Businesses, both large and small, utilize a conferencing solution of some nature to conduct business at one time or another. Today there are several types of conferencing solutions an organization may choose from. The choice to use conferencing is clear. What’s not so clear is which one best fits the needs of your organization.
There are currently 3 basic types of conferencing solutions:
–Audio Conferencing Solutions
–Video Conferencing Solutions
–Web Conferencing Solutions
To make things even more interesting, it is also possible to mix and match amongst the three solutions. Let’s take a look at each one in turn and then see how they can be combined to extend their utility.
1. Audio Conferencing –- audio conferencing solutions have been around the longest. They range from simple conference calling features on most PBX systems that bridge 3 phone lines to sophisticated outsourced services. In addition to the conferencing feature on a PBX is the very low cost 2-party conference call using speakerphones with the participants on each end sitting around a conference table.
You no doubt have probably participated in one of these conference calls on more than one occasion. These types of conference calls can be very effective, but they also have some major limitations. They are just an ordinary telephone call between two parties. It can often be difficult to hear all of the participants if they don’t speak up or are too far from a microphone. Long distance charges may be incurred by one of the parties unless an 800 number is available.
A hosted audio conferencing solution provides an added level of convenience and professionalism. They allow the bridging of multiple parties via telephone lines. These services my be either operator-assisted or what is known as “reservationless” where the client has an account and schedules the call themselves. An operator-assisted conference call has some advantages such as transcription and translation services, but the trend is to save cost and opt for reservationless conference calling services.
2. Video Conferencing -– video conferencing solutions are the next best thing to being there. However, they require specialized systems and support and can be difficult to setup and use. On the other hand, when compared to the costs and lost productivity associated with travel they can be a very cost effective alternative.
This is especially true where geographically dispersed divisions or partners must collaborate on a regular basis. In this case the ability to see and speak to one another in real time using a video conferencing solution is ideal. Video conferencing systems also provide rich media and conferencing tools to further enhance the conferencing experience.
3. Web Conferencing -– Web conferencing solutions are at their most powerful when computer desktop applications need to be shared. Web conferences are great for demonstrating software products to customers or sharing spreadsheets and other applications amongst the participants.
Web conferences also typically have an audio component, which is either a separate audio conference or integrated into the web conferencing system via an audio conferencing service or over the Web using a digital voice solution such as VoIP.
Unlike video conferencing solutions, Web conferencing solutions use a familiar desktop interface and are easy to setup and use. They provide meeting tools such as white boarding and document sharing. The best-known and most popular provider of Web conferencing services is WebEx.
Choosing among the various conferencing solutions comes down to what your organization hopes to accomplish with the conferencing solution. In many cases a simple audio conferencing solution is sufficient.
If you need to demonstrate a software product or require a more interactive conference, then a Web conferencing solution is probably what you need. For extended, mission-critical projects that require regular interfacing with a remote office, then video conferencing solutions are definitely worth considering.
The important point to bear in mind is that whatever conferencing solution you choose, it is a tool used to meet the business objectives of your organization. Towards that end, don’t choose a tool that’s more than you need, which is wasteful or is inadequate just to save on cost.
Richard R. Rojas researches and writes on trends and technologies within the conference calling industry. You can read more about business conference calls and conferencing solutions at http://www.onlyconferencecalls.com