Don't go there. No, really, don't leave your Seattle-based business to demonstrate your latest offerings to a prospect in Kalamazoo. An interactive communications platform from San Jose, Calif.-based WebEx makes it easy and economical for businesses to meet over the Internet.
WebEx Meeting Center makes all the benefits of a face-to-face meeting--voice, video capabilities, telephony and more--available through a phone line and browser. Meeting Center also gives organizations the power to "take over" a prospect's computer via a desktop remote control feature.
"WebEx in general is all about meeting on the Web," says WebEx Vice President of Marketing David Thompson. "We started the whole real-time revolution of using the Web as meeting space and conducting business in real time. And it's amazing to see what some of our customers are doing with this service. We have a lot of sales people doing online demos and online training, as well as product roll-outs and Web site reviews and demonstrations. This just compresses time and geography and winds up saving a lot of money in the process."
While Meeting Center is its flagship product, WebEx also offers a host of services designed to facilitate meetings over the Web. A pay-per-use offering, available at WebEx.com, offers virtual offices and meetings for users at a cost that runs from 35 cents to 50 cents per minute. Higher end offerings include WebEx Business Exchange, with customized virtual offices and a directory network for corporations and portals, and WebEx Onstage, where a WebEx meeting coordinator works with organizations to select a customized features package. Earlier this year, WebEx was granted a new patent that covers aspects of the technology and process behind real-time Web meetings, including methods for selecting, establishing and ending conferences and authenticating participants.
"Our philosophy with Web meetings is we provide them how you need them and how you want them," Thompson says.
WebEx Meeting Center is designed to be a single source for business conferencing, collaboration and communication. The solution offers three services: Conference Room Services, Virtual Office Services and Support Services. All the services are delivered on an out-sourced basis, eliminating the need to purchase and install software, and each can be branded to give it the look and feel of the corporate Web site.
Conference Room Services offers the real-time multimedia benefits of a face-to-face meeting. Live videos can be streamed into the presentation, and telephone and voice-over integration are both available. At the same time, the service offers document sharing, so meeting attendees can jointly view documents, as well as application sharing, which means participants can run live software applications for viewing by others. Conference Room Services also includes a file transfer feature, as well as a remote control function that lets customer support personnel take control of an attendee's personal computer for added support.
WebEx Virtual Office Services offers all the benefits of Conference Room Services, but adds turn-key functionality, such as calendars and address books, to the offering. The service allows users to create personal virtual meeting rooms for applicable personnel. From those offices, staff can initiate online customer meetings and even take remote control command of a customer's PC. One benefit of the personalized WebEx Office is that it remains available to customers and clients even when the occupant is "out." Office users can organize folders and files, such as white papers or product demos, that customers can access at any time. Office users can also set up a calendar that allows visitors to schedule and request appointments. Users can also record and archive meetings for future reference.
WebEx Support Services provides support representatives with added problem-solving capabilities by giving them instant access to a customer's entire system. Support personnel can view and analyze remote applications running on the customer's system, upload files to check for problems, download patches or files to the customer's system and even take control of a customer's desktop to install files or change settings--all with the customer's permission, of course. Security is guarded since the service works with existing firewall technology, enforces password protection and offers encryption.
"There's definitely a wow factor," Thompson says. "The first time people have a Web-based meeting, a lot of them say they didn't know someone could do that. It's pretty amazing."
Thompson's wow factor has been a definite plus for Parlez Communications, a Web site designer that has been using WebEx Meeting Center for the past two years. Parlez specializes in creating custom software applications to address problems that out-of-the-box solutions can't recognize. Parlez is headquartered in Montreal and also staffs a small office in San Francisco. At the same time, it serves a niche market with clients throughout the United states and Canada. According to Parlez founder Ike DeLorenzo, WebEx provides an economical way to meet with both its internal and external clients.
"We use Webex internally about 80 percent of the time," DeLorenzo says. WebEx provides an inexpensive, easy way for engineers to meet in real time and discuss developing projects. As the product develops, Parlez can then use WebEx to meet with clients and show them in explicit detail the path of development.
"Because the work we do is so custom and a lot of it develops along the way as the client sees it, we have them look at it in very small increments," DeLorenzo says. "We want to make sure the client is in step with us every step of the way. We use WebEx and say, 'Here's what we've done this week,' and we have them buy off on it."
DeLorenzo says WebEx also provides a "very definite and recordable" way to track all interactions. That's an additional bonus that he says "can act as a gentle reminder to the client."
"You can take screen shots and record exactly what was said. You can't do that with a phone call. And that sort of organization and documentation has saved us a couple of times."
And remember that wow factor? "A lot of times when we're meeting with customers, we can say, 'just sit back and we'll take control of your desktop and show you how this thing works,'" DeLorenzo says. "There are amazing benefits from that. We get to show our client what we're working on, and they're impressed that we have command over such technology."
DeLorenzo estimates Parlez has been able to cut its travel budget by at least 40 percent since using WebEx. Phone bills have seen an even larger decrease due to a combination of lower telecommunications bills and WebEx usage. "I can recall $1,000 a month phone bills just between the two offices," he says. "Now we're down to around $90."
But cost savings aside, DeLorenzo says there's another big benefit to using WebEx, and it's one that makes all the difference to his company: "With the type of business we're doing, we pursue business over the Internet. I don't think that mode of business would be possible without a product like WebEx. Ten years ago, we wouldn't be able to have this company at all. But everything's possible over the Internet and that's the cool thing about our business and our company. It doesn't matter where we want to target business.
We can do it."