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Tuesday, November 13, 2001 Issue 9   VOLUME 1 ISSUE 9  
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Videoconferencing Can Show Firms How To Save Money
by Stephen Tolbert

Videoconferencing has been around for more than 20 years, but recently it has seen remarkable growth and acceptance.

Huge advancements in multimedia technology, video compression, quality and availability have driven prices down by a full order of magnitude over the past five years. Meanwhile, business has been changing at an incredible pace that reflects globalization, the renaissance of traditional competitive pressures and, more recently, concerns about the costs and safety of travel.

Most firms justify investments in videoconferencing with offsetting savings in travel costs. Reduced travel costs will frequently pay for a videoconferencing system, often in under a year.

But videoconferencing also can enable firms to deliver services faster and cheaper by dramatically improving communication among staff members, clients and partners.

Here are 10 ways to realize the full value of videoconferencing:

1. Identify all opportunities. Videoconferencing is best used where relationships have already been established and most communication involves ongoing teamwork such as status meetings, reviews or project collaboration.

Videoconferencing is also ideal for exchanges such as training or firm announcements where the visual element is important. And of course, it is useful where travel is too costly or inappropriate.

On the other hand, videoconferencing is not appropriate for introductory meetings with new partners or potential clients. Face-to-face meetings are important in establishing relationships.

Videoconferencing is not just a replacement for other forms of communication or for travel. It is a different form of communication that increases a firm's coordination, productivity, and therefore, competitiveness.

2. Get people over the hump. Most first-time users are intimidated by videoconferencing, despite improvements in ease of use, quality and reliability. Establish a temporary cadre of trained facilitators across the firm to help people use videoconferencing. Also, preset each video system with a menu of frequently used numbers and camera angles to simplify use. Consider short orientations and even games such as charades via videoconferencing to set users at ease.

3. Aggressively use videoconferencing in training to improve morale and retention. You can provide instructor-led, interactive training to groups at multiple sites without downtime or travel cost. Adapt existing training programs and deliver fresh content to more people more often at lower cost. Consider additional training on firm processes, professional development, or even cross training of teams.

4.Connect with firm members, clients and suppliers. Once relationships have been established, videoconferencing can produce measurable efficiencies in coordinating work and delivery schedules.

5. Invest in the right equipment. Select components for your specific needs, including cameras, displays, the codec and the communication link itself. If you're not an expert, get advice.

Remember two key points. First, in the past three years, costs have dropped so significantly and videoconferencing technology has improved so dramatically that it may well be worth replacing older equipment -- again, travel savings alone might justify the expense. In addition, some vendors offer trade-ins on old equipment.

Second, given the trend toward Internet protocol (IP) technology, consider using dedicated IP video networks rather than older integrated services digital networks (ISDN). For most business locations, new IP video services offer high-quality, reliable connections with access to multipoint bridges, gateways to existing ISDN systems, and other services, all for less than traditional ISDN.

6. Get employees involved to fully exploit videoconferencing. Ask for candid feedback on existing video systems and their use. Hold a contest or a raffle for employees who submit ideas for videoconferencing uses. Don’t rely on firm management alone to decide how best to use videoconferencing. You’ll be amazed at the creative, untapped uses your associates and members of the support staff identify.

7. Improve your firm's image. Videoconferencing is still new enough it delivers a powerful message to clients and business partners about your efficiency, strong internal processes and forward-looking technology use. Place a conferencing system in the boardroom where you meet with prospective clients and suggest using it together.

8. Conduct a “pre-meeting.” Before business trips for distant meetings, require that people participate in a short videoconference to discuss the purpose, agenda and intended outcome. This almost invariably results in one of two positive outcomes: either the trip is more successful and expectations on both sides are more accurately met, or it is canceled altogether. Many issues get resolved in the planning videoconference.

9. Consider alternative uses. The possibilities include emergency response management, media outreach, security surveillance, client seminars, employee birthday celebrations, personnel counseling, or even use by family members to connect with a firm employee on extended travel.

10. Tips for making the videoconferences themselves more effective:

  • Wear dark clothing and make the background dark and nondistracting. The camera averages light across the entire view, so make participants’ faces lighter than their surroundings. Ensure adequate lighting, not from behind or directly above the participants.
  • Use simple “name tents” or easily readable name tags for participants, especially in multipoint conferences or when groups meet for the first few times.
  • Show your logo or location in the background so far-end users know with whom they’re online.
  • Start and stop on time. Distribute an agenda beforehand and stick to it. Videoconferences tend to be more structured and efficient than face-to-face meetings.
  • Know the telephone number of each end point, in case there are problems with the videoconference call itself.
  • For multiparty calls, mute your local microphone when you don’t “have the floor” to avoid interrupting the conference with local background noise.


Stephen Tolbert is president and CEO of Global Systems & Strategies, a network and videoconferencing solution design and implementation firm with offices in Vienna and Baltimore. E-mail: info@gss-inc.com.

Reprinted with permission from the Washington Business Journal.
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Published by Sugarcrest Development Group, Inc.
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