WebEx issued an uncharacteristically long press release today announcing an upgrade to their web collaboration products. The length wasn't the only thing unusual about this announcement. There are a number of interesting facets to it for those who track the company and its communications strategy. [I know... I shouldn't refer to it as "the company" anymore, but they still refer to themselves as if they were an independently operating business, so why should I be any different?]
1) WebEx has traditionally made its product releases quietly available to users. They don't make a big deal out of release names or numbers. That's one of the advantages of Software as a Service (SaaS)... Customers don't need to care when the software is updated because there is nothing to reinstall [Talk about an oversimplification!]
But this release goes into great detail about feature enhancements and additions, going so far as to give it a formal release name: "WebEx Fall 2007". I think that sounds like a designer's line of garments at a fashion show. Do you really want to start giving software releases names that have to change with the seasons? Because WebEx updates things all the time, and no doubt will again within short order, you will find that nobody on the operational side of things uses that marketing term for the release. For them, it is the WBS 26 release, following on naturally from the WBS 25 release. If you are a current customer, you can check your release number by looking at your Downloads page, which contains current version information.
2) WebEx tends to talk about their products in public communications grouped under the WebEx name ("Use WebEx for your collaboration requirements") unless they are spotlighting an individual product in a customer win or something similar.
This announcement takes great pains to showcase and differentiate the five collaboration products that WebEx sells. That's a good thing, as people often don't realize that there are different feature requirements for different applications. I don't want the same behavior in my software when I am hosting a small group collaborative brainstorming session as when I am hosting a public lead generation marketing event. It's one of the things I like about the way WebEx approaches the conferencing space.
I spoke with Grace Kim, the Senior Manager for Product Marketing, a couple of weeks ago to get an overview of the new release and to hear her take on the most important features. She called attention to the following items:
Uploaded PowerPoint presentations now preserve text entered in the Notes field on your slides. A presenter can reference the notes in a pop-up window that the audience can't see. This can eliminate shuffling papers and having to split focus between the screen and your desk.
Meeting Center and Training Center now allow display of up to six "talking head" live video feeds. Event Center doesn't support all that bandwidth because of the potential for huge audience sizes.
Network Based Recording (NBR) allows you to record the combined audio and video presentation without having to use local hardware capture to your PC. Recordings can be stored and managed on WebEx's servers. You can set options to automatically record all meetings on a site. (NBR is HUGE and long overdue.)
You can create custom surveys that are automatically displayed for attendees when an event ends. Surveys can include scores or weights on different answers to help prioritize leads. Results are included in attendance reports, automatically associated with the respondent information.
There are some new HTML email templates.
Sales Center lets you create custom portals for different client accounts that can be accessed without invitation.
Training Center has new testing capabilities. Students can take tests multiple times and autosave responses as they go. If you have courses with limited enrollment, students can waitlist and cancel their registration.
Support Center has new console choices for remote support operators with a quick chat feature to bring in the first available agent, a custom chat phrase library, and web-based Automatic Call Distribution. These are features traditionally associated with dedicated automated support software systems.
All this is good stuff and customers should be happy. Read on to part two to check out my initial experiences using the new release.