[Gartner] Magic Quadrant for Web Conferencing (November 2016)

The popularity of web-conferencing tools is indicative of a need for dynamic blending of communications, collaboration and content in the digital workplace. This report assesses 14 vendors to help application leaders pursuing digital workplace initiatives find the one most suited to their needs. Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Strategic Planning Assumptions

By 2019, WebRTC will be used for 15% of enterprise voice and video communications, up from less than 1% in 2016.

By 2020, 30% of meetings will be facilitated by virtual concierges and advanced analytics.

Market Definition/Description

Web-conferencing products are real-time collaboration tools that support interactions over a network between participants in multiple meeting formats. The types of meeting and communication that come under the category of web conferencing include webinars, remote training, online meetings, and audio and video communications. Some vendors segment their product lines to target each of these use cases, while others offer broad solutions that can be used for each purpose.

Organizations often separate web conferencing for internal use — for collaboration and learning — from web conferencing for external marketing, and run products from more than one vendor.

Application leaders stand to benefit from web conferencing in various ways. It can help to reduce geographic barriers for teams that need to work on projects or specific business processes. Training can be rolled out virtually, to participants in multiple locations. There are potential productivity increases and cost reductions from reducing business travel. Web conferencing has become not only a way to cut expenses, but also the preferred method of communication (ahead of travel) in many organizations because it is cost-effective and efficient. Faster communication via web-conferencing tools increases agility and helps to create a more effective digital workplace. Web conferencing also provides a superior experience to audioconferencing alone because it enables a richness of information and interaction. In addition, with web-conferencing tools, enterprises can benefit from engaging more readily and fully with external constituents, such as business partners and customers, in order to build relationships with them.

Gartner predicts that virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will help support team collaboration in “smart meetings” enabled by web-conferencing tools. An algorithm will gauge from the amount of conversational traffic in chat rooms whether workers are reaching a point at which a meeting is advisable — to convey complex concepts or make crucial decisions, for example. The VPA will be able to schedule meetings between relevant parties, given its access to internal calendars, prioritizing according to project urgency, and then aggregating the necessary materials for discussion.

Whether joined live to meetings or using recordings, this type of artificial intelligence will relieve participants of the routine task of minute taking. Taking its cue from keywords or vocal inflection, it will note tasks for follow-up and decisions that have been made, before populating the relevant team workspace with that information. This will require more intelligent processing of metadata and more types of content.

Smart meetings will encourage more sophisticated use of audio, video and content over time, as people’s etiquette and behavior evolve to take better advantage of the technology’s increasing capabilities. These capabilities could advance from transcription making to intelligent tracking of actions and conversational dialogue and the handling of meeting decisions and actions (see “Predicts 2016: Smarter Collaboration via Algorithms and People-Centric Design” ). This evolution, combined with robust, flexible, easy-to-use conferencing, will shape a market for “meeting as a service” offerings.

Application leaders will find that video links between conference rooms, desktops, smartphones and tablets are essential for meetings as end users will expect more engaging experiences. Vendors’ offerings increasingly enable users not only to participate in, but also to host, meetings from mobile devices with video capabilities. Business laptop PCs and mobile devices with built-in video cameras are common. Some vendors offer separate videoconferencing and web-conferencing solutions that work together, so that buyers can address different use cases, by, for example, prioritizing high-quality video for some and content sharing and collaboration for others.

The task of selecting audio options for web conferencing can be complex:

  • Audio can be integrated directly. Alternatively, it can be handled via conferencing services or by a first- or third-party provider, or by a combination of these.
  • Products often integrate voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in a browser or client.
  • A separate telephone bridge is sometimes used for the audio, with a callback feature being desirable.
  • External audioconferencing options often have trouble synchronizing audio and video.
  • Audio experiences can be dissatisfying using built-in microphones, so the need for accessories such as headsets should be accounted for when making purchasing decisions.

Wise planning and investment will improve the quality of the user experience and foster adoption, so we advise application leaders to think through internet/VPN issues to support real-time communications, to consider the logistics regarding “consumable” add-ons, and to follow best practices for connections via LAN and wireless LAN (see “Growing Connectivity Challenges Necessitate Adoption of WLAN Best Practices” ).

Application leaders making web-conferencing decisions face a predominantly cloud-based market. Some buyers, however, still seek hybrid, on-premises, managed and dedicated deployment options.

Web-conferencing solutions include audio and video capabilities, and are increasingly a key requirement in purchasing decisions for unified communications and collaboration (UCC).

Providers of stand-alone audioconferencing solutions are increasingly focusing on web-conferencing enhancements. Gartner does not evaluate the stand-alone audioconferencing market in this Magic Quadrant.

Gartner does include video-as-a-service solutions (video-centric web conferencing) in the web-conferencing technology area.

Web conferencing is part of the broader conferencing segment of the unified communications (UC) market (see “Forecast Overview: Unified Communications, Worldwide, 2016 “). That segment, which was worth $2.6 billion in end-user spending in 2014, will grow to $3.7 billion by 2020, and its forecast compound annual growth rate of 6.5% for the period 2015 to 2020 makes it the fastest-growing segment in the UC forecast. Offerings in this segment range from low-end “freemium” to high-end premium services.

Traditionally, enterprise buyers of web-conferencing offerings have come from lines of business (LOBs) where support for specific use cases (such as training, and sales and marketing webinars) was needed. However, the strategic impact of web conferencing now makes its sourcing a strategic matter for most organizations. To optimize costs, web-conferencing decisions are made in the context of an organization’s UCC approach, as well as of its investments in cloud office products with similar capabilities.

Application leaders are identifying high-impact use cases for web conferencing to understand end-user requirements.

Many enterprises take a tiered, multivendor approach, rather than using a single vendor to meet all their web-conferencing needs

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