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It's All About Integration: Enterprise Year in Review

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The push to promote more widespread access to multimedia content creation capabilities already is taking hold in the education sector—a development that promises to spread to the corporate world as today’s students graduate and move into business, Buinevicius says.

"The biggest ‘Eureka!’ I saw in 2007 in terms of usage came in the most progressive education institutions that are adopting this technology," he says. "Many are going beyond the basic capture of professor lectures to enabling students to create and communicate using this technology."

Perhaps the corporate move with the most important long-term implications for democratizing the use of online multimedia in the workplace was the March 2007 announcement by Cisco Systems of plans to acquire web conferencing leader WebEx Communications in a cash deal valued at $3.2 billion (or $2.9 billion if you count the $300 million of debt on WebEx’ balance sheet at the time the deal was announced).

The ultimate impact of the Cisco/WebEx combination on the online multimedia sector may not be immediately clear to all technology industry watchers. After all, WebEx for years has paid only lip service to the integration of voice and video capabilities into its core web conferencing platform. But the company has never had the organizational will—or the resources—to seriously promote web audio and video to a subscriber base that used WebEx mostly as a platform for sharing PowerPoint slides online during business teleconferences.

Indeed, initial reports of the deal in traditional news outlets trumpeted the deal as a harbinger of an increased focus on "unified communications." Others characterize the acquisition as a shot across the bow of Microsoft, which itself acquired WebEx rival PlaceWare in 2003.

Both of these assessments are true but largely miss the forest for the trees. Make no mistake: This deal is about Cisco’s desire to drive video to a broader set of businesses than ever before. WebEx is Cisco’s new beachhead for delivering web communications services to business customers.

It’s likely that Cisco will attempt to infuse the WebEx platform with enhanced VoIP and video communications capabilities enabled by Cisco’s in-house resources and technology. The goal will be to sell these advanced communications technologies on a hosted basis to the small- and medium-sized businesses that already spend money on WebEx conferencing services.

The fruits of the Cisco/WebEx integration likely will not be realized in the marketplace until 2009 at the earliest. But the long-term impact on the enterprise online multimedia sector will be substantial, creating both new threats and fresh opportunities for vendors that now sell technology that enables the use of web-based video in business communications.

As the worlds of web conferencing and online multimedia move closer to one another via the Cisco/WebEx combination, the market overlap between traditional video conferencing and web video continues to grow, as well.

Leading vendors in the realm of traditional video conferencing, such as Polycom and Tandberg, increasingly are promoting technologies that simplify the process of converting traditional videoconferences into content that can be transmitted online. And in June 2007, Polycom introduced new products focused on better management of content created with video conferencing gear but packaged for distribution on internet-style networks.

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