The emerging face of business collaboration Effective communications make use of many of our senses but what we see presents a huge amount of information - a picture is worth a thousand words - and can convey all sorts of meaning with a glance. Face to face, we can rely on visual cues, but the amount of information transmitted in more distant communication is limited by cost and complexity. As this cost falls, while the costs of transportation, both environmental and commercial, rise, broader use of remote visual communications becomes increasingly viable. But, after the relative anonymity and privacy of more discrete forms of communication - letters, email, the telephone - is the experience useful and comfortable for the individual and does video now add sufficient value to the organisation to justify the cost?
• Businesses rely on many modes of communication, with email now as important as the phone While most still prefer to meet face to face, especially for meetings inside the organisation, many forms of remote or electronic communication are almost as important. For many organisations, email has become a vital tool, replacing not only the need to send a letter or fax, with around 95% of businesses thinking their use of email will continue to grow.
• Meeting face to face can be both costly and ineffective Despite this use of other media, it is still very valuable to see the other participants to gauge emotion, establish trust and grow relationships. But, not only are travel costs becoming increasingly significant, so is the time that has to be committed to scheduling, rescheduling and participating in a meeting. This escalates with the number of attendees and the distances that have to be travelled as dispersed teams and separate organisations try to work in collaboration.
• Productivity, not travel costs, is the main reason users replace journeys with video While saving money by avoiding travel and environmental concerns are often mentioned as benefits of video conferencing, those using it are more influenced by the productivity gains it offers and the increase in focus and attention of participants. There is also a recognisable personal benefit in freeing up time, releasing a weighty number of hours for the work/life balance.
• But those without video conferencing today are looking to cut future travel bills Short term travel costs, commuting and the longer term environmental issues are more important potential benefits to those currently without video conferencing solutions. Tangible and measurable benefits appeal to those evaluating what is still seen as a substantial investment.
• IT infrastructure capability needs to align with user demand and strategic direction There is a strategic drive for productivity and cost reduction, coupled with user demand for collaboration tools. Infrastructure investment plans are too conservative, and the mismatch is leading to back door deployment, which ultimately will not be in the best interests of the business.
• Visual technology starting to match the breadth of needs Frequent, informal and short visual communication takes advantage of low cost cameras, available bandwidth and simpler set-up. Desktop video will be broadly applicable for future communications in certain circumstances. The high end offers a growing range of expensive, but high quality ‘immersive' visual communications suites, where the experience can be almost as good as "being there".
Conclusions - The technology issues surrounding video have been addressed, driving down costs at one level and improving the quality of service at another, and now broader social issues make it very interesting. Restrictions and costs of travel, the difficulty in making everything clearly understood using other media such as email or the phone, the need for closer collaboration across larger groups and distances, and the attitudes and experiences of those entering the workplace all contribute towards the growing value and acceptance of remote visual communication. Initial thinking may start with high ideals of cost savings and environmental impact, but the real gains are productivity and business efficiency.
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