Greener Meetings

Tracey Caldwell asks if the time has finally come for videoconferencing in business, at least in Australia and New Zealand.

Now that we are all Green and just as importantly have to be seen to be Green, the days of executives making long journeys in fuel hungry cars or worse still aeroplanes to attend meetings should be disappearing, replaced by virtual meetings.

Videoconferencing suffered from a bad press for years. It was complex to set up and use and rarely replicated a true meeting experience with jerky images and delayed voice. The video conferencing vendors would have us believe that with today’s software and broadband speeds, all that is a thing of the past. So why is it not used very much?

Or should that be why is it not used much in business? Anyone under 16 videoconferences routinely. Of course the videoconferencing offered by MSN and Bebo is one on one. Desktop and boardroom videoconferencing are two different animals and the real challenge is replicating a meeting among several people, being able to view all or one of them, handling interruptions, being able to kick Maria from accounts under the table before she falls asleep.

In South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, where distances between business centres dwarf those in the UK or Europe, analysts found the uptake of videoconferencing increased significantly in the last year, partly due to the falling costs of equipment. Lots of new vendors especially telephony vendors and software vendors augur well for the growth of this market, they say.

The buzz for this year Down Under is around telepresence, expensive systems which aim to give workers that in the room meeting experience, all bar the biscuits. Unified communication, linking video and audio conferencing with web conferencing and instant messaging are also high on the agenda.

China is leading the market, according to Raidah and Frost & Sullivan, accounting for 44.5 per cent of total Asia-Pacific videoconferencing revenues. The ability to link several provinces across the country has taken this market by storm according to the analysts with players like Huawei and ZTE aiming to move into other Asian countries.

Vodafone, along with other comms companies, knows it should be taking a lead on greener meetings. It has announced it now requires that the alternative of using videoconferencing is considered before travel is approved. There were “air hostesses” at the recent launch of its videoconferencing initiative and a number of posters suggesting “Spend more time with your family”, presumably what cabin crew will be doing once the corporate muscle of Vodafone is flexed.

Google has caught the wave, buying up the flagship software product of video-conferencing start-up Marratech, leading people to believe that conferencing software may become the next addition to Google's office suite.

Google says it is excited about acquiring Marratech’s video conferencing software, which it says “will enable from-the-desktop participation for Googlers in video conference meetings wherever there’s an Internet connection”. I am loving the calendar, not so keen on the spreadsheet. It will be interesting to see what Google makes of videoconferencing as a desktop app.

A report from Cisco, vendor of the £150,000 plus per site Telepresence videoconferencing kit points out that the uptake of videoconferencing is not all about the technology.

Cisco-commissioned report “The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in Geographically Dispersed Teams”, points out that although richer media such as video conferencing helps build teams, it still takes two weeks longer building relationships through videoconferencing than through F2F (face to face, great acronym).

The report recommends using videoconferencing at the beginning of a project, reverting to instant messaging when everyone knows each other. With videoconferencing sounding a bit like a very expensive curry night it is hard to believe that the time is very ripe for this technology. Please see the attached Cisco-comissioned report.