The needed evolution of videoconferencing


Disclosure: Many of the vendors mentioned are clients of the author.

I’ve been covering videoconferencing long enough to watch three significant efforts in the 1980s, ‘90s, and 2000s fail spectacularly for pretty much the same two reasons: proprietary hardware and software and too little interoperability.  You wouldn’t buy a cell phone from that only connected to another phone from the same vendor, right?  Yet, it is not unusual for the hardware and software from one videoconferencing vendor to only work with hardware from the same vendor. 

Though it seems like this market is stuck in the last century, times are changing. Lately, I’ve been working with hardware from vendors like Poly that work with both Zoom and Microsoft Teams. (Teams appears to be making moves towards Zoom, which is consistent with its current effort to embrace interoperability and open source. 

Microsoft is the poster child for showing the benefits, in general, of shifting from an old traditional propriety approach to the new — and far more interesting — collaborative and cooperative world of today.  It’s doing well and seems to not be at risk of any antitrust issues surrounding dominant proprietary vendors like Apple.   

Let’s talk about the slow, but necessary, evolution of collaboration technology that will eventually redefine the collaborative space.

The attraction of a proprietary approach

Using a proprietary model has its advantages. You can better assure quality because you own or control all the elements. You don’t have to worry as much about competitive pricing because your customers have to buy components and software from you. So, as Apple often demonstrates, you can raise prices to increase revenue and profit.  This approach is easier than if you have to set a price in a competitive market where prices are often fluid. 

You don’t have to worry as much about customer churn because the cost of leaving your closed platform is high. And you don’t have to focus intensely on customer satisfaction because, once again, your customer can’t quickly move. You can see why this model was once favored by most tech firms and is still favored by companies like Apple and Oracle.  It feels like, at least for a while, you can simply mine  your customers for money. 

The big problem with proprietary

The issue, particularly now, is that it is far harder to maintain that customer lock. Among other reasons, the increasing use of analytics to find and reduce excess operating costs is making customers aware when they’re being overcharged. Once a critical mass of customers realizes that, and a competitor offers up an acceptable way to migrate to a more open architecture, the market will likely pivot. 

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