Mobile Web Conferencing: Next Big Smartphone Trend?

Artwork: Chip Taylor
CIOs can score points by bringing mobile Web conferencing to traveling executives, says Ted Schadler, a Forrester Research analyst. In fact, in many ways Web conferencing makes more sense on smartphones than on laptops, he says.

Mobile Web conferencing apps such as Cisco WebEx and AT&T Connect are now riding the smartphone wave-namely the iPhone, BlackBerry and Droid-into executives' hands. "Mobile Web conferencing is growing in importance because the people who are most valuable to the company are the same people that want web conferencing on their mobile phones," Schadler says.

Earlier this year, for instance, AT&T launched AT&T Connect for the iPhone, which taps into AT&T's wireless network that supports simultaneous voice and data. The app will call out to Web conference participants to join, allow participants to send messages to other participants, identify speakers, let participants view presentations, choose emoticons and answer polls, among other capabilities.

"First is the iPhone, with BlackBerry a fast follow in the next month or two," says Chris Hill, vice president of mobile products at AT&T Business Solutions.

Smartphones are a perfect fit for Web conferencing, adds Schadler. Road warrior executives don't want to have to pull out clunky laptops to participate in a Web conference. Nor do they care to look at slides on a tiny screen typical of traditional mobile phones.

But the iPhone's credit card-sized screen makes viewing documents easier on tired eyes, as does the emerging iPad, he says. "The iPad will transform this thing with its big screen, giving you basically the same Web conferencing experience you'd get from a laptop" without the hassle of a laptop, says Shadler.

Mobile Web conferencing adoption, however, faces a big hurdle. Too few people in a company will actually use it. About a third of the workforce in a given company works remotely, Schadler says. But mobile Web conferencing doesn't apply to them because they work mostly at home. He estimates that only 10 to 15 percent of a company's workforce can be called real road warriors.

Moreover, Shadler figures only one in four knowledge workers use Web conferencing at all, and only four percent of them participate in a Web conference daily. "I'm guessing maybe half of that four percent are mobile professionals, or road warriors," he says.

So why should CIOs care about mobile Web conferencing for a microscopic number of users? Let's say only one person on a five-person team wants mobile Web conferencing. Well, Shadler says, that one person is usually the leader. "All of our big clients are putting mobile as a check item on their Web conferencing tool selection criteria because their boss's boss's boss's boss wants it," he says.

It doesn't take much to imagine the convenience of Web conferencing on a smartphone or iPad, especially if you're always on the road. "CIOs are rewarded for supporting these advanced scenarios," Shadler says.

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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