Time to Give Videoconferencing Another Try?

To many, videoconferencing is a technology which they flirted with in their past, experienced a few embarrassing encounters, and consigned to history. That is the view of Ed Siegle, Principal Consultant within Mott MacDonald’s Information Communications & Media division.

Siegle adds, “But whilst it is true that videoconferencing has been around the block a few times, current business pressures coupled with significant technology advancements make the videoconferencing of today a far more attractive proposition.

Just as 1980s mobile telephony with its brick sized phones bears little relation to the modern world of Blackberries and iPhones, so too the videoconferencing experience of the past corresponds very little to that possible today. Where once videoconferencing meant struggling with a fat television in a meeting room, thanks to HD technology and IP networking – now available and affordable to all sizes of business – today’s videoconferencing can deliver a truly professional experience.

And there is evidence to suggest the rebirth of videoconferencing is bearing fruit. Research conducted by Mott MacDonald has shown that companies can typically gain from 25-40% in travel cost savings alone from a new system implementation – and that there are significant additional, benefits to be gained in terms of productivity enhancements, increased speed of decision-making and a shortening process lifecycles – all of which have a demonstrable impact on the bottom-line. Not to mention emissions reductions and enhancements to the work-life balance. Most companies quote achieving breakeven on videoconferencing investments of all sizes within 12 months.

However, improvements in technology and affordability do not deliver savings on their own. In spite of the recent advancements, many companies still find it hard to get to grips with videoconferencing, and as a result it can still fail to deliver on its potential. As important as the technology itself – perhaps more important – is the approach taken to the introduction and management of that technology. Mott MacDonald recently conducted research at a number of leading multinational organisations which have successfully implemented videoconferencing and developed a framework of best practice elements which are typically in place at successful videoconferencing companies.

Leadership is one such crucial element, meaning that senior management must back the technology fully, using it and being seen to use it for both headline and everyday events. If working practices throughout the organisation are to change, this must be lead from the top – and ideally videoconferencing should be repositioned as a mission-critical technology, one as important to the business as email or the telephony – a technology given the same backing and support to ensure it always stands up. With senior managers showing the way the foundations are in place for a culture of VC usage to be developed – one based not only around the use of higher quality modern systems, but the careful design of videoconferencing rooms, booking systems and support capability – the ideal being to create an internal service with a “Business Class” feel – a far cry from yesterday’s “Economy” experience – one fraught with cancellations and delays. With a quality service in place steps can then be taken to spread a culture of usage – through internal publicity and training, for example, through not just tracking usage indicators and the impact of videoconferencing on the business – but reporting on them, so that the organisation becomes more videoconferencing aware. Ideally a shift will be engineered, so that videoconferencing becomes opt-out rather than opt-in – meaning staff are made to consider: “why am I not using videoconferencing?” instead of travelling for a meeting, rather than, “why should I?”

Overall the key is to take an organised, consistent approach, ensuring the right building blocks are in place to get the maximum from the technology and human resources employed. Planning and attention to detail are key – and whilst this might seem like common sense, they are often lacking. But if old preconceptions can be set aside and the right attention is paid to videoconferencing, this time there is a chance of a much more rewarding affair.”

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