Videoconferencing's Hidden Benefits

Michael Vizard
Slide Show

The State of Communications and Collaboration

Companies are still wrestling with how to get the most value out of their investments.

One of the perceptions concerning videoconferencing and other types of collaboration applications is that somehow they reduce our need to physically travel from one business location to another.

And yet, if you look at the state of business travel today, most business executives would tell you they still need to be physically present at a large percentage of the meetings they attend, even though a recent study of 809 IT leaders conducted by Dimension Data found that 70 percent of these organizations have access to some form of videoconferencing.

Now some of this need to still travel may reflect the state of videoconferencing technologies today. The study finds that most of the access to videoconferencing systems is limited to room-sized systems and pretty much viewed within the organization as a point solution that's appropriate to use in a limited number of scenarios. Only 25 percent had access to desktop-based videoconferencing systems. And the quality of many of those systems is suspect. In fact, Mitch Hershkowitz, a national practice manager, says that when it comes to videoconferencing, no videoconferencing is generally preferable to bad videoconferencing.


Hershkowitz says that it's also clear that companies have not really adjusted their business cultures in the wake of the first generation of videoconferencing systems. With the advent of next-generation high-definition systems, Hershkowitz expects that videoconferencing will have a much bigger impact in 2011. But he cautions that customers need to take a strategic approach to videoconferencing that examines everything from the amount of network bandwidth available to how and when companies decide to conduct internal and external meetings.


The good news is that we're seeing more use of video on consumer-focused Web services such as Skype, which Hershkowitz says will eventually lead to more demand for videoconferencing services that will be delivered via the cloud. Eventually, Hershkowitz says customers will expect to interact with business colleagues over videoconferencing systems from their homes using a mix of public and private cloud computing services.

But if history is any guide, the real value of videoconferencing may ultimately come down to intangible productivity benefits. While a lot of organizations want to reallocate travel budget dollars to pay for videoconferencing systems, there is little evidence to suggest that previous generations of collaboration and messaging technologies have reduced the need for business travel. They have definitely increased productivity along with the number of meetings and requests that people need to attend and respond to. But it's hard to say with any certainty that business travel has been substantially reduced because there are more online collaboration technologies available.

That doesn't mean that videoconferencing might one day lead to fewer business trips. But it seems like it's human nature to want to be in the same room with someone for key meetings, no matter what the quality of the videoconference actually is. So at the end the day, videoconferencing may replace the phone call and other forms of audio conferencing because it's simply a more productive tool, but don't be too surprised to discover that the senior business leaders and salespeople within the organization will still be traveling just as much as ever.

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