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The CN Interview with Matt Smith, COO of LIve Office

25 August, 2005

Conferencing News: Tell us about the history of LiveOffice, its services, and how IMConferencing fits within its structure.

Matt Smith: With IMConferencing, we continue to promote our vision of connecting people through the Internet. LiveOffice began with AdvisorSquare, a division offering web sites specifically to financial advisors in 1998. As these advisors became more and more web savvy, they began asking for tools that would extend their reach into the marketplace and enhance the usability of their sites. LiveOffice initially developed LivePresentation to handle one-on-one slide presentations with text chat and subsequently launched LiveSiteManager enabling advisors to conduct compliance-friendly instant messaging sessions with clients and prospects directly from their websites. What we learned from developing these tools was that there was a tremendous market need for an integrated web, audio and video conferencing system priced for the mass business market, which made IMConferencing the next logical step for us.

CN: How did IMConferencing come about? What are the roots of the organization?
MS: Web conferencing and online meetings will eventually become as ubiquitous as the telephone and fax machine. Usage will expand beyond the corporate world and into every aspect of our daily lives, whether in committee meetings for our favorite non-profit or to virtually participate in family events half way around the world.
In our quest to connect people on a single, multi-featured collaboration platform, we were committed to creating a system that was simple to operate and vastly intuitive. Our development team quickly worked to extend the existing capabilities of several known conferencing technologies in an effort to more accurately duplicate the in-person meeting experience.

Wrapping our minds around this concept, we realized that emails, instant messaging applications and web pages all provided the perfect launch pad for collaboration. As a result, we began to center our development efforts on the idea of creating the “Swiss Army Knife” of collaboration tools. Our concept was to build a product that would enable users to launch a variety of conferencing services from the communication channel of their choice – or what we call “touch points”.

We were right-on in this forecast and became the first to achieve this full integration model in January 2004, building the product completely from the ground up so that users wouldn’t have to rely on multiple vendors to meet all of their conferencing needs.

CN: Tell us about the unique features of IMConferencing.

MS: We were the first to market with our new high-definition video conferencing service, which allows multi-point video communications. LiveOffice has also developed its own telephone conferencing service that works either as a standalone solution or as a fully integrated feature of IMConferencing. An integral part of the teleconferencing service is the dynamic conference PIN creation feature that allows the host to control telephone communication rights for each participant on an individual basis during a meeting or presentation.
IMConferencing supports PowerPoint presentations that capture all existing slide and object animations. With this feature, hosts can present slides exactly as they intended and still maintain host-only access to slide notes and thumbnail previews of each slide. IMConferencing also offers comprehensive polling and desktop sharing capabilities. The finishing touch is the ability to record and playback conferencing sessions in their entirety.
Taking advantage of all the Internet touch points, IMConferencing can be launched from email, public IM networks (AOL, MSN and Yahoo) and a central IMConferencing web page.

CN: What differentiates IMConferencing from the other major players in web conferencing?

MS: We are focused on providing the highest quality conferencing experience at the best price. While other providers offer enterprise functionality that the everyday business person doesn’t want or need, IMConferencing makes online meetings extremely easy with its intuitive user interface and work flow model. We are also the only conferencing provider saving users thousands of dollars by eliminating the required hardware costs of other video solutions by providing built-in MPEG4 high-definition video.

CN: In the financial services industry, how does IMConferencing's offering compliment other LiveOffice's products, if at all?
MS: In addition to AdvisorSquare and IMConferencing, LiveOffice offers AdvisorMail, which is the industry’s most advanced email and IM monitoring, archiving and retrieval system. With AdvisorMail, financial organizations can easily and affordably implement an electronic compliance solution that meets all NASD, NYSE and SEC regulatory requirements. Our email and website compliance applications are currently installed in over 350 financial service organizations in the US.

LiveOffice also offers an integrated version of IMConferencing that takes advantage of this installed base of financial compliance solutions. IMConferencing sends all communications, including emails, instant messages, presentations and file transfers through the AdvisorMail system for compliance screening and storage. All of the data is stored in a secure electronic repository where it can be searched and retrieved at any time by approved personnel.

All LiveOffice products can be purchased together or separately.

CN: And what about the MPEG4 video? How are customers using that and what's the uptake?
MS: We like to refer to video conferencing as the “wow” factor in conferencing, especially since we are the only company that has achieved streaming high definition video and totally eliminated the need for costly upfront hardware.

We believe that connecting people through video is the closest you can get to an in-person meeting. For these reasons, streaming, high definition video is the next logical step in web conferencing. In developing this product for the mass business market, we saw companies paying thousands of dollars for video hardware and knew that there had to be another way to bring this technology to the market. We were right and our intuition is paying off.

IMConferencing is the only conferencing product on the market today that offers hosted MPEG4 video capabilities. It is clear that businesses are ready for high definition video and they have embraced this feature to enhance more traditional online meetings – needless to say the response has been tremendous so far. Once customers use the MPEG4 video stream, they don’t want to conference with anything else and it’s easy to see why. Essentially, there’s just no substitute for the quality of MPEG4 in a hosted solution.
While standard video doesn’t accurately replicate the in-person meeting experience, MPEG4 creates the feeling that all participants are sitting around the same boardroom table and the only hardware you need is a basic webcam.

CN: What bridging system or technology do you use to connect callers on PSTN audio conferences?
MS: IMConferencing works closely with Excel Switching Corporation to bridge telephone conferences, enabling us to host up to 500 participants in a single audio conference.

CN: What about VoIP? Does IMConferencing offer this in its services?
MS: Absolutely. We anticipated the huge growth in VoIP usage several years ago and envisioned a fully integrated audio platform that would allow each host to determine how they want to connect into an audio conference. Making online meetings easy means giving people choices and we embrace every aspect of this philosophy.

CN: What do you offer it terms of live operator support and training?
MS: Using IMConferencing is very straightforward, but we do provide our customers with an introductory product overview and if they want further assistance, we offer complimentary email and online chat support.

CN: How are your services priced?
MS: Keeping things easy means offering the easiest pricing structure possible – IMConferencing is priced perfectly for the business market at $50 per concurrent license.

CN: What's next for IMConferencing? Tell us something we don't know!
MS: The better question is probably what isn’t next for us.

CN: Hey, buster, we'll asking the questions here, and we always ask the best questions! ...But please, continue

MS: Having built this product from the ground up, we see limitless possibilities for it as well as the entire conferencing industry.

We strongly believe that presence will fill a much bigger need over the next couple of years and we are currently working on enhancing IMConferencing’s presence features so that a user can determine the whereabouts of another user through a variety of touch points and connect with that person in seconds, regardless of their physical location. This of course will also include additional efforts in the convergence of VoIP and PSTN. There is no doubt that our future development plans are exciting and readers can count on hearing more from us over the coming months.

CN: Thanks, Matt. Good luck with LiveOffice and IMConferencing.


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