This should be boom times for telepresence or video conferencing equipment vendors. Not since 9/11, when the double whammy of a recession and fear of travel combined to make a compelling case for virtual meetings.
Vendors did see a spike, but then video conferencing revenues tanked (see below the fold) by more than 200% between 2001 and 2006, showing that customers weren't convinced that the technology could replace face-to-face contact.
Things are different today. Despite a temporary drop, we all know that gas prices are only going to rise as OPEC cuts production and supplies dwindle. Airline prices and other travel costs remain high even while enterprises lay off workers by the tens of thousands.
Meanwhile, telepresence technology is improving by leaps and bounds, and vendors have gotten better at integrating it with productivity apps.
But vendors are still having trouble closing the deal.
My friend JS, who works for a large department at Columbia University, is doing due diligence and a feasibility study to determine whether or not to invest in a video conferencing system. There are a couple of hang-ups, of course, but the main one is her fear that equipment she recommends buying today will soon become obsolete.
This is bad news for companies like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft, who have invested quite heavily in unified communications suites that they'd like to build on for years to come. If they could talk to JS, they'd tell her that anything she buys today will be built on modern infrastructure; the only thing she's likely to have to upgrade is the end-point technology.
Their message is not coming across, perhaps because they've over-promised for so long that they've created a credibility gap that will take a lot of effort to overcome.