A common obstacle in the business world with regards to budgets and time management is the issue of travel. Many corporations have several locations world wide that require live or “real-time” communication. Some other scenarios are: those who are trying to sell their products or close deals, consultants, companies that have corporate trainers, global colleagues that are on a team assignment or to demonstrate a product. While we understand that the lifeblood of business is personal contact—the human voice, the human face, and real-time interaction it is not always economical to physically be there.
Also, the environment has never been of greater concern than it is today. We all have a responsibility to protect the environment and reduce the need for travel to try and drive down CO2 emissions (or carbon footprint).
In the past, people didn’t have many effective alternatives for meetings and information exchange. They would travel via automobile, plane or train to be there in person. This becomes extremely expensive, time consuming and detrimental to a companies bottom line. An exhausted, stressed out employee will not always perform as needed under these circumstances. Times are tough all over right now and I’m sure companies would rather spend their money in research and development area than on travel costs.
There were also telephone conferences, but they are not as effective due to the lack of visual reactions and body language interpretation. Lastly, disks or CD-ROMs with recorded presentations were mailed. This lacked personal connection and was not real-time information.
In the past video teleconferencing was achieved by closed circuit television technology. This was a very expensive method and required a sound proof studio and a whole lot of expensive paraphernalia. This also required a trained staff at both or all stations of the video conferencing. That made this technology available only to the very large business in the private sector as well as government agencies. The cost implications were prohibitive for small industries and companies who found flying across the globe to meet their business partners a more economical way of communication. The Internet has changed all that.
Desktop conferencing has become a reality with the advancement of the Internet. Business executives, government heads and even homemakers can turn on a videoconference at the flick of a button through the computers on their desktops. The technology is easy to use with even elementary students being able to use it. Through desktop conferencing, people can connect to another group of people and discuss various subjects ranging from what movie they just saw to North Koreas nuclear program.
Videoconferencing uses telecommunications of audio and video to bring people at different sites together for a meeting.
Videoconferencing, at its most basic, refers to communications technologies that integrate audio and video in real time, and help people in multiple locations stay in contact. It’s a lot like a teleconference, but it’s more flexible and provides for more options in your conversation. All you need is a browser, a computer, and a high-speed Internet connection, plus a functioning web cam and a good microphone to talk to people across the world.
There is a couple of different ways web conferences work. How it typically would happen is a “host” prepares all the necessary documents and material that he or she will need throughout the meeting and set a date and time. Then the initiations are sent out via email or other methods giving the other individuals the time, date and if needed the access code for security reasons. Which one you choose is really up to you.
The first is the invite and pass code version where the host of the meeting tells or sends and invite to all the members of the meeting giving instructions on how to login to the meeting. There are given and required to have a pass code which are prompted to type in. This is the step that allows the meeting to be kept private for security reasons.
Then there is the sever based web meeting. This type of conference is kept on an internal server protected behind a firewall for the entire meeting. This means that the meeting is secure because it is held internally and behind various firewalls; therefore there is no password or code needed in order for the members of the party to participate. You can either use the software and use their servers or purchase the software license and use it on your own servers.
There are several areas where videoconferencing, webconferencing or telepresence has shown its value. In the business world, there have been studies that showed a 30% decrease in travel in the first year it was implemented alone. That money saved can be used for other important needs. (like keeping benefits from evaporating) In addition to business, the following areas have also proved this technology to be invaluable.
Ø Hearing impaired:
Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have a particular interest in the development of affordable high-quality videoconferencing as a means of communicating with each other in sign language via long distance.
Teachers and lecturers from all over the world can be brought to virtual classes in remote places. Students are able to explore, communicate, analyze and share information and ideas with one another. Through videoconferencing students can visit another part of the world to speak with others, visit a zoo, a museum and so on, to learn. These “virtual field trips” can bring opportunities to children, especially those in geographically isolated locations, or the economically disadvantaged. Small schools can use this technology to pool resources and teach courses (such as foreign languages) which could not otherwise be offered.
Companies that do not want to lose employees due to relocation or other reasons that prevent them from physically being in the office, now have the technology to “virtually” be there. The following link in an ABC News report that give one such example. Very interesting!
Videoconferencing is very useful technology for telemedicine and telenursing applications, such as diagnosis, consulting, transmission of medical images, etc., in real time in countries where this is legal. Patients may contact nurses and physicians in emergency or routine situations. Physicians and other paramedical professionals use this as a resource to discuss cases across large distances. Rural areas can also use this technology for diagnostic purposes, thus saving lives and making more efficient use of health care money.
