Essentials for telepresence evaluation: An FAQ

How do you assess the need for telepresence when a comparison has to be made with the much cheaper video conferencing technology?

Many people feel that there’s not much of a difference between evaluation exercises for telepresence and videoconferencing. However, the truth is that there are many substantial differences between telepresence and video conferencing.

Video conferencing has not really taken off because it needs collaborative technology in an organization. For example, email is completely collaborative because every person in an organization has an email address. The same is not true of video conferencing. It never reached the stage of complete collaboration. This is where the need for telepresence comes in.

There are basically four differences between the two technologies.

• The first argument for telepresence adoption is better quality of audio and video.

• The second is the simplicity of use. One reason why video conferencing didn’t take off is because it needs a technician’s help to get started on a call. By contrast, telepresence is user-friendly; you just have to dial a     number to connect to the call.

• High reliability is the third difference. You don’t want any disturbances during a meeting (as is usual in video conferencing). Telepresence is completely reliable in terms of connections. It seems as if the other person is in the same room, and there is no time lapse in image delivery.

• Extent of environmental excellence is the next pro for —the immersive experience. Telepresence rooms are custom-built and designed to look alike. Video conferencing is incapable of doing this.

When deploying telepresence, a CIO will have to make this call depending on where the organization is in its collaborative experience.

Moving from video conferencing to telepresence: This subjective aspect depends on an organization’s collaborative needs and how it handles internal collaboration. The purpose of these two technologies is similar, but their attributes are different.

There are two levels on which an organization can make a decision. From a strategic level, it’s about how the organization interacts with its branches, partners and clients; this would define the need for telepresence. From the operational level it depends on the company’s travel spends and how it optimizes strengths of employees spread across many places. A CIO will have to make this call depending on where the organization is in its collaborative experience.

When does a company choose an opex model over a capex model for telepresence adoption? This depends on the organization’s usage pattern. If they do not have a reference point, (that is, if they have not engaged in video conferencing so far), they should start by using a rental model. From their video conferencing usage patterns, it can decide about adoption of telepresence. If the company uses video conferencing for only about 10 hours a month, it will not be sensible to invest in telepresence. The organization should use the rented solution for six months to one year; as the need for immersive collaboration increases, it can start to consider telepresence.

A capex model is ideal for an organization which already uses video conferencing heavily, and plans to improve collaboration. Another consideration is the received benefits. For example, if a new firewall is used, its benefits are restricted to IT. But when a telepresence solution is deployed, the whole organization can reap its benefits.

Cost of telepresence. The cost for a telepresence solution is about $300,000 (or Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 crore). This infrastructure depends on number of users as well as electrical wiring, air conditioning and sound proofing. A video conferencing solution will cost much less, since the required infrastructure should be readily available in any modern organization.

Is telepresence the same as unified communications? Telepresence is a part of unified communications. They both lead to collaboration. Collaboration is a superset word, since it indicates how each person integrates with others. Various mediums are put to use in unified communications, whereas telepresence employs audio and video conferencing. However, telepresence can also incorporate other mediums of communication (for example, a webcam or video phone). These can be incorporated into the immersive experience because a telepresence server has the capacity to scale up all images to life size.

About the author: Diwakar Dayal is the head for telepresence and unified communications at Tandberg.

(As told to Sharon D'Souza)

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