Video conferencing comes of age
Technology breakthroughs have now made telepresence solutions a viable alternative to business travel. -BT
By NICK LAMBERT
VIDEO conferencing has long held the reputation of over-promising and under delivering. For decades it was promoted as a panacea for business efficiency and increased productivity through reduced travel time and costs.
The reality, however, was that video conferencing became synonymous with slow speeds, poor quality, jerky pictures, difficulty to use and high costs to operate. In other words, it never really lived up to the hype.
As last year's recession tightened its grip on the global economy, we have seen a universal desire among businesses to cut costs and improve productivity and business efficiency.
Businesses were keen to make cost-savings wherever possible, and business travel was an obvious area of opportunity. The Economist Intelligence Unit's recent Austere Traveler survey showed 46 per cent of businesses are choosing to respond to the downturn by completely cutting business travel for internal meetings.
At the same time, video conferencing has come back into focus as a potential answer to these issues. But just what has changed to allow for wide scale adoption of video conferencing as a mainstream business activity?
Improvements in technology, and in particular, the benefit offered by next-generation networks, have allowed video conferencing to deliver on some of the unfulfilled promises of yesteryears. Technology is now more agile and the ability to prioritise bandwidth has allowed video to run well in real-time, delivering much improved user experience. The resultant clarity of picture has led to users commenting that they actually feel as if they are in the same room as the other person. For the first time, the technology IS living up to the hype.
The recent economic downturn that resulted in business travel budgets being slashed has acted as a springboard for companies looking at Managed Video Conferencing (MVC) solutions as a real alternative to travel. From this, high definition video conferencing solutions, known as Telepresence, has been one of the gainers. A recent report by telecoms analyst house Ovum, has predicted that the adoption of managed telepresence services will soar in the next five years, with businesses investing around US$1.7 billion on video conferencing between 2010 and 2014.
According to analyst house Frost & Sullivan, revenues for ready-built telepresence suites in Asia Pacific grew an estimated 71.1 per cent in 2009 (up from 46.6 per cent in 2008), and for 2010, a growth of 64.4 per cent is expected, with revenues of just over US$73.0 million by year-end.
By delivering services that are able to optimise company performance, managed video conferencing solutions are revolutionising the way people meet and making video-conferencing a reality for many ordinary businesses.
Video and web conferencing can clearly be used as a means of cutting costs for the smallest-to-the-largest enterprises while increasing agility through reduced travel requirements and increased real-time collaboration opportunities with partners, customers and employees.
Many organisations face a cultural stumbling block when trying to deploy video conferencing solutions that, in the past, have been exacerbated by a poor user experience. With disconnected faces and voices, some legacy video conferencing tools failed to replicate the experience of a face-to-face meeting, making them an unsuitable replacement.
The high quality of video conferencing technology now makes it feel like you're actually meeting a person. People appear life-size on-screen and the meeting can take place in stereo surround sound. These meeting suites enable those taking part to make real eye contact and observe other non-verbal signals such as body language or facial expressions that are so vital to a productive meeting.
Users are also able to share desktop content between locations facilitating effective collaboration. Of course, certain types of meetings, such as an initial customer meeting or a client pitch, will always require a physical element. However, for most other business meetings, managed videoconferencing is a very compelling alternative, making a very visible difference to business performance.
At Cable&Wireless Worldwide, we ourselves live and breathe the solutions we sell, and have deployed video conferencing on a large scale and have stringently monitored the impact on our own travel costs, and empower our customers to do the same when we deliver such solutions to them effectively.
Another point which is working in favour of video conferencing is that companies are now coming under increasing pressure to recognise, and act upon their social and environmental responsibilities. Reducing carbon emissions is a positive step in the wider battle against climate change and a significant decrease in business travel enables companies to better align themselves with corporate responsibility.
Our research shows that a medium sized enterprise, with annual travel budgets of £20 million (S$42 million), can expect to make savings of some 30 per cent in costs and carbon emissions by using video conferencing.
As a case in point, the use of our own video conferencing services helped us to reduce our own carbon emissions by 600,000kg over the past year.
At Cable&Wireless Worldwide, we believe that managed video conferencing solutions have a big part to play in the future of businesses of all sizes. Technology barriers that once made video conferencing systems difficult to use, expensive, and unreliable have been overcome, thanks to advances in network performance and technology.
Having a service provider to fully manage the solution across global business operations, integrating all components - equipment, network, reach, integration, services and support - just makes it easier to hasten adoption.
We are living in a post-recession world, where cost-efficiency and productivity sit at the top of the corporate agenda, alongside the need to improve green credentials. Managed video conferencing is a valuable tool in the armour to allow businesses to achieve these aims, as long as people are ready to make that cultural shift to using managed video conference services as an everyday instrument of communication.
The writer is managing director, global markets, Cable&Wireless Worldwide
This article was first published in The Business Times.
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