Video Conferencing Saves Time and Money

Dec 30, 2009

Robert McGarvey

You probably hate meetings. Who doesn’t? In most companies they seem to bring out everybody’s inner Dilbert. But listen up: Meetings just may be the sweet spot for CIOs looking to make a stark mark on their companies in 2010. That is because knowing the right moves will help save big dollars, but the savviest CIO also understand that technology will not end all face time, not now, nor in the near term.

"You cannot replace all business meetings with videoconferencing,” proclaims Bob Kirk, CEO of Avistar, a leading maker of video conferencing gear. Meetings that involve high emotional content such as closing a sale, celebrating a technology innovation, welcoming a new boss, almost always work best in person. But that leaves plenty of information-packed meetings and, frankly, there is no reason many of these cannot be switched to online models ASAP. The results will be mammoth savings of cash and time, both in short supply in corporate America today.

Stay tuned for a negative news flash but, first, feast on more positives of videoconferencing. “Avistar customers on average are able to substitute 6% of in-person meetings, thereby reducing their T&E budgets and carbon footprints by approximately 20%,” says the company’s press materials.

Appia Communications, a provider of web conferencing and other telephony services, puts hard numbers around all this by citing data that pinpoint the cost of a typical US business trip at $1000. By using technology such as Appia’s, six users can enjoy face to face communications, along with desktop sharing, for $45 per hour, said Matt Cowall, APPIA’s communications manager.

So, if all this is so good why aren’t the bulk of our meetings conducted via videoconferencing or online meeting tools? Here’s a big negative: “We tried (videoconferencing), but it didn’t work terribly well since most of the prospects we were trying to hit were pretty inept when it came to using their computers,” said Bretton Holmes, president of Holmes World Media, a public relations firm based in Lubbock, TX. Ease of use definitely remains a stumbling block but this isn’t the only hurdle. A second barrier is that so much product out there is bad.

“With free services you get what you pay for,” said Kirk. To pick on one provider, Skype video calls are ideal for a road warrior calling home to check on the rug rats, but if you think that is the tool for a chat with a key customer or prospect, get serious. This is where a CIO can enter, shake sense into a confused situation, and walk out a hero because, bottom line, scrapping many meetings saves big dollars for the organization.

The key in assessing new-generation tools increasingly is collaboration, stresses Stephen Beamish, vice-president of marketing and strategic partnerships at Mitel, a developer of unified communications tools. What that means is that expensive, crystal clear video may be nice, but it might not be essential. Grainier video, with good voice and full-featured document and apps sharing in real-time may be good enough. That’s underlined in a Mitel commissioned survey, conducted by Canadian pollster Harris/Decima, that found 68% of business employees supporting investment in “telecollaboration” tools that reduce travel costs.

The bright news is there is an avalanche of new, slick web meeting tools coming online that are diving driven down costs, said Isaac Garcia, co-founder and CEO of Central Desktop, a software as a service offering that includes meetings tools. The technology, too, has gotten better, more reliable, said Jim Lundy, a onetime Gartner analyst recently turned vice president at Saba, a developer of people management tools. “The customer feedback is getting much better. The tools have gotten better, but users also have gotten better at using them", said Lundy.

This may make 2010 the ideal time for a CIO to save, money and time while simultaneously increasing his or her employee's productivity. That would be a win-win-win-win. Not bad for a technological fix to a people problem.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications―from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.

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