Video stars

Unlike IT products that have been circulating regional markets for almost two decades, video conferencing solutions are, in the grand scheme of things, a fledgling market. As it begins to exhibit flushes of maturity, Channel Middle East looks at how partners can play a starring role.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  February 3, 2008

Unlike IT products that have been circulating regional markets for almost two decades, video conferencing solutions are, in the grand scheme of things, a fledgling market. As it begins to exhibit flushes of maturity, Channel Middle East looks at how partners can play a starring role.

As with many youthful markets in the IT business, prices are still quite elevated meaning video conferencing is, on the whole, the preserve of the large multi-national corporations.

Partners must have commercial strength, be willing to invest in our technologies and hire staff who are able to comprehensively translate the needs of the customer into a bill of quantity.

That is not to say the products are not taking off in this region. In fact vendors and channel players alike are keen to crow of a wide variety of projects - from Saudi male lecturers remotely teaching female-only classes to large oil and gas conglomerates contacting their teams in all corners of the Earth - fuelling this blossoming market.

KS Parag, managing director at FVC, regional distributor for Polycom, feels that previously video conferencing in the Middle East was more of a luxury business item but companies are now seeing it as a time and money saving investment.

In the past we saw the trend that video conferencing was more of a nice thing to have and companies were still contemplating whether they should have the technology. We used to see the adoption of the technology more from international companies who would be looking at connecting with their head office," said Parag.

That has changed dramatically over the past few years. Companies have seen the key benefits of not only having video conferencing locally, but as a means of contacting their regional offices."

According to those who work inside the market, the largest end-users are customers from the oil and gas, education, banking and government sectors. It also seems that, despite the expense accompanying the new wave of video conferencing technology, it is not out of the reach of the Middle East's SMB segment.

Parag recalls that a recent customer, a Dubai-based medium sized manufacturer, employed the technology to prevent its operations manager having to make the trip from neighbouring Emirate Sharjah, a well known commuter route.

Guido Romagnoli, director of sales and business development of channels at Cisco Systems Gulf, feels that video conferencing in the smaller and emerging markets in the region will eventually have more of an impact than it currently enjoys in the larger regional countries.

He also suggests that vendors and channel partners alike should be proud of the efforts they have put in to catch up to the European and North American markets. "Today the Middle East and Africa has nothing to be shy of when in comparison with the US and European theatres. We have good penetration, especially in the high-end markets, big enterprise and big international companies. Slowly and surely we are almost getting there," he affirmed.

Magesh Srinivasan, marketing manager at Sony Professional Solutions Middle East is enthusiastic about the possibilities presented in the region for video conferencing utilisation: "It could at end-user level translate into a corporate board room, into a simple audio-conferencing solution, it could be broadcast in lectures or used to webcast those lectures, it could even be used in a medical setting where surgery is broadcast."

It must also be noted that the development of this technology in the Middle East has at times been restricted by the controlled use of internet bandwidth, particularly in the UAE, forcing video conference users to fork out large sums of money to connect over ISDN lines. This is a problem that has not been met by systems integrators and distributors in other traditionally more profitable markets such as Europe or North America.

It is safe to say that video conferencing is still in the early stages of development in the Middle East, but some vendors take exception to the claim that it is still a rather niche market.

The go-to-market journey of the product is one aspect that certainly support this point of view. Across the board there does not seem to be a hard and fast channel strategy for video conferencing in the Middle East.

What is clear though, is that the channel does a huge amount of legwork in finding leads and the implementation and servicing of these products.

With such cutting edge technology the vendor is often present but it is the channel, normally the distributor working in a multifaceted-role as a systems integrator and a reseller, which makes sure video conferencing solutions see the light of day or at least the light of the board room.

The channel make-up for video conferencing also often includes smaller outsourced contracts as part of the process, such as the employment of video technology specialists, room integrators or managed network providers.

This is also a product area where the smart channel player can look to ensure significant revenue from services over and above the call of installation. The products are supposedly simple to use, but the whole system often needs very careful integration with the company's infrastructure and of course this has to happen not just in one office but normally in at least one other.

Gone are the days of small flickering CRT screens or even LCD screens where the person on the other end of the line would often be seen calling out and gesticulating into the ether; ‘can you see me now?' Video conferencing technology has moved on and is now life-size, with huge plasma screens taking up the majority of one wall of the conference room.

The caller can be talking to not just one, two or three people, but they can be facing a small lecture theatre of colleagues.

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