by Sandra L. Wiley

Our world has changed due to that little invention called the Internet. It’s been around for years and new “tools” pop up every day that will assist us in using the power of the Net to our best advantage with both current and prospective clients.

Any tech consultant or reseller considering using the Web to reach their desired audience needs to build a strategy for developing firm requirements, evaluating those requirements, and identifying the vendor that is right for you.

The first step is to determine what your firm’s basic requirements are. The following questions will assist you:

1. How many participants do you anticipate will attend your online meetings or events?
2. Will the number of participants remain consistent from meeting to meeting or will the number change?
3. How many meetings will be conducted each week, each month or each quarter? Will usage fluctuate depending on the time of the year?
4. What type of content will be presented (PowerPoint slides, software applications, Web-based applications, documents or spreadsheets)?
5. What degree of interactivity do you require (Q&A, polling/voting, application sharing, text chatting, live video, file sharing, etc.)?
6. Do you want your own software solution or a hosted solution?
7. How much technical support or event management support do you require? (Remember, the degree of customer service offered varies greatly from vendor to vendor.)
8. What is your monthly budget?
9. Are there any special security requirements?

Once these requirements are outlined, it is time to select your Web partner. Don’t skip this step. Put some time and energy into the evaluation process. The differences between vendors are substantial and can be costly if you make a bad choice. Follow the steps below and keep the following considerations in mind as you are making your choice.

Step 1: Select a pricing model.There are two main pricing models to consider. There is pay-per-use, where you pay only for the time you and your attendees spend in Web conferencing. Then there is pay-per-seat, where you pay a flat monthly fee for a certain number of concurrent users (seats). (See “Minutes vs. seats” for help in your decision-making process.)

Step 2: Make sure it’s easy to use. Make a list of the features you want and then test the vendors as a participant and as a meeting host. Watch for functionality, reliability and usability. Ask the vendor if free trials are available.

Step 3: Get the features you need. Do you want polling, chatting, application-sharing, white boarding and group Web surfing? Then make sure that the vendor that you are looking at offers those capabilities. However, if all you really need and want is online presentation capabilities, you won’t need the Cadillac version — just look for your true needs.

Step 4: Check out the customer service support levels. Is training and ongoing technical support available? What are the hours? Is there an extra fee? Is there a telephone number available so that you can contact a support person, or is only e-mail support offered? What are their support hours? Call each vendor’s customer service number and see if you get a live person, as opposed to a menu or voice mail. You don’t want to be in a situation where an attendee has technical problems joining a critical meeting and you can’t contact a live support person immediately.

Step 5: Consider security requirements. Depending on the audience and the information being shared, security might be a concern. Most solutions are secure enough and do not store meeting data any place except on the presenter’s PC. Participants only see a graphical representation of the data through a standard Web browser. Some services provide pass code authorization, basic encryption and the ability to lock and unlock the meeting.

Step 6: Select your vendor. There are hundreds of vendors to choose from, but to get you started, check out the accompanying list of some of the vendors we have heard about.

Conclusion
If you are considering using the Web as a presentation resource, do your firm a favor and go through the steps above. Then you will be ready for my next article, which will help you develop an effective Web presentation that will capture attention and produce positive results for your bottom line. Remember, without a plan you could end up someplace you don’t want to be.

Usage pattern - minutes vs. seats
Using Web conferencing for the first time - Per minute
Number of concurrent attendees will remain the same at any given time - Per seat
Number of concurrent attendees may vary at any given time - Per minute
Usage level will be consistent during each month - Per minute; Per seat
Usage level will change from month to month - Per minute
Avoid contracts - Per minute

Web presentation vendors
Vendor - Pricing Model - Web site (notes)
Centra - Per seat - www.centra.com
Data Connection - Per seat - www.dataconnection.com (based in U.K.)
Edial  - Per seat - www.edial.com
First Virtual Communications - Per seat - www.fvc.com
Genesys - Per minute - www.genesys.com
IBM/Lotus — Sametime - Per seat - www.lotus.com
InterCall - Per minute - www.intercall.com
Infinite Conferencing - Per minute, room, seat - www.infiniteconferencing.com
Instameeting - Per minute, per seat - www.instameeting.com
Interwise - Per seat - www.interwise.com
Latitude - Per seat - www.meetingplace.net
Linktivity - Per seat - www.linktivity.com
Microsoft/Placeware — Live Meeting - Per seat, minute - www.microsoft.com www.placeware.com
Netspoke — iMeet - Per seat - www.netspoke.com
Pixion - Per seat - www.pixion.com
Polycom — WebOffice - Per seat - www.polycom.com
Raindance - Per seat, minute - www.raindance.com
SMART Technologies - Per seat - www.smarttech.com
Sonexis - Per seat - www.sonexis.com
WebDialogs - Per seat - www.webdialogs.com
WebEx - Per seat, minute - www.webex.com (market leader, but tends to be pricey and minute require annual contracts)

Sandra Wiley is a consultant and speaker with Boomer Consulting Inc., in Manhattan, Kan.

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