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Telepresence/Videoconferencing: Why Should We Do This?

This guest post was written by Peter Brockmann, President of Brockmann & Company, a high tech marketing consulting company. The John Chambers - Al Gore demonstration of telepresence was truly exciting to the 2,500 attendees in the big auditorium at VoiceCon last week. Yet, their impassioned and indirect plea to use telepresence instead of travel will suffer from the practicalities of deploying 30 Mbps IP WAN services between meeting rooms, let alone forking out two-thirds of a million dollars for a pair of rooms. For most organizations, that's a lot of travel to avoid!

This guest post was written by Peter Brockmann, President of Brockmann & Company, a high tech marketing consulting company.

The John Chambers - Al Gore demonstration of telepresence was truly exciting to the 2,500 attendees in the big auditorium at VoiceCon last week. Yet, their impassioned and indirect plea to use telepresence instead of travel will suffer from the practicalities of deploying 30 Mbps IP WAN services between meeting rooms, let alone forking out two-thirds of a million dollars for a pair of rooms. For most organizations, that's a lot of travel to avoid!Except for the 'prima donnas' of our industry and CEOs where telepresence is a replacement for the corporate jet, the most powerful solution for business is high definition. Just like it took Henry Ford to show that cars can be for more than just the rich, today, high definition offers the same scale of impact. It's very high quality, quite inexpensive (typical users can outfit six rooms for less than $40,000) and not particularly demanding on modern IP networks.

Executives who have never used video conferencing are often curious about how video conferencing might impact their existing collaboration services - the face-to-face meeting, web collaboration and audio conferencing session. They often see the prospects of engaging professional business-class high definition (HD) video conferencing products and services as a daunting technical and performance exercise and perhaps a little overkill. For them, the most frequent question is 'Why should we do this?'

Other executives that have used the classic implementation of standard definition video conferencing with complex session setups, unreliable equipment and poor quality images (pixilation, out-of-sync audio, blurry visuals) ask a slightly different question. They ask - 'Why should we do this?'

In both cases, it is imperative to recognize that many things in the video conferencing domain have changed in the past five years. New standards and technologies, new high speed network services and new levels of user expectations have changed the quality, cost and reliability of video conferencing services.

These changes in the video conferencing market have been driven by advances in devices and networks for consumers. Consumer demand for HD TVs, tuners, projection systems, flat panel monitors, cameras in mobile phones, digital cameras and even HD video recorders have stimulated the chip industry to develop and market new multimedia ASICs and architectures which have, in turn enabled amazing software innovations.

Similarly, the consumer demand for inexpensive broadband Internet service from their local telephone or cable company has created the widespread and inexpensive availability of IP services around the world, that are also conveniently available for business users too. These two market changes are impressive in their own right, but when coupled with the third dimension - a higher user expectation for high quality visual communications as established by users' home entertainment experience -the key ingredients of the Perfect Storm are present and interacting to amplify the effects of each dimension. This combination of factors creates and feeds the trends that show how video conferencing today is completely different than video conferencing of five years ago, and gives us an insight as to how video conferencing in the future will only grow more pervasive.

The Economics of Video Conferencing Despite the hype, there is substantial evidence that video conferencing is inexpensive compared to the cost of business travel in three major currencies - in dollars, in traveler time, and in terms of greenhouse gases, as shown in Figure 1. And depending on the locations involved, styles of systems implemented, and limits on usage, the impacts on the intra-company and inter-company travel spending can be dramatic.

Figure 1 - Comparing the costs of a 1-hour face-to-face meeting 560 miles away (Boston - Philadelphia) with a 1-hour video conference

But video conferencing is not just about reduced travel and carbon dioxide avoidance. It has a big impact on business performance. In the Brockmann & Company study of 350 business users of video conferencing, the Top Performers--being the largest consumers of video conferencing services compared to the Poor Performers or least frequent consumers--had significantly stronger business performance:

  • 20% higher customer satisfaction
  • 72% higher employee satisfaction
  • 85% more revenue per employee
  • 20% more market share

    Video conferencing is for market winners More significantly than perhaps the cash costs avoided, are the hours and hours of time saved. Employee productivity is a powerful element of the business case for video conferencing. Saving 13 minutes in every video conference instead of face-to-face meetings is great, but time created really adds up when you factor in the avoided travel time.

    Saving 7 hours of travel time, as in the comparison in table 1, includes avoiding time spent arranging the travel, time spent driving to/from the airport, time spent standing in lines, airport security and otherwise not doing the things the employee is paid to do. Travel does tend to involve a lot of unproductive and avoidable employee time.

    Video conferencing is not just for the Fortune 500 anymore. Businesses of all sizes can use this powerful visual collaboration technology to strengthen relationships with customers, partners, suppliers and coworkers as never before. And, if our research is any indicator of the market readiness for an upgrade in collaboration styles and technologies, they will.

    Video conferencing is for market winners More significantly than perhaps the cash costs avoided, are the hours and hours of time saved. Employee productivity is a powerful element of the business case for video conferencing. Saving 13 minutes in every video conference instead of face-to-face meetings is great, but time created really adds up when you factor in the avoided travel time.

    Saving 7 hours of travel time, as in the comparison in table 1, includes avoiding time spent arranging the travel, time spent driving to/from the airport, time spent standing in lines, airport security and otherwise not doing the things the employee is paid to do. Travel does tend to involve a lot of unproductive and avoidable employee time.

    Video conferencing is not just for the Fortune 500 anymore. Businesses of all sizes can use this powerful visual collaboration technology to strengthen relationships with customers, partners, suppliers and coworkers as never before. And, if our research is any indicator of the market readiness for an upgrade in collaboration styles and technologies, they will.