INTEROP - Customers talk up videoconferencing benefits

INTEROP - Customers talk up videoconferencing benefits

Videoconferencing can save time, money and eliminate travel-related stress

Videoconferencing can be used to slash business travel -- an important consideration as the economy sours and travel costs soar, customers said at Interop this week.

While several vendors showed off their video-related wares, five customers described how videoconferencing has been used in medical settings, or for collaboration over legal and other sensitive matters, or even to review computer game development between programmers around the globe.

Business videoconferencing is hardly new, but this year's Interop showed that adoption of such technology has advanced to the point where customers are willing to publicly describe important cost savings, mainly due to reduced business travel.

In general, "businesses are more open to using video than before," added Melanie Turek, an analyst at Frost and Sullivan. She said that payback on an investment in videoconferencing hardware and software can be commonly reached in three to six months, adding that a corporation can get added kudos for being sensitive to green initiatives.

In 2007, shipments of videoconferencing endpoints (such as cameras and displays) were US$1.1 billion, up 30 percent from the prior year, while sales of videoconferencing infrastructure were about US$237 million, up 23 percent, Turek said.

A big factor in the increase was the emergence in the past two years of high-definition videoconferencing. HD images are (as consumers familiar with the TV tech might expect) much clearer that those from standard-definition technology, with nine times the number of pixels in a display, analysts said.

At Proctor & Gamble, 40 high-end, high-definition TelePresence systems from Cisco Systems have been in use around the globe for the past eight months, said Laurie Heltsley, director of global business services for the consumer goods maker. P&G retains a managed service from Cisco to run the systems and will not disclose its costs, although Heltsley said the service will more than pay for itself in its first year.

She said there will be ongoing costs in subsequent years, but was including managed services costs and capital costs for the first year in her estimate. TelePresence from Cisco requires, in some forms, high-definition equipment and special rooms, and the equipment can cost more then US$250,000 per room, analysts have said.

Heltsley said that video collaboration has been so successful with employees that P&G is planning down the road to use it for business-to-business interactions. In fact, many customers who use the high-definition tools don't want to revert to using standard definition, and P&G is considering what to do with 200 units of standard definition gear.

The high-definition has been so clear and compelling that some users are even surprised and a little concerned that facial blemishes and wrinkles will show, Heltsley and other customers said. Cisco and other product makers even give customers the option of using a software product that softens faces to reduce the effects of the stark realism.

At Activision Publishing, how a person looks is not a priority, since game developers in various cities around the globe are using videoconferencing to share and critique their game programs with one another over a system from Lifesize Communications in Texas, said Thomas Fenady, director of information technology at Activision. "For our system, I don't want to see the person on the other end, especially some of these game developers," Fenady joked.

Fenady said the videoconferencing has clearly cut down on travel and development time, but did not describe the exact savings. But he said that LifeSize has been affordable, at about US$11,000 for equipment in each of several locations including London and California.

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