I woke up this morning in Madrid, feeling wonderful after another great night of sleep, following another amazing meal, this time at a fantastic seafood restaurant.
As I was going through the inbox of topical Google hits, I sat back and read this story in the Newark Star- Ledger, a paper whose hockey reporter of days gone by I used to read regularly, Walk McPeek. The Star Ledger always has had reporters and writers who put personality into what they wrote, and at the same time made the story so relevant to their audiences. The story followed a SightSpeed video mail from my wife that also was in my in box and he segue actually got me thinking.
The piece in the Star-Ledger by Steve Adubato is a must read for anyone in the video conferencing industry. The column sums up, in a very persuasive manner, what's wrong with video conference platforms from Polycom, Tandberg, H-P's Halo, Cisco's Telepresnece, Life SIze and the other "facilities" focused and "on premise based" video conferencing solutions that is as akin to be using a landline in today's world versus a cell phone. Who wants to be in the office? Not anyone making money for their company. And who wants to put people in places where rents are high and quality of life is low? Not this CEO.
As a road warrior, running a growing virtual agency, with a client base spanning the Middle East to the South Pacific and everything in between, it is easy to relate to Adubato's remarks. The only people who would want to invest in a system that is "based" in a "fixed" location would be the status seeking, sedentary executive who wants to "show off" what they have. But for the members of the team that needs it most, the sales force in the field, who are always either the first to adopt-can you spell pagers and RIM Messengers--or the most resistive to change because anything that takes them away from selling is something to get around to later--no one is thinking of them. What good does it do to invest the kind of money these "business communications solutions" offer, when only those who are in a "studio" can use it.
Let me compare it to an industry we all know and see daily. The world of television news gathering and broadcasting.
In the 50's there was a newsreader. Now we call them the anchorman. In the 60's news was (and still is) studio based. In the 60s it was either live or film that was converted to a transmittable form, but for the most part most "news interviews" were done in the studio. The cameramen and reporters had to come back to the station's studios and broadcast. So did the guests. In the late 70's Electronic News Gathering (ENG) started. Microwave signals made it possible via line of sight to transmit stories from remote locations. Now news sources didn't have to come to the studio, the studio went to them. In the 80's these ENG based crews became the rage of the television news-reporting world. Finally TV news had its equalizer to radio for instant journalism. TV stations added more cameramen and hired more reporters, and by doing so they were able to create more "local" community news bureaus and became more responsive to the FCC's requirements to provide more local news in the areas their licenses covered. In the late 90's and now in the 21st century we're seeing TV stations and Networks make use of webcams to provide field level reporting.
To draw the comparison, the current telepresence products being peddled by the "big boys" are a throwback to the way news was gathered and presented to our parents in the 60's. Is that where business is today? I think not. For the video conferencing industry, Adubato's story is a stake right through the heart of the "big and heavy" offerings that are getting the attention of the media. His criticisms are also more than likely music to the ears of Peter Csathy and Aron Rosenberg at SightSpeed, as their new Small Business release that's due out any day now is exactly the antidote to the ills that Adubato has gone to great lengths to point out. The big boy's (spelled Cisco and HP, etc.) idea of video conferencing is still a take the king to the mountain, not bring the mountain to the king. In reality their thinking is more along the lines of the story behind the "King and I" and the Emperor's new clothes where all but one young boy dared to say what he really saw.
Well, I'm being that young boy today and I'm calling it as I see it.
Knowledge workers are no longer toiling in the ivory tower. Decisions get made in the field. Executives come and go to and from hotel like desk arrangements in offices. They make use of shared temporary office spaces in places like Regus Group's HQ locations. They hold meetings in airline club conference facilities with fly-ins and outs being the biggest expense and more and more are scheduling their face-to-face partner meetings around key industry events. They do very little in the office. Back at the ranch are the worker bees. The support teams. But even the engineering team is usually far from the "head office." So while the "big guys" are selling the Street that this all means the need for more installations of the "big guys" technology, it really means the ROI on the installs is perverted. High cost. Low utility. Lost time. Usable by only a few and not by the many. It is a preservation of the power elite, and a perk for upper management, and a treat when a staff member is allowed to use it. Does that sound like a "club membership" to you? From a cost efficiency perspective, its not very (efficient) which unfortunately is the critical claim that the "big guys" are all making wen they start selling the features and benefits. How can a single system be efficient until you add more locations and endpoints. And based upon the prices I'm seeing, we're not even close to there yet from the "big boys" which play in the same club.
That's why Peter and Aron have to be dancing in the aisles of the Southwest flights they take so often, just like I do. They've built the Southwest Airlines equivalent to H-P's Halo or Cisco's Telepresence platform and taken it much further, stretching the limits to anywhere there is real broadband, but at peanut prices that are like Southwest tickets, with very few user friendly strings attached. The difference. You can get SightSpeed's soon to be released new Southwest priced like product for "peanuts" (i.e. its cheaper and does the same thing) and keep your costs down. Or you can go with the big boys just like you would fly American or United or US Air, and pay more, and not even get the peanuts, but have the "points" that you bought an expensive system that puts you back in the 60's approach to how things were done.
As often as I'm flying I know first hand that the "smart companies" are putting their executives on Southwest now to fly, which is why Southwest is focusing on the business traveler more and more with new boarding gate areas, new boarding procedures, more at gate power for laptops and cell phone charging stations, etc. You don't see the old "big guy" airlines moving that way that fast. Smart types who want to be ahead of the game have been flying Southwest. So if video conferencing is supposed to reduce travel and stimulate the concept of collaboration, and bring people together face to face more often, then saving money using a Southwest Airlines like approach would make more sense. I mean isn't Southwest more profitable than their fat cat "big guy" competition? Yup. Isn't Southwest the airline that gets blamed for so much that has hurt the other airlines long term plans? Yup. And now with an ever increasing number of more "big guy" type company executives flying Southwest, isn't time those same big guys took the Southwest approach to their video-conferencing technology too before making the investment in what already can be looked at as "dinosaur" technology?
As a member of the SightSpeed Advisory Board, I know the story by Adubato sure made my morning.