Smart Videoconferencing: New Habits for Virtual Meetingsby Janelle Barlow, Peta Peter, Lewis Barlow
In recent years, videoconferencing technology has improved significantly as equipment prices have dropped. Smart Videoconferencing demonstrates how to integrate this technology into business communications. The authors address the most basic concerns of users: how to handle the equipment, how to reduce distractions, how to avoid mistakes, and how to look and
In recent years, videoconferencing technology has improved significantly as equipment prices have dropped. Smart Videoconferencing demonstrates how to integrate this technology into business communications. The authors address the most basic concerns of users: how to handle the equipment, how to reduce distractions, how to avoid mistakes, and how to look and sound your best on camera.
- Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
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Smart VideoconferencingNew Habits for Virtual Meetings
By Janelle Barlow Peta Peter Lewis Barlow
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Janelle Barlow, Peta Peter, and Lewis Barlow
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVideoconferencing: A Twenty-First Century Business Tool
For many, it was the highlight of the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. People waited in the heat in long lines at the AT&T Pavilion to talk with—and see at the same time—a stranger from another fair location. The Bell Labs' Picturephone was, more or less, successfully demonstrated to the public. People were excited. Many were convinced—or told—the future had arrived.
Videoconferencing had actually been around for decades. It was first demonstrated by Bell Labs technicians who displayed a crude link between Washington, D.C. and New York City in the 1920s. Those in the know hoped this visionary medium would soon realize its potential. It did not. Even after the 1964 World's Fair excitement, videoconferencing failed to have broad usage for another thirty years.
Now at the beginning of the twenty-first century, VC technology has dramatically improved, and bandwidth continues to be more affordable. Futurist and columnist for BizJournals.com, Terry Brock, sees even bigger changes on the horizon: "Telephone lines will go the way of the dinosaur. All communication will eventually go over the Internet, and we will definitely see videoconferencing ease-of-use that equals personal computing today."
Affordable bandwidth is fueling the demand to be able to see people while talking with them over long distances. Forecasts from the two leading research firms in this field suggest that the worldwide market for virtual services and videoconferencing systems is growing dramatically. Wainhouse Research predicts that worldwide tele-, video-, and Webconferencing services will grow from $2.8 billion in 2000 to $9.8 billion by 2006. Researcher Roopam Jain at Frost and Sullivan projects that worldwide revenues from the sales of group and desktop systems for videoconferencing will grow from $574.3 million to $1.54 billion by 2006.
The demand for VC services is being felt around the world. Videoconferencing systems were first offered in Japan in 1984. Demand for them has grown rapidly ever since, even in a country where time spent together in person is considered essential. In 1988, 250 systems were installed; in 1993, 3000; in 1995, 8800; in 1998, 80,000; and in 2000, 320,000. When charted, the impressive growth curve looks like this:
If these figures hold true, they imply that videoconference equipment and systems will become as common as fax machines. Businesses will be forced to use the technology or look as outdated as companies without fax machines did in the late 1980s.
We attribute this heightened need and interest in videoconferencing to four trends that are turning videoconferencing into a necessary communication tool for business instead of merely a clever way to meet someone virtually. Furthermore, the convergence of these four trends is spurring predictions that upwards of 50 percent of meetings in the next decade will involve some type of video transmission.
Trend 1: Videoconferencing Technology and Quality Will Continue to Improve While Costs Drop
From its first—and failed—commercial application by Bell Labs in 1964, videoconferencing technology has come a long way. Bob Schiffman, of Kelley Communications in Las Vegas, proudly demonstrates the latest equipment available from Tandberg, considered to be the Rolls Royce of the industry. It is very high quality, and Bob will tell you it is reasonably priced. Tandberg produces a dual-monitor system that can connect to as many as ten remote sites, affording simultaneous video and data presentations. Bob says that software upgrades have significantly enhanced both the speed and quality of Tandberg's product line. In fact, all VC equipment is getting better, and prices have dramatically fallen.
Consider what has happened in VC technology in just the last few years. The majority of VC systems now have "touch-button" capability so they immediately connect to other systems. Prior to this capacity, people had to take several steps in order to connect. Users can now spontaneously add someone to their virtual meetings; they can surf the Web in the middle of their interactions; and they can stream video for all participants to view.
Desktop systems are available that can connect through USB ports, with "plug and play" capacity; that is, the computer will not have to be restarted after connecting. Prior to this development, connecting through one's desktop involved considerable technical expertise and time. As a result of the convenience of plug and play, the phenomenon of personal videoconferencing has dramatically increased.
