Waiting for video

Effective, ubiquitous videoconferencing has long been promised as the solution to enterprise travel, yet the obstacles have only multiplied over the years. Imthishan Giado investigates.

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Waiting for video We are seeing a lot of innovation on reducing the bandwidth cost driven by customer demands, says Cisco’s Agha.
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  September 22, 2010

Effective, ubiquitous videoconferencing has long been promised as the solution to enterprise travel, yet the obstacles have only multiplied over the years. Imthishan Giado investigates.

It’s been nearly half a century. And we’re still waiting.

I’m not talking about flying cars. I’m not talking about matter transporters. I’m not even talking about a unified world government, or a perpetual motion machine. What I’m very simply asking for is something that’s been promised to us since before many of those reading this magazine were born, something that cinema has depicted effortlessly and that vendors has been promoting as the natural progression of all communication.

I’m talking about effective, widespread, cost-efficient video conferencing. And as everyone who works in a company that doesn’t have a videophone on its desk knows (which makes probably all of you), it’s still not here yet.

Of course, to say it does not exist at all would be a specious argument, since in actual fact most PC users have had some experience with videoconferencing through the various consumer-grade experiences such as Skype. But in the enterprise space, it seems that few have gone for the full-house Telepresence systems which include dedicated rooms, large screens and generally replicate the in-person experience. And fewer still have any videoconferencing rooms in-house at all.

This however, is not a description you could apply to Dubai Aluminium, whose vice president of IT, Ahmad Al Mulla has had a facility inhouse for more than five years.

The metal-producing company uses the system to communicate with overseas partners but as he admits, it’s not the most popular way of reaching out.

“We do have it, but we don’t use it much. It’s basic. It’s not a dedicated room, but was in one building which we have used during one project. Now we are using it but in a very limited way, definitely not replacing business travel,” he says.

“We are connecting to Europe, Australia mainly and sometimes to the US as well. It is a problem because of the timing but usually we need it when we need something quickly or during a scheduled meeting. You have to set a time which is as convenient as possible to everybody.  It is really the time you save travelling, and helpful also if you want to have multiple parties at the same time. Otherwise our use is very limited,” he states.

Tareq Mandou, product manager, for the Information Worker Business Group at Microsoft Gulf  believes that the reason many companies struggle with videoconferencing is because they focus on specifications rather than finding the best way to use it.

“To achieve widespread adoption, video conferencing users must become aware of the business value of the product and not necessarily become product experts. Training should not necessarily focus on “how” to use the systems but rather on “why” to use the systems. Remember, video conferencing has to be perceived as easy to use,” he says.

The heart of the problem

For a company that’s famous for its expertise in this arena, Cisco’s regional manager, Saeed Agha  is unexpectedly forthright about the reasons for the lackadaisical regional adoption of videoconferencing solutions.

“Traditionally VC was not widely spread because of the following reasons: it was difficult to use, there were too many formats to choose from which lacked interoperability and the quality of the actual meetings. Bandwidth cost is another key challenge for the wide adoption of VC,” he explains.

“Still, we are seeing a lot of innovation on reducing the bandwidth cost driven by customer demands. For example, currently Cisco Telepresence can be offered as a service or as a managed service where customers do not have to take the burden of the initial capex nor the bandwidth opex – so it’s really about offering video-conferencing-as-a-service,” he reasons.

One of the key words he mentions is costs and indeed, it’s something that’s often associated with videoconferencing in a negative context.  KS Parag, MD of FVC says that this can be something of a misnomer, as many associate the high-end, Rolls-Royce level equipment with the average experience.

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