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Web Conferencing Embraced

Companies often start using web conferencing to save money on travel costs, but they soon realize other benefits as well

David Barker, corporate telecom director for Cendant Corp., has big plans for Web conferencing. In December, he spent six figures on three Web-conferencing servers from Latitude Communications Inc., each capable of supporting 120 ports. The company, parent of such brand names as Avis, Coldwell Banker, and Days Inn, will use the software for training franchisees and employees, making internal and external presentations, and conducting sales meetings. And that's just the start.

As the company's travel budget has shrunk, usage has taken off. "It's a battle for who can get in there first," Barker says. "Our users love it." He expects the return on investment to match that of teleconferencing, which, he says, has been "very good."

In an uncertain world that has businesses closely watching spending and employees wary of travel, Web conferencing has proven a perfect tonic. But it's much more than that. "It seems like this is the market that benefits from tragedy," says David Alexander, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "But that's not why the market is growing. What drives the market is the capability of the products." Whether they're using it for online training, customer qualification, or project collaboration, companies are finding that Web conferencing packs a powerful punch and is eagerly embraced by employees.

Available as a one-time service, a subscription, or on-site software deployment, Web conferencing lets companies use a Web browser to share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and applications (see "In Or Out: Web Conferencing Is Available Hosted Or In-house"). It also can be used to support Webcasts of up to 2,500 participants. Internet chat is a standard feature of the conferencing interface, and voice-over-IP services are gaining momentum.

Rendi Williams -- Photo by Sacha Lecca

Web conferencing lets the ASPCA's remote workers feel connected, Williams says.
At the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, many of the 300 employees are remote workers; Web conferencing helps them feel more a part of things, says Rendi Williams, director of distance learning for the ASPCA. In November, Williams bought 16 concurrent, unlimited-use licenses for PlaceWare's conferencing service, and usage has risen steadily since it went live. (Microsoft has since purchased PlaceWare for $200 million; see "Details Emerge On Microsoft's PlaceWare Plans".)

The ASPCA has been using PlaceWare to conduct staff meetings and share best practices with the nation's 5,000 animal shelters and humane societies. It's also planning to use the software over the next several months to collaboratively develop its own shelter-management software, which the ASPCA will distribute to shelters and humane societies.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Williams also has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of training the ASPCA does for law-enforcement officials and veterinarians to deal with the potential impact of bioterrorism on the animal population, and she hopes to use PlaceWare to support such efforts. "It pays for itself by eliminating one meeting of eight people," she says.

Illustration by Rich Lillash
Photo of Rendi Williams by Sacha Lecca

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