Ash Cloud: A Transformative Event for Audio and Video Conferencing

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During the past few days, there have been many stories, features and posts that describe the spike of business being enjoyed by video conferencing and telepresence service providers due to the ash cloud shrouding Europe, I wrote one of the many posts, over at Unified Communications Edge.


The reality is clear. Unfortunate travelers were stopped in their collective tracks, and many have been forced to sit and sit and sit. Businesses-with high-level executives either unable to fly to meetings or stuck wherever they happen to be when the mountain exploded-have been lining up to carry on as best they can via audio and video teleconferencing.


It will be interesting to watch how great a catalyst the ash cloud turns out to be over the long run for companies in the teleconferencing and related sectors. My guess is that the impact will be great, long-lasting and perhaps even transformational.


Long-term planners are charged with making sure that a business survives any seen and unforeseen challenges. The ash cloud will grab this group's attention at a deep and fundamental level. Folks in organizations who have been crying for such equipment for years now will get a full seat at the table. This event, perhaps more than any other, will influence corporate thinking.


The ash cloud is a different type of crisis. As awful as other tragedies were, most are not open-ended. Businesses, from the first terrible hours, usually have a pretty good idea of how long the disruption will be. In the case of the ash cloud, however, no such prediction can be made. Uncertainty is truly frightening for a business, and a great impetus to prepare.


The other scary differentiator is that the ash cloud emergency struck out of the blue (sky). Other potential open-ended threats-such as Y2K and the flu pandemic-were identified months or even years in advance. Folks know if they are in hurricane or earthquake territory, and the smart ones prepare accordingly. I feel safe in assuming that few companies in Antwerp or Munich -- or Abilene or Syracuse, for that matter -- prepared for a volcano in Iceland.


The ash cloud therefore is a combination of the two worst characteristics: Surprise and open-endedness.


There is a third, and more subjective, reason that the ash cloud will drive interest in conferencing and all its variants. The randomness and even bizarre nature of the event-that a volcano in Iceland is capable of bringing the world to its knees -- will drive home the idea that anything can happen and that life is so unpredictable that being prepared, if not over-prepared, is just common sense. Executives won't accept the axiom that fate is fickle and leave it at that.

Some groups always benefit from events, even unfortunate ones. The past week will become the poster child for the push for in-house unified communications, telepresence and video conferencing. The push will get a particularly receptive ear among the many executives whose plans were disrupted.