New videoconference system offers clear advantages

Mike Moran
Business Times

Robert Benjamin
Robert Benjamin

In 2010, it probably comes as no surprise that companies use video screens and Internet connections to replace face-to-face meetings with clients thousands of miles away. But at a time of quickly evolving technologies and rising consumer expectations, just any old videoconferencing system won’t suffice for every operation.

“As far as trying to do a business meeting, traditionally it’s fallen short,” says Rob Benjamin, director of managed services for Networks Unlimited, an information technology company based in Grand Junction.

The situation since has changed.

For business people accustomed to the benefits of investing in high-quality equipment, Networks Unlimited provides a videoconferencing system offered by such large firms as Polycom, which extends such services to  government agencies. Hewlett-Packard, Life-Size and Cisco also offer the new technology. The system offers fiber-optic availability and high-definition images so clear Benjamin says a viewer can see miniscule details on the wall behind the speaker.

“I can see the airplane (through a window) behind the person speaking and read “American Airlines” on the tail of the plane,” Benjamin says. “And a woman wore a name tag and you could read the name tag throughout (the presentation).”

Just as a company might invest in television commercials recorded on film for a texture and quality unavailable in digital video, the same company might realize long-term benefits from investing in the new videoconferencing system.

Video quality is only half the picture. “The audio quality far exceeds telephone quality,” Benjamin says.

The new system can improve traditional uses of videoconferencing, including long-distance management meetings, employee training or a company wide meeting in which a manager addresses employees in several cities at once.

But the benefits might prove even more noticeable in non-traditional uses. Telemedicine likely will be one of the fastest-growing uses, Benjamin. says. Medical professionals use videoconferencing to consult with each other and even view doctors as they perform operations on patients. With more vivid detail available, such long-distance communication might be used even more in the future.

Relationships as intimate as the doctor-patient interaction might require clear video. Such video can entice a patient to take advice from a doctor via teleconferencing instead of insisting on face-to-face visits.

The technology might not replace on-site exams, but offers another tool in the medical toolbox. Such a tool could help to bring down medical costs at a time when the country focuses on the cost and quality of health care.

A doctor could increase the number of patients he or she could see in a day.

The new technology promises similar efficiencies for the criminal justice system because police officers, judges, attorneys and clients all could interact via videoconference systems.

The same holds true for company communications with vendors or clients. If a company only has five or six clients, but those clients result in millions of dollars in business each year, the cost of the videoconference system might prove to be a case of being pound wise and penny foolish.

“What does it cost to put in a videoconference system?” Benjamin asked.

An initial investment ranging from $2,500 to $3,000 could be a small amount if it helps retain and grow a client base. Depending on needs, a company could push the investment to tens of thousands of dollars to hook as many 24 sites into a system.

At the same time, though, a company can reduce the number of miles traveled to meet clients. Add the associated costs of airline tickets, hotel accommodations and restaurant meals to the savings that could be realized with the use of videoconferencing.

In addition to improved long-distance communication with clients, a company might also improve communication among departments located in various branch offices around the world. Engineers or accountants from the branches could all meet via videoconference, sharing the challenges and solutions unique to their particular departments. For example, engineers and architects could review and discuss blueprints via the system because the screen detail is so clear.

A skeptic might ask why such a system is necessary when detailed blueprints could be scanned and e-mailed and discussion could occur over the phone or a less-sophisticated Web camera. Once again, the new system offers an example of adding an important personal touch to the dialogue.

As one recent example of the demand for such personal communication, clients attending an hour-long seminar on health care reform changes remarked that the presenter, insurance professional Jim Sjerven, should continue to conduct seminars because so many business people don’t understand the new health care law. (See more about the health care presentation on page 3).

Even in an age when such information is readily available over the Internet, business professionals acknowledged they wouldn’t take the time to search for that information. They’d rather set aside one hour to listen to a summation of information from various sources.

And that hour could be spent in the workplace, saving time and money for both the presenter and the people hungry for the information.

It’s a trend that could cut across many industries and many settings for business or other organizations.