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Videoconferencing sees growth

Desktop videoconferencing has gone beyond the hype and is taking hold in big corporations, according to a new study.

Desktop videoconferencing has gone beyond the hype and is taking hold in big corporations, according to a study released today by Sage Research.

The study found that nearly one-fifth of some 250 companies surveyed are already using desktop videoconferencing, and nearly half of the respondents said they will deploy additional video technology within the next two years in efforts aimed primarily at improving customer service.

"We found it quite surprising that 19 percent of the companies are already using the technology," said analyst Jeannine Linehan, who wrote the study for the Natick, Massachusetts-based research firm. She estimates that desktop videoconferencing will grow by 250 percent in the next two years.

This summer, the survey was mailed on floppy disks to executives in a broad range of industries and companies with as few as 100 employees and as many as 10,000. Until she got the responses back, Linehan--who had sought to cut through years of hype about videoconferencing--said she wondered "if there is a market out there."

While the study sought only to determine general interest, Linehan said companies appear most focused on using the technology to reach customers and potential customers, not for internal mission-critical communication that some industry pundits had predicted as potential uses for the tools.

"Customer service is really the common denominator," Linehan said. She said the devices show up increasingly in industries such as banking and insurance, where the tools help reduce the time and cost of developing new products and allow for improved interaction between customers and service representatives.

Linehan said commercial banks may opt to set up desktop videoconferencing in branch offices to offer, for example, a loan applicant a real-time audience with a loan officer in another location.

Academia has turned to conferencing to bring the classroom to students in disparate locations, while the medical industry has also adopted the tools for distance learning, as well as conducting remote diagnosis and other forms of "telemedicine," Linehan said.

While the report is another shot in the arm for the desktop videoconferencing market, which only recently settled on an industry standard, it isn't for everyone. Some 34 percent of respondents said they have no plans to deploy the technology anytime soon.