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(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Indian collaboration platforms look to capitalise on video conferencing boom

Government spurred efforts in this direction by announcing a 1 crore challenge, but companies actually started working on collaborative tools much earlier

The video conferencing boom worldwide has been dominated by companies like Zoom, Microsoft, Google and more, but Indian companies are starting to tap this demand.

The Indian government spurred efforts in this direction by announcing a Rs. 1 crore challenge, but companies actually started working on collaborative tools much earlier.

Sudhir Naidu, founder and CEO of Troop Messenger, an Indian collaboration tool, said the company already had video conferencing as a module, launched earlier this year.

Since the government’s challenge, it has made video conferencing a separate product altogether, called Cattle Call. Troop Messenger itself though is a Slack-like service, which allows employees to collaborate through a chat-based interface. It is used by the Ministry of Defence in the Netherlands, among others.

Naidu said that while the government’s challenge does provide an opportunity, no company will work on a video conferencing solution for that money alone. Instead, the company sees a huge potential in space today. “It used to be good business earlier, now it has become a critical element," he said.

He isn’t the only one who thinks so either. Video conferencing itself is a 20-year old concept, noted Anuj Garg, CEO and Co-Founder, Inscripts, which makes chat solutions like CometChat and Spark Chat. Garg has built a service called Say Namaste, which was originally used by the company for its own internal communication.

Say Namaste is only available via its website right now, but will be coming to Android and iOS phones soon. Cattle Call and Say Namaste are two products vying for the government’s award.

However, neither Garg nor Naidu are building the service for the award alone. Both said that they see this as an opportunity to reach larger markets.

Both companies are creating their products for both consumer and enterprise use cases. “I have received so many queries from people asking for Say Namaste already," said Garg. “Then unknowingly, they go on to CometChat and eventually ask for application programming interface (API) level integrations with their apps. Even small businesses are asking how they can use such services to keep people engaged," he added.

“There exists a huge market potential for workplace collaboration and communication platforms such as Flock and we are looking at India’s SMB market in a big way," said Devashish Sharma, Chief Technology Officer, Flock, another collaborative platform that’s based in India.

This is a market that Google, Zoom, Microsoft etc. may not go after immediately, and where clients might find their solutions too expensive or more than what they require.

As part of its fourth quarter results announcement today, Reliance Jio said it plans to launch the JioMeet video conferencing service.

To be sure the service being weighed by the smaller Indian companies has been live on smartphones for a while now, but sources say that it was more like a beta period for the app. The company is now planning a nationwide launch for the service.

For these companies, building a video client isn’t a big investment either, since they already had the technology in place. In fact, the opportunity is not just to gain users and draw revenues from subscriptions, they could also cash out, like BlueJeans was bought by Verizon earlier this year for approximately $400 million.

That aside, Inscripts and Troop Messenger are looking at the consumer space too. Both Garg and Naidu said they’re considering freemium models for their tools, where users will be able to use the platform for free to some extent. At the moment, the solutions may be more rudimentary as compared to established platforms, but they want to make a product that works for most users.

For example, both Cattle Call and Say Namaste are looking to forego end-to-end encryption (E2EE) right now, but they will still employ Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS ensures communication is encrypted when traveling between user and service provider, but E2EE makes it impossible for even the service provider to access such communication.

At the same time, both companies said they won’t be recording or storing any of the communication on their servers. In addition, they will have to consider the question of government data requests, which may come in future if they garner a big enough user base. “I think the concern is will anybody who wants it be able to look into our system, obviously not," said Garg.

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