Why use web conferencing #4: What to look out for when selecting an online collaboration tool

When you go on the hunt for a web conferencing solution for your company you naturally take a look at the functionalities of the potential candidates first. And rightfully so. But there are other factors that need to be considered as well – such as cost.

Fees and licensing models differ from vendor to vendor. In general, web conferences create two types of costs: expenses for actual usage, in the form of license fees or rental charges, and costs of audio functionality – because visual collaboration within virtual teams is usually supplemented by conference calls.

Software as a service (SaaS) is highly suitable for small organizations and freelancers – because it is generally more cost-effective to pay monthly or annual fees rather than install and operate the tool on in-house servers.

Rental model rates depend on how much the tool is used, as well as on user behavior and the corresponding pricing models. Named-user licenses are an excellent option if there is a clearly defined group of multiple users, while concurrent-user licenses provide access to virtual meeting rooms, which is a good idea for a large number of people who rarely use the tool.

As an aside: We are observing that the general trend is drifting away from complex terms and rates towards transparent, clearly structured flat rates.

Another important factor to consider is the cost of phone calls for online meetings. Many tools come with integrated conference-call solutions. Whether these can be used or not depends on an organization’s existing telephony infrastructure. In terms of audio, VoIP solutions lead the field. But to benefit from this technology, participants must have a reliable broadband connection and a headset. Alternatively, conference-call solutions from a different vendor can be used parallel to the web conference. Because the various payment models used by participants in different countries can lead to considerable cost differences, it is worth taking a close look at what providers have to offer. A three-way conference using a regular phone system is often sufficient for meetings between two or three participants.

So, this concludes our series of looking at web conferencing as a whole. We are very certain that we have not mentioned everything there is to say on the topic. If you feel that we have ignored a key issue just let us know.

Why do our results differ from Gartner’s?

With it’s Magic Quadrant for web conferencing Gartner offers a comprehensive study of the web conferencing market which includes a detailed evaluation of online collaboration tools. Now we have been approached with a justifiable question: Why do their results differ from ours?

The answer lies within another question: What are you looking for in a web conferencing solution? Which brings us to the criteria of evaluation. Gartner takes a very close look not only at the software itself but also includes the vendor in its evaluation. Overall viability of the vendor e.g. has high priority. Here Gartner assesses the financial health of the provider and the placement of the web conferencing tool in question within the organization’s product portfolio. The marketing strategy of the vendor is also ranked high priority.
This prioritization naturally favors the big players who have the high marketing budgets and are financially better situated than a small vendor who just introduced his 1.0 version to the market.

We have a different focus when analyzing and evaluating web conferencing solutions. The web conferencing solutions we evaluate should e.g. offer an approach different or complementary to what Gartner calls the on-premises-model. Users should not be required to install additional hardware or software to their IT-infrastructure to run an online collaboration solution. We give vendors a higher ranking if they enable you to run the software without great preparatory effort (SaaS – Software as a Service). This is important to us since we test with small to medium businesses in mind, who often cannot afford the costly and time consuming installation. You can find a detailed description of our testing approach and evaluation criteria here.

Gartner also features tools that are not included in our ranking. Most of these tools have been rejected by us previously because they did not comply with our basic requirements, e.g. offering a free test version and pricing information. We will definitely take another look at AT&T Connect, Intercall Unified Meeting, and PGi Netspoke to see if they can be included in our ranking now.

If you know of other tools that we have not tested so far and you feel fit all our criteria for evaluation please let us know. We will definitely have a look at the suggestions.

Web conferencing appliances

Testing appliances is currently not on our to-do list. And here’s why: To thoroughly test an appliance for online conferencing a complete in-house test environment needs to be set up. That is a very time consuming procedure, which directly leads to the fact that our focus is on easy to install SaaS (Software-as-a-service) solutions, since small to medium sized businesses hardly have the need for any online conferencing tool that requires the installation of hardware within the company’s infrastructure.

So we have to turn down the request for evaluation of the RHUB web conference appliance for now. However GoMeetNow, the SaaS offering from RHUB, is on our backlist of online conferencing tools to be tested.