Polycom: Out of Many, One

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

Polycom may have thought—by expanding from audioconferencing to videoconferencing to desktop conferencing—it could please all the people, all the time.


4750 Willow Road
Pleasanton, CA 94588
(925) 924-6000


EMPLOYEES: approx. 1,150

Robert C. Hagerty
CEO, President, Chairman
A former executive with Logitech and Stylus Assets, he joined Polycom in 1997 as president and COO and was promoted to CEO a year later and chairman in 2000.

J. Ed Ellett
General Manager/SVP, Video Communications
Joined in February. Leads product development, product marketing and integration efforts for entire line of videoconferencing and collaboration systems.
Group units: ViewStation SP, iPower Executive (small); ViewStation 128, iPower 680 (mid-range); ViewStation FX, VS4000, 3000iPower, iPower 960, 970 (room). Also: ViaVideo (desktop system); Accord (infrastructure); Executive Collection (integrated systems); Global Management System (scheduling).

Out of Many, One

Polycom may have thought—by expanding from audioconferencing to videoconferencing to desktop conferencing—it could please all the people, all the time. And with good reason: The company had already taken a commanding lead in the conferencing space when it purchased PictureTel, the previous market leader, in 2001. The combined firm initially controlled two-thirds of the market and had a 50-percentage-point lead over its nearest rival-but lately is running just 16 points ahead.

Lack of customer affinity might have something to do with it. According to Owens-Corning's Matt Heath, Polycom has "a completely different model for supporting the end user than PictureTel [did]. If you had a problem, you could go to PictureTel; Polycom wants you to deal directly with your supplier."

Some things, of course, have changed for the better. "Back then," Heath says, "you needed technicians to fix problems." Each software upgrade on his PictureTel units was $600 plus the cost of a technician to install it; now, with Polycom, he can download software upgrades for free over the Web. And while Heath says that "Tandberg makes the best codec"-the compression/decompression device at the system's core-Polycom "offers the best value." Besides, he adds, "Polycom is pretty innovative, coming up with things that people want."

At National Public Radio, Dennis Herndon also feels a bit distanced. "I [only] talked with Polycom a couple of times," he says. Instead, "I developed a relationship with [my reseller]. I talk with them, but since the [equipment] has been reliable enough, I haven't needed to. I think I called tech support once."

Likewise, for Nottingham-Spirk Design's Tom Moore, "the strength of my reseller is why I haven't had to contact Polycom. I've used some of [Polycom's] free online services, to check the speed of the ISDN line, or to check the unit." But for Moore, the unit "was pretty expensive," and he'd like to get more use out of it if he could.

Not all companies feel out of touch. Sarnoff's George Fortney found "tech support to be responsive and informative, and has been quite happy with support." And the U.S. Postal Service found that "for the cost, Polycom [was] a better selection for audio, picture and user interface." Still, now that Polycom can claim less than half the customers out there, it may have to expand its preaching beyond the choir.

This article was originally published on 2003-05-12
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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