The go-go dot-com era produced a glut of hype about the potential of new technologies to redefine the event industry, but amid all that chaff are kernels of genuine value that, in the wake of September 11, seem particularly important.
Videoconferencing, teleconferencing, webcasting, and online events suddenly look much more appealing to a wide range of event organizers and attendees, and the substantial increase in media coverage of these emerging technologies reflects and reinforces their growing importance.
Among the companies responding to the new, post-September world are Centra Software, WebEx, and Yahoo! Broadcast. Each offers an online alternative to face-to-face meetings, and each has seen interest in its services increase substantially since the terrorist attacks.
The declining economy was already forcing companies to look for travel and meeting alternatives, says Jim Lewendowski, vice president of business and enterprise services at Yahoo! Broadcast in Dallas. But since September 11, he has seen a “noticeable upsurge” in business inquiries.
Although Lewendowski declined to name specific clients, he said several “large, household-name firms” have canceled large meetings and contacted Yahoo! Broadcast looking for alternatives. He expects recent events to spur many more potential customers to try webcasting.
Chris Reed, vice president of corporate strategy for Centra Software, based in Lexington, Mass., says his company has seen a 20 percent increase in customer inquiries about services, such as their Blended E-Learning Conference, since the attacks, and the inquiries show a much greater level of interest and seriousness. One potential customer told Reed, “Your technology has just gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have.”
San Jose, Calif.-based WebEx is responding to the new business climate by cutting down on vacations and taking other measures to help companies that have urgent needs. According to Mark Altenberg, WebEx product manager, customers are exhibiting much greater interest in the details of the WebEx product since the terrorist attacks, along with a stronger sense of urgency and commitment to making the service work as a real substitute for travel. Altenberg says his customers are working far more closely and diligently with WebEx personnel to understand the nuances of online meetings, to surmount the learning curve of any new technology, and to integrate it into their standard communications process. Altenberg says, however, that WebEx is not necessarily forecasting a permanent increase in the rate of adoption and is focused instead on gearing up to meet the sudden increase in demand.
Whether this uptick in virtual events is temporary or the catalyst for a permanent adoption of technological meeting alternatives, the resilient mood of the industry may be summed up best by Lewendowski of Yahoo! Broadcast. “Meetings are planned and held because of a recognized and necessary business value to the attendees and the organizers. We in the webcasting and online meetings market are helping American industry advance that necessary business, now and into the future.”