Travel has become the bane of many companies' existence, thanks to escalating fuel and travel costs, unpredictable and increasingly frequent air travel delays and metropolitan gridlock. A face-to-face meeting can cost thousands of dollars and several hassle-filled days, yet small businesses often have customers at great distances.
No wonder that video conferencing was ranked the third hottest business technology of 2007 in a survey conducted by consulting group Ashton, Metzler & Associates. The technology offers small and midsize businesses (SMB) an interactive, audio-visual solution to overcome travel issues. According to Wainhouse Research, a research firm specializing in Real-Time Unified Communications, the videoconferencing industry saw a 39 per cent increase in revenue in 2007 over 2006, hitting US$1.14 billion. Gartner projects that video conferencing will be worth $12.8 billion by 2011.
The days of grainy television monitors and big cameras are gone. So are out-of-synch audio and video signals. And there is no longer a need for IT to support each individual videoconference. Video conferencing today is as comfy as a corporate jet, and it is ready to take off.
We have wheels up
Video conferencing is gaining traction because services have broadened dramatically and are available at more appealing prices than a few years ago. There is something for everyone, from PC-based solutions that cost a few hundred dollars, to high-end telepresence solutions that require specialized rooms and appliances that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Today's solutions provide a better user experience than previous generations, and many provide multi-function capabilities, such as file sharing and review, graphics and the ability to link multiple sites.
Why are SMBs investing in video conferencing? There are some real benefits that can easily justify the investment, including:
Travel cost savings: Not only do businesses save on airfare but also on hotels, meals, phone charges and other incidental expenses, which are easy to identify and track.
Productivity: Employees who are not standing in airport security lines or delayed at airports can be more productive, and the general wear and tear of travel won't wear them down.
Enhanced customer relationships: Video conferencing can enhance customer service and relationships through increased "face-time." Meeting by video conferences also projects a large-company image to customers regardless of the number of employees.
Team Building: Increased "face-to-face" time among dispersed team members within a company leads to a stronger sense of familiarity, community and loyalty than traditional teleconferencing, and can make midsized companies feel more intimate. This may seem hard to value, but consider the cost of replacing valued employees and training their replacements.
Timeliness: Businesses are able to schedule important meetings on short notice and make decisions faster, increasing the efficiency of operations and processes.