WcW013: Telepresence hits the mainstream

Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times


Web Conferencing Week

Telepresence is the most exciting luxury class concept since the Learjet.

Telepresence is the advanced version of videoconferencing first exposed in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© last 01-August-2007 in WcW004, and then updated in WcW010 24-October-2007.

It’s videoconferences gone ultra high definition, and it just made its way out of the trade press ghetto, into the mainstream in today’s New York Times.


As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual

By STEVE LOHR | Published: July 22, 2008

Jill Smart, an Accenture executive, was skeptical the first time she stepped into her firm’s new videoconferencing room in Chicago for a meeting with a group of colleagues in London. But the videoconferencing technology, known as telepresence, delivered an experience so lifelike, Ms. Smart recalled, that “10 minutes into it, you forget you are not in the room with them.”

Accenture, a technology consulting firm, has installed 13 of the videoconferencing rooms at its offices around the world and plans to have an additional 22 operating before the end of the year.

Accenture figures its consultants used virtual meetings to avoid 240 international trips and 120 domestic flights in May alone, for an annual saving of millions of dollars and countless hours of wearying travel for its workers.

As travel costs rise and airlines cut service, companies large and small are rethinking the face-to-face meeting — and business travel as well. At the same time, the technology has matured to the point where it is often practical, affordable and more productive to move digital bits instead of bodies.

These telepresence studios are not cheap (as much as $350,000 at each end!) compared to the standard issue videoconference suite; just as that first Learjet wasn’t as cheap as a first class airline ticket, until the green eyeshade folks got a look at the productivity gains and the outright savings.

My niche of the corporate IT world is web conferencing: a telephone conference enhanced with a live on-line display of presentation materials and shared PC desktops. There is no doubt that allowing participants to attend meetings from their desks, as opposed to driving or flying or even walking down the corridor is a time, productivity and money saver. It’s hard not to see how $millions can be saved, even at low resolution, or, for thousands of our meetings a month, without live video at all.

And in this age of high fuel prices, which make travel of any kind even more expensive, and air travel (unless you rate that Learjet!) confiscatory AND unpleasant, instead of merely costly and inconvenient, such virtual meetings, especially for excruciatingly high paid executive suite denizens, are an idea whose time is finally ripe.

Corporate training and education is a field many companies are moving online, in part to trim travel costs. Darryl Draper, the national manager of customer service training for Subaru of America, used to travel four days a week, nine months of the year, presenting educational programs at dealers nationwide. Today, Ms. Draper rarely travels and nearly all of her training is done online.

Previously, Ms. Draper estimated, in six months she would reach about 220 people at a cost of $300 a person. She said she now reaches 2,500 people every six months at a cost of 75 cents a person.

The basic web conferencing technology supported by the team I work with has shown a steady ascending slope of growth, reflecting its benefits, for the nearly six years I have been working with it.

As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual – NYTimes.com

As I’ve written previously, our on-line technology often accompanies high level videoconferences, since videoconferences, at least in the low definition world I inhabit, are better at managerial faces than typefaces. So we show the slides on a separate screen via web conference, adjacent to the screen that shows a table full of people looking at a screen that shows a table full of people.

The few illustrations I’ve seen of those telepresence suites show people so clearly, but never show presentations or documents, although the Times story mentions image magnification. So I’m thinking that there’s still room for my technology even in the new, exalted world of sharper than high definition conferencing.

My employer spends its capital carefully, and thus far I’m not aware of any such installation here at the Heart of Corporate America. But, in the age of $140++/bbl oil, and a product that, if used regularly, can pay for itself in a year or less, such an investment can’t help but be attractive, even to the manhole cover spenders.

But, now that it’s been exposed in mass media, I’m thinking that sooner than not, I’ll be called in to coordinate a web conference to accompany a session where the video is so sharp we’ll be able to see our European colleague’s glittering blue eyes.

“Get me makeup!”

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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