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article imageIs New Age Teleconferencing The Death Knell For The Road Warrior?

By Saikat Basu     Jul 24, 2008 in Technology
It is called 'Telepresence'. A nearly life like experience wrought through new age digital teleconferencing technologies and it stands poised to redefine corporate communications.
It still isn't time to say - Beam me up, Scotty! But the future is definitely here. It is teleconferencing at its evolved best. The global IT major, Accenture did some calculations. Accenture estimates that teleconferencing technology and its adoption saved the company 240 international trips and 120 domestic flights in a single month of May alone. That translates to savings in dollars and savings in intangibles like travel stress for its globetrotting staff.
And here's an endorsement from Jill Smart, an Accenture executive -
“10 minutes into it, you forget you are not in the room with them.”
She was among the converts when she had her first taste of videoconferencing, linking her Chicago office to her counterparts in London. Today, the technology has become so graphically evolved that we are calling it 'telepresence'. As Jill swears.
Telepresence videoconferencing is still on the 'Objects of Desire' list of many businesses. Completed telepresence rooms, typically with three huge curved screens (and a fourth screen above for shared work), custom lighting and acoustics, cost up to $350,000. Resolutions are sharper than HDTV and images are nearly life like. A still expensive proposition, it is peddled by Cisco, H.P. and Polycom. But many companies are offering low ticket online communications and collaboration tools which are making the business world a more wired place.
Perhaps the time has come when teleconferencing becomes a de facto practice in the boardrooms around the world. The hours of the day remain the same...and more needs to be done; travel costs are rising and the business traveler is adding to the overheads. Claire Schooley, an analyst says,
” These technology tools are going to change the way corporations think about travel and work in the long run."
Telecommunications and digital networks are leapfrogging ahead nearly at the speed of thought. The last two years itself have seen rapid advances in technology. And companies around the globe are turning towards the changing tides. From small companies to big corporations, collaborative technologies are gaining fond converts. Web conferencing, online document sharing, wikis and Internet telephony are just some of the 'apps' the business world is adopting.
The applications of teleconferencing are many as they are innovative. Alan Minton, vice president for marketing at Cornerstone Information Systems runs a 60-person business software company in Bloomington, Ind. They have experimented with online product demonstrations and have achieved substantial gains. Alan says that group’s travel costs of have been cut by 60 percent and the average time to close a new sale has been reduced by 30 percent. Those are not flippant figures for a 60 man firm.
But is it time to moth-ball the traveling bag just yet?
A study last month by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, a group of technology companies, and the Climate Group, an environmental organization, estimated that up to 20 percent of business travel worldwide could be replaced by Web-based and conventional videoconferencing technology. That would really please a world trying to go green. Cisco alone, which has more than 200 telepresence rooms, figures it is avoiding $100 million in yearly travel costs, and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from air travel by 10 percent. But though a beginning for future communications, it is not time yet to discard the old way of doing business.
Jill Smart though a votary still recognizes the value of doing business face to face.
"You don’t learn about other cultures in telepresence. You get things from being there, over breakfast and dinner, building relationships face to face.”
Yes, as humans we thrive on social contact. Nothing can probably replace the clasp of a warm handshake, but technology is certainly helping to do some of the groundwork. Especially in areas which benefit from the wide reach and the immediacy of technology. Corporate training and education is one such area. Online reach is helping companies to cut down on training costs. Earlier, Darryl Draper, the national manager of customer service training for Subaru of America used to travel extensively imparting training to dealers nationwide. Today, she does the same job ensconced in a teleconferencing hub. Earlier, in six months she would reach about 220 people at a cost of $300 a person. She says she now reaches 2,500 people every six months at a cost of 75 cents a person.
These sound like green savings in ways more than one for some companies ready to adopt this technology. The future is just around the corner.
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