WebEx Teleconferencing for Small Businesses
Exactly three years ago in August, I wrote a blog article about using Skype as a business tool. Now, a full three years later, I'm more sold than ever on the concept of video/teleconferencing, but with a much better tool of choice: Cisco's WebEx.
My previous blog article extolled the virtues of video conferencing use within a small business, so I won't belabor the point again here (but do encourage you to read the original article for that backgrounder). But WebEx takes the whole concept further, and with far greater poise, polish and substance.
Unfortunately, Skype has not really evolved over the past three years. It teased us with some great promise of what it could be. In a vacuum it is certainly better than nothing. However, the video still freezes frequently, audio and video quality are both a crap shoot - sometimes it's great and sometimes it's unusable. And, three years later, there are still no remote control features. In a nutshell, by today's standards it's kinda crappy.
Fortunately Cisco has filled the void with WebEx.
Don't get me wrong, I know that WebEx has been around for a while. But initially WebEx was a high-end, premium service geared towards larger corporations. I was looking around recently for a better / newer alternative to the frustrating Skype situation and came across WebEx again. I almost wrote it off as an expensive subscription service, but gave it a look during my due diligence and was pleasantly surprised -- they have a FREE small business offering now!
I always think of myself as an optimist, but I couldn't help my overwhelming pessimism regarding WebEx. Surely there must be a catch! It just must be a free "trial period." Or it's so horribly limited that it's virtually useless. Something...
Nope. There's really, actually, a free version.
I've been using it myself quite a bit both internally and externally, and have to admit that I'm incredibly impressed. The video quality is SUPERB. I've held dozens and dozens of video conferences without a single freeze-up or other hitch. I'm not saying it *can't* happen, but if it did happen it would be a weird exception, not the rule. With Skype it's the rule -- I can pretty much expect some level of picture or audio failure if I let the call go long enough. WebEx is a completely different experience.
The "free" level affords you unlimited meetings, with up to 3 participants. The way it handles multi-user calls is pretty neat as well. You can always hear all parties (like a conference call via telephone) but the main video image flips to whomever is actively speaking, in a fluid and natural way. It is very analogous to real world conversations. Imagine you are sitting between two people, one on your left and one on your right. While you can hear multiple parties concurrently, your visual attention naturally shifts to the dominant speaker as you turn your head left or right to focus on him or her. WebEx mimics this natural process -- if person A is speaking you see him/her. If person B starts speaking and person A stops, the video will change to show person B.
The great part about WebEx, however, is the ability to share screens and pass remote control access back and forth among meeting participants. I've found with Skype that any time I switch back and forth to screen sharing mode I have to hold my breath, say a short prayer, and hope I don't lose the call. Invariably it takes 3 or 4 attempts to get a screen sharing sessions working without crashing, freezes and other false starts. WebEx is solid and seamless. You can flip back and forth between video call and screensharing on the fly all you want without missing a beat. And you can give/take full remote keyboard control, which is something you can NOT do at all with Skype.
Thus, I've used WebEx to:
1. Perform remote control diagnostics of a client's problem by being able to control THEIR machine and see the issues from THEIR computing environment;
2. Use screen sharing features during visual demonstrations to new potential clients (show images and websites and more, in real time, to clients 3/4 of the way across the country);
3. Hold video conferences with team members working from home; and
4. Hold video conferences with clients to discuss their project status and review work-in-progress.
WebEx has brought premium teleconferencing tools to an affordable level (free!) for small businesses. If you're a small business looking for professional, cutting-edge capabilities, check out WebEx. You'll be glad you did!