Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Russian videoconferencing platforms: Ready for takeoff

According to Finam, at the beginning of 2023, videoconferencing systems made in Russia accounted for about half of the domestic B2B market. Local developers were quick to take over the niches vacated by their Western counterparts. On the other hand, businesses had been showing interest in remote collaboration tools even before that happened.

Russian videoconferencing platforms in the context of global trends

The demand for videoconferencing systems surged in Russia and the world when governments introduced lockdowns and other restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Companies needed to maintain communication and provide collaboration opportunities to their employees who massively shifted to telework. Some large companies, Russian ones included, began introducing this practice even earlier than that.

The share of business projects related to remote communications in Russia was approximately 6-7% of the market, but by the second half of 2020, it soared to 25%.

As companies gradually appreciated the benefits of videoconferencing — from saving employees commuting time to optimizing office costs — they began to put forth new demands concerning these platforms’ reliability, functionality, usability and integration capabilities. The faster the supplier responded to the users’ needs, the more popular their solution became.

Unified communications (UC) – a more frequent term used today rather than videoconferencing – refers to a system that integrates videoconferencing, corporate email, instant messengers, group chats and other communication channels, as well as additional tools such as a robotic attendant, translator or scheduler. An ecosystem like this is often complemented with compatible hardware such as video cameras, noise-canceling headsets, and immersive screens. Modern technology can make employees participating from home feel as if they are in an offline meeting.

The year 2022 opened a new chapter in this story. Cisco and Polycom left the Russian market, and other foreign corporations followed, leaving customers no chance of renewing licenses for these products or using vendor support. Luckily, a few viable domestic alternatives were already available at the time: TrueConf, Webinar, IVA, Vinteo, and others. New promising systems appeared later, such as SberJazz or eXpress.

As we have seen at recent industry conferences, the ecosystem-based approach practiced by foreign suppliers of UC platforms works well for Russian solutions. For example, at one of the events, Yandex demonstrated domestically developed software that is compatible with IP telephony, videoconferencing systems and other business applications, and integrates with CRM.

Webinar Group has shown good progress as well, presenting a platform that can be integrated with CRM, calendars, etc., so that its users can book meeting rooms, schedule cyclic meetings, create email subscriptions, receive automatic notifications about scheduled meetings, etc. They also provide high-quality hardware solutions for videoconferencing; however, those include foreign components.

Reliability and scalability of Russian UC solutions

Reliability and fail-safe operation of UC systems imply several aspects. On the one hand, Russian cloud-based communication platforms hosted on servers inside the country are much safer than foreign platforms in terms of sanction-related risks. Even if a customer finds a way to pay for a foreign product, nobody can guarantee that the service operator will not just block access to it. User data will remain stored on foreign servers, subject to operations and processing that users will know nothing about.

As concerns Russian solutions, the question is whether they are generally capable of ensuring uninterrupted video linkups, quality traffic encryption protocols, security against DDoS attacks, etc. The security standards implemented by developers constitute one of the crucial criteria when one selects this type of software. Another potential challenge is that users often need time to adjust to a new interface. Many customers want to see an exact copy of Zoom or Webex.

Large and medium-sized companies can build a UC platform on their proprietary servers and infrastructure to ensure better controllability.

Those wishing to minimize costs and resources can opt for Russian cloud-based services. All the popular UC platforms in the market are rather flexible when it comes to tailored needs. In addition to out-of-the-box products, there are customizable enterprise solutions. A vendor can even quickly add on necessary functions at a customer’s request.

Actively growing small businesses that seek to scale up without large investment usually choose Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that is sufficient to get started and improve it further down the road. In this case, a free version of a commercial product should be enough. Although limited in timing and integration capabilities, they suit most scenarios such as holding a webinar, a business meeting, a branch-to-branch discussion or a job interview.

Essentially, there are no obstacles to using Russian UC systems in lieu of foreign alternatives. They are getting closer to leading global videoconferencing services in terms of scalability, convenience and supplementary options.

By Alexander Tikhonov, IT Director, SL Soft (part of Softline Group)

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