Claire-SchooleyBy Claire Schooley

Telepresence is the life-size, true color, no latency video meeting technology that creates a “wow” reaction from participants, especially those who have experienced some traditional videoconferencing that gave poor picture quality, out-of synch audio/video, and added no sense of presence to a meeting.  Here are some factors that make telepresence different:

• Video provides high quality 1080p pictures with hidden cameras placed to achieve eye contact no matter where people are seated around the conference table.
• Audio is full duplex with microphones and speakers that allow sound to come from the direction of the speaker.
• The environment is purpose-built with lighting arrays, speakers, and cameras all configured for the optimum experience.  Conference tables, chairs, and even the wall paint are the same at all sites to convey a uniform sense of presence. Managed service and support assure that this expensive system is going to work. Many organizations buy a concierge-type service model so participants just need to push a button to start the videoconference.

These kinds of telepresence rooms show up most often in board rooms and CEO conference rooms. The early traction of telepresence has been in connecting the global offices within an enterprise. However, the future lies in the external interoperability among different businesses and even competitors that use telepresence solutions from different vendors. This is only easily possible today among some vendors. Just as you can use your telephone to call people without thinking about the telephone carriers, companies need to have the same flexibility from telepresence providers.

While telepresence rooms have created the big stir, many companies can not afford such an expensive investment and don’t need such a large video presence.  This is where Telepresence is driving the advent of smaller HD conference room solutions, office units, and even desktop units that give the same high quality images and sound but don’t have quite the same ambiance as the large telepresence room. All units integrate so employees can take part in a multipoint call no matter what size unit they have. 
As my colleague Alex Cullen points out in his recent report, “The Top 15 Technology Trends EA Should Watch”, there has been plenty of buzz around the technology but business leaders are still unfamiliar with it. However, as the telepresence movement re-ignites interest in videoconferencing especially upgrading to HD units, these are the major reasons for the renewed interest in videoconferencing:

• Travel is expensive and it also eats up work time. Once companies make the culture shift to using videoconferencing whenever possible rather than travel, the savings on travel costs is the largest cost saving factor in determining ROI. But the video quality must give users a “you-are-there” experience to be successful.
• Today’s global reach of companies means that workers on the same team are often located in many different countries. Videoconferencing allows them to do things like view a product packaging together, decide on the best colors, and in the end be more productive.
• The new generation of workers is comfortable with video and welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with a stronger sense of presence.
• One of the strongest growth areas is desktop videoconferencing. Spurred on by high quality HD desktop units, large companies are evaluating what knowledge workers will benefit most from this technology.
In the future with complete B2B and B2C interoperability you can expect:
• Accelerated commerce, globalization and outsourcing
• Less business travel which will impact financially airlines and hotels
• Expanded places where knowledge workers can live and work
• Major changes in business, education, medicine, branch government interaction, and entertainment

Pilots for many of these are underway now. For example, financial institutions are conducting wealth management or mortgage discussions with customers through bank to home videoconferencing. With the explosion of broadband to the home, there’s no reason to go to the bank when you can talk with a mortgage officer from your home HD unit. Medical experts located in facilities miles away can remotely review charts, and examine and talk with the patient remotely, and make a virtual diagnosis. And what about this one– go out to a virtual dinner with friends located in a different city. Share conversation and discuss the food through the restaurants’ telepresence units!  (I would miss the bouquet of the wine from my friend’s selection.)