Videoconferencing has lost its niche status and is now more accessible, affordable and available. And with growing concerns about the ecological cost of flying, I believe videoconferencing is set to grow.
Videoconferencing will never completely overtake face-to-face communication. But it is becoming an ever more crucial part of the communications mix. And its straightforwardness and ease-of-use means its continued adoption should be embraced, and take-up may well be faster than we think.
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) depends heavily on multi-channel technologies, and with sustainability a key concern, we have begun replacing travel with audio and visual communication wherever possible.
The association began using videoconferencing in late 2005, and it is now in regular use. In our UK regional offices we have 40 personal cameras and four high-definition room systems, as well as one high-definition room system in our Hong Kong office. One system is also mobile, so it can be used in any of our meeting rooms.
The system has proved both convenient and cost-effective, with increased communication between staff who feel more connected to their colleagues whom they would otherwise meet infrequently.
In our experience, videoconferencing has improved face-to-face communications and aids faster decision making, which is crucial in a 24x7, information-hungry business environment.
Videoconferencing is making a real difference at Acca. The association's current phase of usage is set to run until Easter, when we will review its success and usefulness. We will then consider further investment, with a roll-out to national offices in other countries possible this year.
Becoming the norm
It seems likely that videoconferencing in the residential and mobile markets will become increasingly affordable and more accessible over time. Webcams are often integral to high street PC sales, and with improved broadband internet connectivity, webcam usage will no doubt increase.
Desktop PC conferencing - both at home, at the office, and increasingly in schools, colleges and universities - will progressively become the norm.
Videoconferencing has moved on from pre-designed TV-studio-style installations, but the psychology of communication and people's preferences will always be an issue. Some do not like using videoconferencing simply because they feel self-conscious "on camera".
Despite this sticking point, for a global organisation, in particular, it will surely quickly become a crucial communication option to set alongside face-to-face meetings, e-mail, the Blackberry and the telephone.
One way or another, videoconferencing is here to stay. The time has come for all organisations to investigate its potential.
● Mark Devine is IT director at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
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This was first published in February 2007