In what was certainly the single-largest event for a video conference, millions of people worldwide gathered around their televisions on July 20, 1969 to tune into a video conversation between two groups of people. But please don’t feel as if you need to land someone on the moon in order to benefit from video conferencing technology. And there certainly are many benefits. Travel, or the lack thereof, is probably the most obvious. For large national and international companies, spending dollars bringing employees in to HQ for meetings makes little sense. Money, time, employee inconvenience all come into play.
“[Video conferencing] is so much more than just about saving money,” said Ken Avis, president of the Florida-US based The ProMedia Group, which provides audio-visual and video conferencing services to both large and small-scale businesses. “It changes the way you do business. You make yourself more available, and you can have face-to-face meetings without the travel expenses.”
Video conferencing equipment, Avis said, can typically start with an $8 – 12,000 investment in technology at the main office, with a smaller investment in satellite equipment. But that could vary greatly, depending on the size and scope of the business. One of Avis’ clients is a large engineering firm that spends around $70 million annually in travel. They’re looking to reduce that 10 percent by utilizing video conferencing more. Avis said the key for a business is to know what it needs, and start there.
That’s a theme that’s consistent with Alexander Gifford’s perspective. “Video conferencing has its place,” said Gifford, who works in research and development for Kinnarps. “We need to look at what we really have to do [at work] and whether I need to talk to them face to face .”
With personal desktop video communication programs such as Skype and ooVoo, one of the keys to future video conferencing applications is getting the high-end technology typically found in main offices to connect with the personal software. “Unified communications” is critical in scenarios where different levels of technology are coming into play. Or, to put into layman’s terms: equipment needs to be compatible.
“A common-use scenario used to be four or five people sitting around a conference table video conferencing with four or five other people sitting around another conference room table,” Avis said. “What we’re starting to see now is a conference room with four or five people contacting people who are in four or five different locations.”
While airline carriers probably would prefer that we all jump on planes every time we need to connect cross-country, cross-continent or across an ocean, the reality is that it’s just easier to fire up the technology, meet up, and then hang up. It’s that easy. Or is it? “Video conferencing can be the biggest nightmare,” Gifford said. “You can spend an hour trying to get the thing going. If it’s hard to set up, or if you need the guy from IT, then you’re not going to use it. The key is, it has to be very simple and easy to use.”
“Consumer technology is often much better than business technology,” Gifford continued. “Web-based technology, like Skype, is simple to use. The simple approach is the best one. “But so much of the time, video is not necessary. In an actual meeting, more often you end up looking at a power point and not really needing to look at each other.”
Coming back to the “simple-technology” concept, Polycom, Inc.—the international unified collaboration solutions company—recently unveiled technology that should make the harshest keep-it-simple-critic smile. Their RealPresence® Mobile is video software that permits mobile device users to connect with other standards-based video systems, including immersive video rooms, group/desktop systems, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
This technology “puts video collaboration in the hands of potentially millions more, allowing anyone to visually collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners, regardless of their physical location,” Polycom CEO Andy Miller said in a company release. “Customers want to collaborate from anywhere, and RealPresence video solutions make that possible by seamlessly connecting people face-to-face who are on the road, at home or in the office, in conference rooms or in immersive theaters."
The nice thing about video conference technology is that’s it’s scalable: it makes sense for some larger, travel-intensive corporations to invest in complete systems. But if you have simple video conferencing needs, then perhaps the personal computer, or smartphone. Sometimes, you don’t even need the video; conference calls still work pretty well when there are no critical visual elements. After all, whether you’re using a high-end system for the office, or personal-computer-based home equipment, it all begins with people.
“What’s critical is to meet someone. You need to meet to have some sort of a relationship. Get together and get to know each other,” Gifford said. “There’s no substitute for that.”