WebOffice Upgrade Turns Collaboration Tools Into Integrated Portal

Version 5.0 lets users see the presence of those on their conferencing buddy lists, along with its audio and video capabilities.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

July 8, 2003

3 Min Read

Polycom Inc. has long been known for its video- and audioconferencing products, but it's hoping the newest release of its WebOffice Web collaboration software will help redefine the ease with which employees can use conference tools. WebOffice 5.0 essentially turns the suite of Polycom tools into an integrated desktop conferencing portal that lets users see the presence of those on their conferencing buddy list, along with their video and audio capabilities.

The new release is the result of feedback from customers who said Polycom was missing an opportunity to leverage all of tools into a comprehensive conferencing environment. Backed by a piece of hardware called a multipoint gateway control, WebOffice will recognize Polycom audio- and videoconferencing products to provide presence awareness of those equipped with such devices who are online. It also will tie into conferencing bridges, making it possible to initiate spontaneous multimedia conferences without scheduling call-in times or videoconferencing sessions.

One customer, specialty chemical supplier W.R. Grace & Co., is wasting no time taking advantage of its newfound integrated conferencing capabilities. Grace already uses WebOffice 5.0 to cut down on site visits by customers and to let its IT department provide real-time support to employees. It's has also begun training customer-support staff who will monitor 24-by-7 online support "rooms" that will serve as impromptu round-the-clock conferencing spaces for customers who need to interact with support personnel. "Being able to be out there and available to customers is crucial to any business," says Guy Welty, Grace's manager of rich media networks and collaboration services. "If people are happy with the service they get from you, they're going to lean toward your products."

Welty says he expects to uncover additional cost-saving benefits from the integrated WebOffice once the company expands its use into new areas. In the meantime, to spur additional usage of WebOffice, he's considering distributing Polycom video cameras to customers who don't already have them.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco office of the Small Business Administration is so sure WebOffice 5.0 can be of value to small-business owners that it's working with Polycom to host training sessions in which entrepreneurs can learn how to use the software to expand their horizons. Darlene McKinnon, the SBA's deputy district director in San Francisco, says the reasonably low cost of collaboration tools such as WebOffice make them ideally suited for small businesses. "I think it's the next wave," says McKinnon. "A small-business owner can be collaborating with customers in Pennsylvania or China."

McKinnon also has been using WebOffice 5.0 internally for communication with SBA managers throughout Northern California and says SBA officials are looking for other potential uses. "We're kicking the tires on it to determine what our curriculum will be," she says.

WebOffice 5.0 one-time licenses are $600 for five seats. The multipoint gateway control component can run anywhere from $22,000 to $500,000, depending on the scale of the deployment being planned. Polycom also has unveiled the first upgrade to its ViaVideo desktop videoconferencing system. The updated tool maintains its existing price of $599, while promising improved video quality.

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