Conferencing/Collaboration ASP Embraces IP Future

Ontario-based application service provider Mercuri Teleconferencing entered the rapidly expanding—and rapidly changing—business teleconferencing market in 2003, building a hosted offering around the core conferencing technology of the powerful Compunetix Summit platform, a traditional (TDM) phone bridging technology that has been tested to 10,000 active ports (if you can imagine a teleconference with ten thousand participants!).

Last week, Mercuri announced the addition of an IP-based component, using APIs from collaboration services vendor SiteScape Inc., specifically the SiteScape Zon platform.

Mercuri’s product, IllustrateTM Instant Collaborator comprises audio conferencing, web (data) conferencing with whiteboarding, instant messaging, and presence detection. Customers can now access it over either the PSTN or the Internet (or other IP network).

Mercuri’s piece of the puzzle is the desktop client that ties together all the disparate collaboration tools. “Illustrate is more than a web conferencing program, said Mercuri president, Joe Balaz. “You can use it to integrate with Outlook and create buddy lists that allow for instant meetings, instant messaging, presence management, and even to start a conference call directly from the interface,” Balaz continued.

“We’re offering both TDM and IP, because the backbone of the network as it exits today is still TDM based,” Balaz told “Despite a groundswell of uptake, IP still is in its infancy. The transports, the datalinks and such—all the bugs haven’t been shaken out of them yet. TDM or PSTN still is the more stable platform; it has more flexible endpoints. For example, if you’re calling from a cell phone, it doesn’t necessarily connect to a VoIP network,” Balaz concluded.

Balaz commented on changes in the market for what traditionally has been called ‘conferencing,’ but now, thanks to expanded capabilities, is popularly referred to as ‘collaboration.’ ” There’s been a groundswell in the audio conferencing industry. Five years ago, it was pretty much the purview of the conglomerate the multinational corporation. But there have been competitive changes in pricing. New providers have come into the market [including Mercuri], and it’s changed a lot.”

In particular, Balaz observes, smaller businesses have begun to avail themselves of collaborative tools. “Now you’re seeing the small medium enterprises — which make up about 95 percent of the employers in North America—are now starting to embrace conference calling as a method of communication,” he said.

“While we’re still getting large organizations [as customers], we’re also getting customers with five, ten, fifty, a hundred employees. They’re now using the tools that the large corporations or organization have been using historically—in order to make them appear larger than they are, or simply be more efficient and compete with those larger organizations. So they’re beginning to embrace data collaboration, they’re beginning to embrace IM and presence management as a way to cut down on costs and improve on productivity,” Balaz elaborated.

Another factor in the adoption of distributed collaboration tools, according to Balaz, is the composition of today’s workforce—in organizations of all sizes. “Industry in general is experiencing a massive change in the demographic of the workforce,” he told

“You’re seeing retirees who are not 65, but 55 or 50,” Balaz explained, “who are now working as consultants. As you begin to see more of these contract workers, these distributed workforces, the ability to work from a remote location as effectively as you could in an office becomes key,” he said. “All these tools prop up the ability of people to do that.”

While being able to offer the tools over IP is getting ready for an IP-based future, Balaz says, for most, the present is still rooted in the PSTN. “For now, the IP side is not as prevalent. It’s typically something for large organizations that want us on their IP backbone—that want the security or the cost savings that are associated with us being a node on their network. For most SMEs, it’s still PSTN,” he said. “But still, ultimately you’ve got to be ready for the future. It’s being ready to be able to provide this on a broader scale as it rolls out to a broader market.”

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