Recent technology has also significantly increased the quality and "realness" of video images. For example, "3-D" videoconferencing, offered by Dallas-based Teleportec, now takes "virtual reality" to a new level. Teleportec has a product that projects images onto a thick sheet of glass embedded with light-reflecting particles. Users report that the images have a three-dimensional, or holographic, quality that make them more lifelike than a television screen, creating the sense that viewers are in the presence of a live human.
As higher quality videoconferencing equipment is achieved, along with lower prices, the number of users will increase and VC will continue to be easily and unremarkably integrated into the communication devices that managers, supervisors, and frontline workers use daily to conduct business. Videoconferencing is no longer just a means for senior executives to show off their latest electronic tools—as it has been for some companies. For example, Polycom, the largest manufacturer of videoconferencing equipment, sells powerful and affordable equipment with as close to television quality that can be installed in four offices for less than $25,000.
Videoconferencing technology, using a wireless approach (which is currently available and growing in use), will allow users to view and participate inexpensively in conferences, meetings, and press conferences via the Internet from—a remote office, a car, while on a business trip to Shanghai or a vacation, or from a home office—almost anywhere. That is the vision. Furthermore, videoconferencing over the Internet will significantly leverage the investments companies have already made in their information technology (IT) infrastructures.
Trend 2: Controlling Costs and Saving Time Will Become More Critical in the Competitive Global Economy
Compared to the cost of sending a team any distance at all, the price of high-quality videoconferences has become very attractive. In fact, some companies are requiring their staff to explain—before scheduling a trip—why a videoconference would not work as well as an inperson meeting. Eighty-eight percent of a group of travel managers surveyed by the National Business Travel Association in late 2001 reported they will increase their use of VC to control travel costs. Compare that percentage to the one in a similar survey by the same association made six months earlier, when just 33 percent said they would use more VC to reduce their travel budgets.
To companies that schedule several meetings each year and whose operations are in multiple locations, vendors of VC systems argue that the cost of the highest-end VC equipment can be earned back in a matter of two years or less. Admittedly, the manufacturers and distributors of VC equipment make a lot of strong statements so it is difficult to determine just how accurate such claims might be. For example, one industry spokesperson stated that just one use of a videoconferencing system could equal the cost of bringing people together!
Live video events, linked by satellite, that match television broadcast standards are expensive—but they are able to reach thousands of people. Prices for satellite conferences range from $5,000 to more than $175,000 per setup. Even prices at this level, however, represent substantial savings when compared to travel and housing costs for thousands of people. These video events can also reach huge audiences in multiple cities who otherwise would not attend. Major conferences of this type can now also be conducted over ISDN (integrated services digital network) lines with substantially lower costs. Janelle recently spoke to an audience in Ljubljana, Slovenia, while four ISDN lines beautifully carried her entire six-hour workshop to another group assembled in Skopia, Macedonia, who watched her on a gigantic screen. During that entire period, connection to the remote site was lost only once and was quickly reestablished.
A major selling point of VC technology for many companies is not so much cost savings as time savings. Because videoconferences tend to be more structured, meeting time may be more efficiently spent compared to meeting in person. When a product helps organizations complete work significantly faster than before, cost is automatically less important and the product is almost guaranteed to become widely used.
The authors, all frequent flyers, regularly overhear businesspeople moan about productive time and family time lost to travel. For example, on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle, Lewis Barlow heard a salesman from Rhinotek Computer Products calculating that with flying time, check-in, security, and travel to and from the airport, the trip ate up a full eight hours—all for a half-hour meeting.
And every "road warrior" has his or her own disaster stories of wasted time. Darr Fedderson, a well-respected business executive, laments, "When I worked as the national accounts manager for Rustoleum Paint, a colleague and I flew from Portland to Texas, with a plane change in Denver. When we arrived at Garden Ridge's office, the key decision maker was absent because of a family emergency that took place while we were traveling." Fedderson and his colleague had to make the same trip the following week. If a videoconference had been scheduled and canceled, the time wasted would have been minimal.
We have flown across the United States (losing a day in the process) and stayed overnight to participate in an hour-long sales meeting the following morning—in a jet-lagged state of mind. We then spent an equal amount of time returning home. Granted, these can be necessary and very lucrative meetings, but that is a heavy investment of time in order to participate in a one-hour meeting, and not all of these meetings need to be conducted in person.
