audioconference telephone handsets kissing

There’s no shortage of freemium ways to communicate: Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Facetime, and many many more. But for businesses that are serious about making their meetings productive – and this remains a perpetual problem, as the Wall Street Journal reminded us last month – these consumer-grade services don’t cut it.

I’m not just talking about the usual complaints with consumer services: murky audio and jittery video. As I discussed with my colleague, Allan Mendelsohn, director of enterprise collaboration marketing at Avaya, there are a whole host of other productivity-sapping issues associated with consumer-grade conferencing.

1) Skype and Google Hangouts can’t scale like enterprise-class peers. Skype, for instance, can support up to 25 callers in audio-only meetings, and only 10 video attendees at a time. Google Hangouts supports between 10 and 15 video callers at once, depending on your subscription. Meanwhile, Avaya Aura Conferencing can support up to 10,000 conferencing attendees at the same time.

2) “What’s your Skype account again?” “Txt me your GMail addy”. Nobody enjoys the emails and texts you need to send to figure out how to invite a fellow first-time meeting attendee to Skype or Google Hangouts. The more meeting attendees, the more e-mails/texts, the more annoying it becomes.

It reminds me of a decade ago, when workers were stuck with consumer instant messaging. In the days before Microsoft Lync and universal clients like Pidgin or Adium, employees that wanted to reach out to business partners and co-workers had to remember which of the 3 popular services – AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger – they were on, and/or keep accounts on all 3. It was a pain and I remember it discouraged me from IMing a lot of folks.

3) Also, consumer-grade instant messaging was siloed off from the rest of Unified Communications. You had some presence, but little connection to your calendar, telephone, e-mail or video. That also reduced IM’s usefulness back in the day, until Outlook and Lync emerged to take their place. With the vast majority of businesses today depending on Outlook and Lync, Skype, Google and Facetime are walled off the exact same way as their IM ancestors.

There is an upside to Skype and its cousins, in that it teaches workers how to use videochat and share documents, albeit on a limited basis. But integrated, affordable enterprise solutions such as Avaya Aura prove that “ease of use and low cost trump low quality and low cost,” says Mendelsohn.

That’s not to say that businesses will necessarily be able to settle on a single conferencing platform, says Mendelsohn. Many businesses will end up choosing one conferencing vendor for day-to-day meetings, and another for extra-large events, such as quarterly investor calls or press events. How you choose will also depend on your company’s size. For enterprises, 80% of all conferencing traffic is internal and 20% external. For SMBs, the ratio is flipped.