In other situations, however, such as a large teleconference or Web event with many participants scattered among 50 or more sites, external hosting is often the easier and more cost-effective alternative. Also, it is sometimes preferable to use outsourcers to provide an external platform for hosting virtual-meeting sessions with trading partners. This is true even for simple IM - it is usually simpler to use a Web-based service, such as Yahoo, for IM rather than trying to establish accounts for such sessions on the corporate network. The key is defining the security and privacy issues related to hosted services. Companies must analyze their needs and develop a balanced model using internal and external hosting.
Some other general rules for virtual meetings include:
- Videoconferences work best with five or fewer people in each room.
- Conferencing works better when most of the traffic is one-way - for example, when someone is making a presentation and looking for feedback - rather than for brainstorming meetings with a great deal of interaction. One reason for this is that most people find it hard to draw on electronic whiteboards using a mouse, so they cannot diagram their ideas.
- Because of the limited bandwidth available, videoconferencing is often used simply for "talking heads," which provides minimal video information. These sessions can often be replaced with audioconferences supplemented with electronic presentation material and, possibly, IM connections to enable participants to pose questions and comments without losing any value.
User Action: To gain the most value from the complex set of collaboration, virtual meeting, and e-learning technologies that are available, organizations should take a systematic approach to prioritizing, selecting, and implementing these offerings. Rather than focusing on a specific product solution, companies should build out a collaborative infrastructure consisting of many products - hosted internally and externally - that address the range of anticipated business needs.
This means examining each business process (for instance, sales automation) to determine where different collaborative technologies can add value - by increasing contact between sales reps and clients or between members of a distributed national/global account team, providing faster response to client needs, increasing employee productivity, or saving travel costs. These advantages must be balanced against the greater value that face-to-face meetings may provide in establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with clients, and in boosting productivity through the social interaction of project teams.
An organization's long-term plan for implementing collaborative technologies should embody a phased approach which recognizes that networks and technologies will improve over time, making technologies such as voice over IP and full videoconferencing (which are currently in their infancy) into practical additions to the collaborative technology mix.
META Group analysts Matt Cain, Elizabeth Sun, Mike Gotta, Herb VanHook, Elizabeth Ussher, William Zachmann, Jerry Murphy, Val Sribar, Jack Gold, Dale Kutnick, and David Cearley contributed to this article.