Time and costs can be saved in other ways—only limited by one's imagination. People who locate products for distributors around the world can connect with customers via VC and show their products immediately instead of shipping samples. Individuals can show, buy, and sell used automobiles to distant buyers via videoconferences. Decisions can be made more quickly, and products get to stores and customers faster. This means time can be saved and productivity is increased.
Trend 3: Businesspeople Will Develop More Flexibility in Their Use of Communication Technologies
Long-distance communication has expanded dramatically since smoke signals and carrier pigeons. Now most competent businesspeople know how and when to use e-mail, faxes, PDF (portable document format) and graphic files, hard-copy letters, mass mailings, voice mail, cellular telephones, and person-to-person meetings. Most salespeople, for example, know when to pick up the telephone and talk with a customer, when to send an e-mail, and when a personal visit is necessary.
Videoconferencing enables businesspeople to contact more clients and colleagues in a shorter period of time. For example, a manager might be aware of two or three important meetings in locations across a wide geographical area that the manager could add value to by attending. Videoconferencing would make these multiple meetings in multiple locations possible in one day.
Videoconferencing also allows people to communicate with each other in a way that is perceived to be more connected than a simple telephone call. For example, the authors attempted to sell our consulting services to a software company. We knew that just talking over the telephone would not lead to the kind of business relationship we wanted. At the same time, we knew we did not have a good enough relationship with the company to request an in-person meeting. We proposed a meeting using VC. The human resources (HR) director agreed. Being able to see each other on-screen allows people to become more familiar and comfortable with each other, leading to business that would probably never happen without the use of VC as one of the tools in the communication arsenal.
As more people become comfortable with videoconferencing and know how to maximize their time in virtual environments, requests for videoconferences instead of in-person meetings will become commonplace. Salespeople will not automatically be expected to travel thousands of miles in order to have a chance at getting an order. In our own training and consulting business, we now hear with increasing frequency from our large corporate clients, "Shall we videoconference about that?"
Business customers are becoming more guarded with their time as their workloads increase. Various studies already show that many customers prefer immediate access to their vendors over in-person contact. In other words, they will accept a videoconference in place of an in-person meeting—if they can schedule it right away.
Research conducted by a major consulting firm shows that, since 1970, business customers have shifted dramatically in what they say is necessary to complete a deal. Being able to have face-to-face contact with a company representative was the number one factor that companies specified in 1970. By 1990, however, this factor dropped dramatically—to eighth place!
Companies need to evaluate the impact of videoconferencing on their customer relationships. Videoconferencing may give organizations, even small ones, a new and less time-consuming more reasonably priced way of reaching out to memorably touch their customers. Any kind of meeting that allows people to see each other, even if it is not in person, can be a strong pull for repeat business.
Trend 4: Protecting the Environment and Conserving Resources Will Become Even More Important Considerations
Although environmentalism is now a minor factor pushing the demand for VC, it appears to be a growing one and is already important for environmentally conscious organizations. A majority of the population now believes that global warming is more than speculation and is concerned about it. In addition, an increasing percentage of people have a heightened sensitivity to their own impact on the environment. They will choose alternatives in order to avoid adding more pollutants to the environment.
Even if they are not avid conservationists, many organizations try not to waste precious fuel sources and pollute the atmosphere. Companies today recycle paper, aluminum cans, and bottles. They have accepted the ban on smoking indoors. And they often reason that a videoconference is less damaging to the environment than moving dozens of people around in airplanes and cars.
When socially conscious individuals see the strong links between saving time and costs and helping to protect the environment, this trend will be one more consideration that is factored into the decision whether to hold a person-to-person meeting or to schedule a videoconference.
Videoconferencing at the Tipping Point
These four trends are creating a "tipping point," to use the term popularized in the book by the same name. A tipping point, as described by author Malcolm Gladwell, is a phenomenon that occurs when a critical mass is achieved. When a social practice has "tipped," it actually drives its own expansion. Because videoconferencing is on the brink of this critical mass point, businesspeople, need to be ready for a complete integration of VC into their lives.
While it is tempting to focus on the technology of videoconferencing, we will better leverage our time spent in virtual meetings if we take a people-centered approach to this newest communication equipment and focus on the new habits needed to take advantage of it.
Excerpted from Smart Videoconferencing by Janelle Barlow Peta Peter Lewis Barlow Copyright © 2002 by Janelle Barlow, Peta Peter, and Lewis Barlow. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Barlow is president of Time Manager International, a consulting firm that specializes in time management.
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