Video conferencing. If you haven't heard the words lately, just wait. Video conferencing is becoming the most in-demand application of the new information age. This upsurge is prompted by three factors:
Globalisation and the need for "virtual" workgroups made up of experts from many different locations require a technology that allows people to meet face-to-face with high productivity on a moment's notice. Only video conferencing meets this demand.
Changes in video conferencing technology, particularly high definition and what's being called video presence, are giving video conferences the same sense of connection and collaboration as a live meeting. In fact, they're better than live, because video conferencing allows data sharing that is not possible in live meetings, plus the recording of video conferences provides necessary records for security and regulatory requirements. In addition, new video conferencing technology has excellent security plus advanced management and scheduling capabilities. Also, the cost of video conferencing end points has decreased ten fold since 1998. Travel costs have escalated.
- The IP (Internet Protocol) revolution has lead to "IP everywhere" making the transmission of video conferences far less expensive, much easier to use, more reliable and significantly more scalable to meet a company's growing requirements.
The bottom line is that every company, big or small, must evaluate video conferencing as a possible application. Here's a checklist to help determine if video conferencing is right for your company.
1. Would it enhance your productivity if workers at separate locations could meet as workgroups?
Enhanced productivity and reduced time-to-market are the main reasons companies give for installing video conferencing. Being able to meet spontaneously face-to-face not only allows people at different locations to get more done faster, it also improves camaraderie, communication and employee morale.
2. Would you benefit from faster decisions?
Arriving at quick decisions based only on audio or e-mail communications is often difficult. Many people don't communicate well verbally or in writing. They always feel more comfortable seeing each other face-to-face -- judging expressions, body language and millions of tiny non-verbal cues. The new video conferencing technology has such excellent definition, picture and sound quality, plus data-sharing capability that people feel like they've gotten the whole story.
3. Does your whole company rely on the skill and contribution of individual experts at disparate locations?
Rather than trying to replicate the expertise of certain personnel at every company location, video conferencing allows those experts to be leveraged optimally. Meeting face-to-face on an as-needed basis lets those experts share their knowledge in an enriched communications environment and enhances the trust and enthusiasm of those calling on that expertise.
4. Would you like to communicate with the whole company more often?
Branch and satellite offices can easily feel disconnected from headquarters and upper management due to lack of communications. Video conferencing allows whole companies to come together often, even spontaneously, to solve problems, share successes and celebrate, increasing company identity.
5. Could your hiring process use some streamlining?
If your company hires people from multiple locations, video conferencing can simplify the interview process. More and more companies use video conferencing right through the final interview, allowing top candidates to be processed and hired more quickly -- as well as impressing the candidate with the company's leading-edge technology.
6. Could you attract or keep better employees if you could reduce their time away from home?
While reducing travel costs is one of the first things a company thinks of when considering video conferencing (and it is a significant factor), the real cost of travel is better measured in lost productivity from employees out of their offices and the high cost in employee morale from personnel spending days and weeks away from their homes and families. Video conferencing can significantly reduce time away for even the most travel-intensive personnel.
7. Do your customers or suppliers have video conferencing?
New video conferencing software is based on standards allowing easy integration with other audio visual systems as well as scheduling protocols. Integrating video conferencing with customers and suppliers can not only improve communications, but also enhance a sense of shared values, experiences and mutual dependence that are good for business.
8. Do you have compliance and training requirements?
If you're in a field with stringent compliance requirements, then video conferencing can help encode data necessary for the FDA, Sarbanes-Oxley and others. Additionally, important training materials can be made available to personnel both live through video conferencing and later through video-on-demand.
9. Do you want to reduce travel costs?
Companies with big travel budgets can often justify the purchase of video conferencing systems based on travel cost savings alone. While productivity costs are the main impact of travel on companies, eliminating a big percentage of airfare, hotels and per diem expenses can directly impact the bottom line.
10. Do you want to be aligned with the next big step in communications technology?
The growth of video conferencing is explosive, making the technology more and more essential in inter-business as well as intra-business communications. Companies have invested huge sums in computer and networking technology and now are focused on getting even better returns from that huge outlay with applications that can bring real business benefits. Video conferencing is the next "killer app."
While small businesses with only one location may not yet be able to justify an investment in video conferencing unless customer demands require it, most other companies should at least consider the benefits to their bottom line. Even if your firm has evaluated video conferencing in the past, the enormous changes in the technology in just the last year more than justify reconsidering. Companies around the world are quickly realising that video conferencing is not just a less expensive communication method, it is actually a better one -- a method destined to change the face of business in the years to come.
About the Author:
Larry Karagheusian serves as executive vice president for GBH Communications. He has over 30 years of experience in a broad range of high technology solutions from companies such as Intel, Texas Instruments and WaveThree Software. He's served in the video conferencing industry for the past 13 years. Karagheusian holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.