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Web meetings, video to emerge from the recession

The dot-com bust brought us on-demand computing. See what innovation columnist Denis Pombriant thinks the current recession will give us.

There are numerous signs that the economy is strengthening and that the recession may be ending. The markets are doing better, banks are no longer failing and some have even paid back the funds they borrowed from the federal government when they were under water. Unemployment is still stubbornly high, but it is trending down and, as a lagging indicator of recovery, unemployment is behaving as one might expect. If all this is true and not some mirage, then the year-end and the year ahead could hold some upside surprises, and that will be a welcome change.

For some time now, I have been thinking about the recovery -- what it might look like and what new ideas might come through the wringer of recession to help drive it. In the recession that followed the dot-com bust, some powerful ideas emerged that subsequently shaped the business world. They included on-demand computing and Web meetings.

Prior to the recession, on-demand computing was something that a few hardy souls tried because they were fed up with the high cost of software and implementation. On-demand technology proved to be an important way to tame those costs, and in the recovery, users at every level discovered its benefits.

The same is largely true for Web meetings. In my experience, before the recession vendors engaged in elaborate press and analyst tours to conduct face-to-face meetings that involved weeks on the road. I would routinely take two or three briefings in my office daily, but all that has largely been replaced by Web briefings. Vendors still go on the road but much less frequently, and I wear fewer professionally laundered shirts as a result. That's the funny thing about innovation: You never know what all of the downstream effects will be — and they can be surprising.

So, coming out of this recession, I have to ask what technologies or business ideas will emerge, and I have my eye on two. The first is Web-based conferences. Like a Web meeting, a Web conference can save a ton of money on travel costs as well as wear and tear on the attendees. The technology may still have some kinks to work out, but I suspect that as vendors and other organizations look for ways to improve communications, the demand for Web conferences will grow and the solutions will become more robust.

The second idea that I see percolating is the enhanced use of video in marketing and sales. Video has the ability to engage customers in ways that product brochures and white papers can't. And with tiny URLs (turls) they can become powerful viral tools. The technology for creating, editing and distributing video with decent quality is available on the desktop at reasonable cost or even free of charge.

The key to high-volume corporate video will be achieving the right production values. No company that wants to develop video will be eager to shoulder the high costs of hiring actors, voice talent, camera operators, editors and all the rest. For video to take off, we will need to develop skills at documentary filmmaking. That's not as hard as it sounds, and Ken Burns, the producer of such classics as The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball, has developed a style that can be easily imitated. I expect that given the constraints of video development in a marketing department, Burns will become even more of a recognized name.

But there's another reason to consider these and probably other innovations coming out of the recession. These new ideas also have the advantage of helping to save a great deal of energy, especially energy involved in transportation. Just before the economy went into the tank last year, we got a glimpse of the energy future with gasoline exceeding four dollars per gallon.

That wasn't a fluke: It is likely to be a sign of the times for the foreseeable future because global demand for fuel is rising at a 2% annual rate while supply is remaining constant or falling slightly. So we are faced with an interesting problem. Fuels are becoming increasingly expensive, and the need for green approaches to modern life are apparent and all around us. It would make a great deal of sense then for business to engage CRM solutions that reduce the impact of escalating energy costs. Web conferences do that, and video -- done well -- may be able to help.

So for all those reasons, I can easily see the CRM suite expanding again to include these technologies. Interestingly, even though green approaches may be desirable for many ecological reasons, economics is still acting as the driving force for change.

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