Videoconferencing is finally ready to show itself off

Analysts Forrester and Gartner believe videoconferencing is really ready for business - this time!

The rap against videoconference systems is that they are a pain to use -- technically complex, with clunky interfaces. In a memo on videoconferencing, Forrester Research found that employees abandoned meetings if technical problems took more than 10 to 15 minutes to fix. One company, using equipment bought just five years ago, lost more than 10% of its scheduled video meetings because of technical issues, the research firm reports.

But those clunky systems are being replaced with a new generation of videoconferencing systems that actually work, say Forrester and other analyst firms. With workplaces becoming more distributed and the environmental impact and cost of travel an increasing concern, the new systems can offer real ROI, especially as pricing comes down.

Gartner on March 27 advised organizations considering a refresh of their standard videoconferencing systems to buy high-definition (HD) videoconference technology systems, arguing that the upgrade in quality and decreasing prices justify the investment.

Bottom line: CIOs need to figure out how to make remote meetings work.

Here are three arguments for taking another look at videoconferencing from Forrester's report "Videoconferencing Rises Again," and a summary of tips for choosing and using the right system for your organization. The pointers are based on interviews with IT and business unit employees at 20 organizations who were involved in selecting or operating their workplaces' videoconferencing systems.

A picture is worth 600 words

Forrester says teleworkers now account for 20% of the U.S. workforce. Miscommunication is not uncommon among workers who deal with others remotely, Forrester says, and that isn't surprising. Research shows that at least 60% of communication in a face-to-face workplace is nonverbal. Videoconferencing allows for more face-to-face communication -- leading to fewer miscommunications and a way to build closer teams.

Show me the money

Unlike in the past, when the financial benefits of videoconferencing were either not there or poorly appreciated, organizations are now seeing tangible ROI simply from the reduction in travel expenses. Forrester points to an international manufacturer that estimated the price of quarterly team meetings plummeted 97% from $35,000 to $1,000 by using videoconferencing, with no decrease in meeting quality.

No nerd needed

Technology upgrades like HD displays and standard Ethernet/IP networks have improved the quality, reliability and usability of videoconference systems. Forrester cites a global pharmaceutical company that saw videoconference use jump threefold when HD displays, collaboration tools, an IP connection and an intuitive user interface were incorporated into its videoconferencing equipment.

Different strokes for different folks

In talking to firms using videoconferencing, Forrester found that different meetings require different video configurations.

For one-on-one work sessions, a PC video display is just fine, allowing users to work face-to-face while accessing their applications and work tools.

Room-based video systems work best for distributed team group sessions. Collaboration screens allow participants to review, edit and approve work products.

Auditorium-based video, with high-quality audio, is the system of choice for corporate "state of the union"-type meetings. Using two-way video for the Q&A, rather than handling the questions via Web or audioconference alone, allows employees to better interact and feel more connected to their employers.

Telepresence rooms should be used when subtle, nonverbal communication is essential, so for example, in negotiations, executive decision making or sensitive human resources conversations among people separated by distance. Forrester found that it takes a few minutes for participants to get over the feeling that they are in a "high-quality animated motion picture," before settling into the meeting. The reality factor is such that at the end of the meeting, the members of one group told Forrester they ended with attendees standing up and offering their business cards or hand to their on-screen counterparts.

Read more on Collaboration software and productivity software