Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Grassroots Real-Time Collaboration Tools And Their Differences With Enterprise Conferencing Solutions

It is just more than a month since I have presented this short audio and video presentation to iCohere Virtual teams 2005, an online conference which focuses on online collaboration, tools, technologies and resources that facilitate online cooperation and teamwork.

Andres Ojeda

The presentation is 37' minutes long and gives a quick and simplified overview of the web conferencing and online collaboration markets while highlighting unique tools and services that I have found to be particularly interesting and cost-effective.

As a matter of fact, in this presentation there are quite a few tools that provide true opportunity to communicate and collaborate in real-time without imposing on you enterprise-level price tags. Some of them are even free, while most cost only a few tens of dollars per month.

But once people see this or any other presentation I have made about the effectiveness and value of low-cost grassroots conferencing and collaboration tools, they often ask me the following question:

"Robin, why is it there so much of a price differential between these free and low-cost tools that you have showcased to us and the more popular enterprise solutions from brand names like WebEx, Centra, Microsoft, Polycom, Genesys, Interwise, Macromedia and many other ones?"



For those of you wondering what are the key differences which apparently make these tools so much cheaper than their more popular competitors, these are mainly to be found in the following:

a) Enterprise Sales. Marketing inside the large enterprise has its own price tags and political battles. It costs a lot of money and talented people

b) Mass Advertising. Most of the big name players in this market spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in traditional mass advertising campaigns, including email marketing, banner advertising, print, TV, radio and magazine advertising. This costs a lot of money as well. Small new companies in this sector have understood that the new marketing paradigm is small, mean and lean and that the new effective venues to reach your unique type of customers is via Blogs, RSS, online articles, posts, conversations and comments, and through other forms of non-interruptive, bottom-up promotion.

c) Brand. As for cars, watches and shoes, I am seeing companies charging an extra only for the name, credibility, and clout that they have effectively created around their brand name. While such traits are not just vapor, as new tools improve and introduce better and most cost-effective solutions, branding and established market clout can do only so much to prevent smaller and more agile customers to easily move to what works better, is easier to use and costs significantly less money overall.

d) Event Management. Large organizations place generally great value on the ability to manage and coordinate large events, workshops and seminars. Facilities that support the scheduling, and the sending out of custom invitations to participants are therefore often an important evaluation component in the selection of conferencing and onlije collaboration solutions.

e) Security. This may be, next to scheduling and event management, the only other key technological differentiator between so called SOHO tools and enterprise ones which can justify such a disparity in price. Enterprise customers want high security: encryption of all data transmitted, authentication, identity management, password protection, cryptography and more. Such technology features don't come for free and this is why prices can at times have such wide difference.

f) Integration. Enterprise customers have made large investments in other technologies to manage their corporate directories (LDAP) and internal communications (telecom infrastructures, teleconferencing systems, PABXs, etc.). The more the conferencing and collaboration technologies can integrate themselves with such existing infrastructures, the better for the organization, which is generally open to pay a premium price to buy such features.

g) Online repositories. Though this is not a unique trait or need of large enterprise customers, it is true that in general costly conferencing systems integrate an online archive allowing the upload of numerous documents, files and presentations which can be called up and re-used within live events and meetings at will.

h) Branding. The ability to private label a conferencing product is one of the core needs of any company wanting to establish her credibility and identity in the online world. While such a feature is evenly offered by very few of the existing enterprise and grassroots vendors, it is definitely one for which large enterprises have been readily available to pay a good price premium right form the start.

i) Support. Undoubtedly, major conferencing products tend to offer a much more extensive and responsive customer support infrastructure than what small companies can. It is also true that this trend has been changing and several of the small and medium sized vendors have started approaching customer support, online assistance in more effective and efficient ways than many of the large vendors. But yes, if your staff needs a trusted voice, hand holding and lots of reassurance, the big guys have definitely better resources to serve you there.

Unless the above represent key traits of the real-time conferencing and collaboration needs you have, you can safely look into the many useful features and abilities provided by the alternative great bunch of free and low-cost technologies showcased in my presentation, which not only offer a big bang for the buck but provide in most cases features, performance and facilities that are hard to be found on much more expensive and sophisticated tools.

Not only.

Grassroots real-time collaboration technologies are generally easier to use, are better performing, simpler, and companies and people that work for them are more responsive than the offerings made by most of the large enterprise vendors.

They offer immediate free try-outs and require such small physical and logistical costs to enable them to remain within the reach of most any budget.

They innovate, refine, improve and change their products so rapidly that large enterprise solutions cannot keep up with them. Look where is Skype or iVocalize have taken VoIP conferencing and look then at WebEx, Microsoft or IBM offerings.

So before you dump another few tens of thousands of dollars for a solution that may be surpassed and obsolete before you have even paid back your investment, check out some of these truly interesting grassroots real-time collaboration tools and start getting your feet wet with them. don't get a Rolls Royce to learn driving.

Once you have become familiar and fluent in their use, decide whether you really need an investment in a serious enterprise-level solution, or if you are better off, more productive and rich by joining loosely some of these small great tools.

Look forward to hear what you find out!

Grassroots Real-Time Collaboration Tools
Traits and Tools For Virtual Team Workers

Presentation delivered March 30th - 2004 at Virtual Teams 2005 online conference.

Reference: iCohere [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, May 5 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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