If video conferencing can provide an enterprise with a competitive advantage over those that merely collaborate via email or telephone -- and we believe it can, for reasons we'll explain in a moment -- than Blue Jeans Network might be just the fit you're looking for.
Here are the company's talking points that grabbed our attention:
• It's "endpoint agnostic," meaning it will work with clients that are using Google Talk, Skype, LifeSize, Cisco, Polycom and other video conferencing services;
• It's based in the cloud, which means that even SMBs can be up and running within minutes;
• According to Blue Jeans Network, it's affordable, which can be a top-of-mind concern to any business.
Over the past year, it's become clear that video is on its way to becoming essential to business, rather than just another bell or whistle. With workforces and organizations that become more mobile every day, the ability to stay in touch and engage on a visual, human level in real time could be on its way to becoming a lost art. No matter how cute, a :) just can't replace a real smile. Organizations that can communicate on multiple levels will ultimately have an edge over organizations that can't.
Which takes us back to Blue Jeans Network. We signed up for a trial account on the company's web site to give the service a test. Within 10 minutes, after providing basic information and confirming our e-mail address, we were able to begin configuring our account and host a meeting.
If you've used one of the more ubiquitous audio conferencing services, like ReadyTalk or FreeConferenceCall.com, Blue Jeans Network provides a similar process to setting up a video conference call. After navigating to Blue Jeans Network's site and logging in, simply hit the "schedule a meeting" button, fill in your meeting time and details and send e-mail invitations out to the people you want to attend.
If you get an invitation to attend the meeting, you need only click the link from your e-mail, and choose from a menu of endpoints that the company supports.
Once each participant gets the invitation, they can choose to enter the video conference using most video chat clients available, including Skype, Google Talk, Polycom and the others. (Apple's FaceTime is not supported at this point.) But here's the really big deal: that means that whether participants are on a PC, an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad with Skype, or an Android device with Google Talk, or using a LifeSize or Polycom solution, everybody can all log into the same video conference and see and speak with everybody else. A sales manager in Dubuque using a Samsung Galaxy 10.1 can take part in the same video conference as an operations clerk in Miami using an iPad with Skype, with everybody else on PC.
We tried it out and it worked for us on an Android device running Google Talk, on an iPhone running Skype with video, and on PCs and Macs running either.
Having confirmed that the solution is endpoint agnostic, that it gets you up and running within minutes and that it works very well, the next step was to take a look at its available pricing. Here's where things get tricky.
The company provides customized "group plans," and has begun to sell through value-added resellers. Additionally, it provides a sort of "ad hoc" pricing alternative: 50 cents per minute for up to 25 meeting participants. At its limit, that would add up to $125 for a 10-minute video conference. Also, the company will sell a monthly subscription for $199 per month -- but limits the number of meeting participants to three. Consider that Skype Premium Calling will run $8.99 a month and provides video calling for as many as 10 participants at a time, and Blue Jeans Network looks pricey.