in identifying new markets and channel partnerships while implementing successful business strategies for companies of all sizes. With an involvement in technology of over 15 years, Larry has worked for both EDS and IBM as well as for companies like Atari and Sega Genesis. and has extensive experience in engineering and implementing large-scale application development and deployment.
Tenix Networks is a result of his strategic vision of developing a software solution to close today's collaborative needs through a strong reliance on the Internet.
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