In every industry, there are pivotal moments that shape its future. Nearly a decade ago, our industry experienced one such moment. Back in October 2006, Cisco rebranded their videoconferencing gear as Cisco TelePresence products. Telepresence purists balked, arguing against blurring the lines between vanilla videoconferencing and true immersive (even three-dimensional) telepresence. In the end, the purists lost that fight and our industry changed. Over the next 4 years, the entire videoconferencing industry rebranded itself as telepresence to some extent. (see below) Overall, the buzz was good for visual collaboration and provided a boost throughout the industry.
Around the same time, cloud video was starting to pick up steam. The advantages of a software-based, cloud-supported solution compared to a hardware-based, on-premise solution seemed overwhelming. Affordability, scalability, global reach, ease of use, ease of deployment, and other cloud video benefits shook up our industry in a huge way. By 2010, analysts were already predicting the death of hardware-based video. The telepresence age was about to be suddenly killed and replaced by the age of cloud video. Vendors were advised to pivot to software immediately or face extinction. However, when we look at the chart at the top of this article, we see a more gradual shift. The term cloud video continues to rise, eventually overtaking the term telepresence on Google Trends. However, the term telepresence has been slowly fading, rather than dying abruptly.
There are a few reasons for this. First, many cloud video services use hardware-based video products (video bridges) to support cloud video for their customers. Obviously, cloud video can’t kill hardware (often branded as telepresence hardware) if it relies on that very hardware to operate. Secondly, while cloud video has certainly opened things up for desktop and mobile video, you still need quality video equipment to support meeting room videoconferencing. If anything, the growth of cloud video is helping the sales of room systems, which are still often branded and sold as telepresence systems.
However, the future is pretty clear. When it comes to business communications, cloud video has found its place in our industry. Things get more interesting when we add another business communications term to the mix – unified communications. This term has had massive hype. As a result, it’s seen both success and disappointment in our industry. Let’s take a look at what happens when we add it to the chart.
It appears that the term unified communications is suffering a similar fate as telepresence. It isn’t dead by any means, but it’s certainly lost steam as the hot buzzword in business communications. Perhaps after a decade of UC, we simply take it for granted that our communications apps will support text, audio, video, and presence. Therefore, rather than searching for “unified communications”, our IT and AV teams are simply searching for cloud-based services. Regardless, it seems clear that telepresence and unified communications have lost a bit of their luster. However, they’re still very relevant to business communications and will continue to get a lot of coverage here at Let’s Do Video. Cloud video might not have killed telepresence, but it certainly changed the landscape.
One final thought on these charts. It appears that interest in cloud video seems to flatten out in late 2014. Could there be an even bigger trend in business communications taking us into the future? Let’s add the word “slack” to this chart and see what happens.
Now, slack is a pretty common word. So it was a bit higher than telepresence or cloud video on Google Trends to start with. However, all that growth at the end of this chart is clearly due to the Slack chat service. Whether you call it persistent team messaging, workstream messaging, project-based chat, or something else, this style of team communication is taking the business world by storm. To its credit, the videoconferencing industry has been quick to support this workflow. Many vendors now integrate with this type of service or have created similar offerings. It’s logical, especially since the chart above is pretty clear. I believe these types of solutions are the next generation of unified communications. Whether they’re the final nirvana of business communications or just a stepping stone to the next big thing remains to be seen.