I'm sitting at Cisco's analyst event in the US at the moment. The various execs presenting have been trying to hammer two themes into the heads of several hundred analysts sitting in the audience - video, and collaboration.
The collaboration theme fits into Cisco's acquisition of WebEx. It put up some fairly persuasive examples & demos of this yesterday - talking up the potential to improve productivity in large businesses. It also eats its own dogfood in realigning its own business processes around interactive, collaborative teams.
While I personally detest using the type of online presentation tools that's one of the more familiar faces of WebEx (just send me the Powerpoint by email, please, and talk it through on the phone), I can certainly appreciate the benefits for internal corporate collaboration for large businesses. There's also a lot of cool Web 2.0 stuff they're talking about like Wikis, blogs etc. Basically Intranet 2.0 stuff, which makes a lot of sense (eg submitting business opportunity suggestions & getting them rated / favourited).
The video message is a little less clear. Despite attempts to claim "no, it's not just about driving IP traffic up the curve & selling more routers" I'm really unconvinced. Obviously, IP video is important in IPTV (hence Cisco's Scientific Atlanta acquisition). And Cisco's high-def Telepresence corporate videoconferencing gear is very impressive. And lastly there is a lot of sense in networking up CCTV cameras via IP.
But I simply do not buy the argument that video-based communications will become pervasive, and will be used in a large percentage of total person-to-person interactions. This is actually a bit reminiscent of Ericsson's attempts to shoehorn video into mobile handsets, either in the past through the useless H324 videotelephony approach, and again now now with the over-complex IMS Multimedia Telephony standard.
My belief is that each individual's (or company's) communications will become fragmented. Sure, certain business-to-business sales calls, or internal product planning meetings, among technology-savvy (and technology-happy) people will benefit from telepresence. But other instances will not - if I'm in a cab late for a meeting, I'll use SMS. I can see almost no business reason for me to use video - for me personally, it adds little beyond voice, and I much prefer face-to-face meetings with my clients for a host of reasons. Mobile video for business is an even more unlikely proposition, unless I'm sitting in an airport watching YouTube or maybe a business webcast on my PC.
The irony is that increasing mobility of employees works precisely against the use of video in the enterprise. It is inceasingly likely that one party in a given call will be driving, walking, out of coverage, roaming, using an incompatible phone, in a different timezone and so on.
Of course, Cisco doesn't have a major presence in mobile devices & cellular networks, so in an ideal world perhaps Cisco would actually like people to get back to their desks and offices, and be connected with a big fat LAN. Given their comments about the travel savings associated with telepresence, it wouldn't surprise me to see a green argument expounded in the future, about the "evils" of corporate mobility.
In fact, I see this as emblematic of a much wider long-term battle between the world's too most important communications technologies - 3GPP GSM/UMTS cellular vs. Ethernet. I think that's another theme for 2008, although I don't expect too many people to admit it openly.