Telepresence - Enabling Collaborative Success

by Anil Bhasin    Dec 24, 2008

We live in a world of paradox. Although today’s collaboration tools represent a significant productivity boost, most users find that there is still no substitute for being there “in person”. Most communications are nonverbal and many tools cannot give you the level of clarity and interaction that you get face to face. In addition many are neither easy to use nor reliable when it matters most. Cultivating and maintaining relationships are critical and hence new technologies are rewriting the rules of collaboration. Convergence has brought voice, data, and video onto the same network allowing meetings to move from the conference room to the desktop.

In the past, videoconferences have been used, but they have been difficult to set up, challenging to use, and frequently unsatisfying in their ability to replicate in-person meetings and the benefits of face-to-face interaction. In a conference room equipped with a television-set type unit, employees have to use remote control keypads to set up meetings. Desktop applications also have their own limitations in offering quality of interaction and even when set up correctly, all participants get is a view of another conference room with other participants seated around the table. The ability to discern facial expressions, so crucial in business discussions and negotiations, is minimal at best. Users have the option of adjusting cameras to pan, tilt, or zoom during meetings, which puts emphasis on the technology, not the meeting, disrupting the natural flow of conversation and interaction.

Telepresence (TP) on the other hand as an application helps eliminate many of these challenges as it delivers that “in-person” experience over the converged network. In fact video on IP networks is becoming the primary medium for communicating on a global scale. It is also driving the next wave of communications and collaboration in almost every industry and every region. Moreover it’s creating opportunities to initiate new conversations with customers and future prospects that can expand businesses into new buying centers, create upgrade opportunities and drive more revenue. Telepresence solutions create a “room within a room” environment that uses life size images, high definition resolution with spatial and discrete audio to create a live, face to face meeting around a single virtual table. By providing long-term vision and an integrated video strategy that can leverage the network as a platform, Telepresence solutions can be seen as a key element to success in the market.

But to be successful especially in the current economic scenario is becoming increasingly difficult. Organizations need to be more than just innovative in order to grow their business and cut costs. The key lies in achieving the balance to create a cost reduction strategy that maximizes efficiency without the loss of valuable head count and intellectual capital. Some of the ways that Telepresence helps organizations do this is by being -

Reliable: Telepresence is about network connectivity and can deliver dial tone reliability both inside and outside of an enterprise network so that one can connect with confidence.

Simple: Telepresence is integrated with an enterprise groupware and unified communications, so that one can schedule Telepresence meetings with the tools they use every day.

Flexible: Telepresence enterprises can create virtual meeting places for one-on-one discussions, virtual tables for group meetings with up to 18 participants, and virtual agents with fully integrated contact center application capabilities. Enterprises can also conduct multipoint meetings that include three or more locations, up to 48 in a single meeting.

Telepresence also offers several other significant advantages:

* Integration with enterprise groupware (for example, Microsoft Outlook) allows users to schedule Telepresence meetings in the same way they would send a calendar invitation

* Instead of confusing remote-control keypads used with most television-based systems, users can initiate Telepresence meetings using a telephone keypad. After scheduling, the meeting information is pushed to the meeting room’s phone display. Users simply select the meeting from the display to launch the call. Similarly, cameras are pre positioned for optimal coverage of the room, so participants do not need to adjust them during their meetings

* TP enables people to ‘meet’ without having to travel. Thereby dramatically reducing travel related carbon and other green house gas emission footprints while assisting organizations to meet their sustainability goals.

* Services in the network ensure high quality, security, and reliability for every meeting

The result is that meetings start promptly, proceed smoothly, and aren’t hampered by audio-visual difficulties, which is especially important for meeting participants who might be attending outside of traditional work hours. Because of improved visual communication, it’s more likely that important issues-especially those of disagreement-are more efficiently discussed, with less opportunity for misinterpretation and confusion.

Telepresence also drives greater employee productivity in several ways. Employees are able to spend less time out of the office, can increase the number of interactions they have with co-workers, partners, and customers, can derive the maximum value out of each interaction through richer and more valuable communication and extend and maintain key business relationships in between in-person visits.

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan report, the Telepresence market was reported at $1.7 million in 2007 and was expected to reach $3.2 million in 2008. With India placed fifth in the Asia Pacific market, we are estimated to grow at a CAGR of 42.6 percent, further increasing the share of India in the Asia Pacific market from 9.4 percent in 2007 to 13.9 percent in 2014. Going forward, the future of Telepresence in the country lies in smooth, rich and in-person communication over an IP network. As Indian companies increasingly go global and global MNCs enter the market and grow their presence here, we will see significant investments in converged communications technologies such as Telepresence. Today’s networks are becoming increasingly scalable and enterprises are realizing the benefits of having their applications on the network.

(The author is the the SVP for Cisco India & SAARC)