UnitedHealth Group and Cisco are partnering to build the first national telehealth network This will give patients access to physicians and specialists when in-person visits are not possible. Cisco will be one of the main technologies to help people using video, audio and medical information to create an experience similar to an in-person visit with a doctor.
I have a personal experience to relate to this topic. A couple years ago, I applied for a Purchasing Manager position with a company that was recently acquired by a German global corporation. After I had interviewed with the local management, they called me back in to meet with the Global Purchasing Director who was from Germany. I expected to see him in person, but instead I was seated in front of what I thought was a television. It was actually a real-time videoconferencing system. The only thing we couldn’t do was shake hands…it was a neat experience.
For individuals whose families have great distances between them, they can now stay in touch via real-time videoconferencing on their personal computers if they have the Internet and a web cam. Companies such as Skype and Yahoo offer such services. The military is also using this technology for it’s soldiers and their families by using a company called Polycom. This service has better security and quality of service and is widely used in large coporations and the government.
This technology not only benefits corporate businesses, but even educational institutes, medical groups, security agencies, emergency response centers and others can use video conferencing in their daily operational activities. Thus, web meeting can be not only be helpful but also can make a vital difference to our lives.
There are a few drawbacks to web-based conferencing. If users in your Internet meeting don’t have sufficient bandwidth, the conference can become laggy for all participants. Fortunately, broadband penetration is growing by leaps and bounds throughout each country yearly. Over the coming years, this issue will slowly disappear, as less and less dial-up accounts are used, especially in business settings.
There has been an enormous growth of companies that specialize in this type of communication service. Some of those companies are Webex, ooVoo, GoToMeeting, ComBOTS and Skype. Many offer their service for free. According to a recent publication, video telepresence is one of eight emerging technologies that will “have a transformational business impact and should be strongly considered for adoption by technology planners in the next 10 years”. Further growth of managed IT services has been predicted by a number of analyst houses, despite the slowdown in the global economy.
On the personal-user side there are companies cropping up that offer a walk-in storefront where you can use their equipment to vieoconference others from around the globe. One such company is called Order Express. They’re main business was check cashing and money transfers (wires) until the owner of one franchise got an idea while dusting some videoconferencing equipment in an office. This was particularly appealing to illegal immigrants that missed their families back home. Since 9/11 there is stricter border control, which makes it nearly impossible for them to get back into the country. For about $40 they can talk and see their families for about 30 minutes. Many of these businesses are so busy you have to make reservations weeks and even months in advance.
Businesses across the world are feeling pressure to maintain or increase revenue, while keeping a close eye on costs. Web-based conferencing is a huge improvement over chat rooms, due to audio, video, and slide sharing. Globalisation has meant that there is more need than ever for people to collaborate. With face-to-face meetings proving both expensive and impractical, businesses are looking to videoconferencing to keep their business running in a cost effective manner.
Many companies are stating they are making up their initial investment for equipment within four to five months by cutting down on travel. Thay also state that within a few minutes they forget it’s a web conference and feel like they are there. In the old way of doing business, it would take them weeks to make a decision. Now everyone can collaborate immediately because everyone sees the same things at the same time, and they can make decisions a lot quicker.
Remember how the CEOs at the big three automakers flew to Washington in private jets to ask for a bailout? Well, after being brought back to Earth by a barrage of deserved “what-were-they-thinking?” outrage, the big boys decided to give up their private jets. And PR reps at the big three subsequently announced that whenever possible, employees at those companies would videoconference instead of travel. Now they get it.
In today’s world, many people have real concerns about the safety and security of global travel. Having the ability to accomplish objectives and to maintain strong lines of communication without the need to cross borders provides many business people (and their families) with peace of mind and an increased sense of security.
What is the future of videoconferencing? The possibilities seem endless. Like how about no more blind dates? Or no more snow days? What about Hologram Technology? The first time I saw that used in real life was during this last election on CNN. It’s not just for the movies anymore.
In general, video conferencing is here to stay. It saves a lot of time, money and energy and increases productivity while reducing our carbon footprint. Web meetings as such will not remain the same way. Changes are a part of life and we have got to adjust with it and accept it as part of daily lives. This way, we can always remain a step ahead of the rest. Let’s hope this will we change the way we communicate and for good.