Telepresence: A better way to do business

Telepresence is tipped to become the norm for international business, but will it fulfil the promise of ubiquity?

  • Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Telepresence is tipped to become the norm for international business, but will it fulfil the promise of ubiquity?

Using Telepresence as a better way to do business is the trend in 2007 and 2008. Over the next few years, every sizeable dispersed company will adopt Telepresence technology that enables them to interact with people, no matter how far away, as if they were in the same room. CEOs all over the world are pleasantly surprised by the benefits that Telepresence brings them and are finding that the technology can change how they run their business.

Cisco’s Chairman and CEO, John Chambers, finds the new technology is so lifelike that it can replace much corporate travel. Cisco has planned to install 110 Cisco TelePresence systems in Cisco offices around the world between October 2006 (their launch date) and July 2007. In October 2006 Cisco said that the company aimed to cut $100m in expenses by reducing travel by 20 percent in the next 12 months. That is a huge return on the investment.
A Telepresence studio or dedicated room is set up for six people and consists of three 50-inch (127cm) plasma display screens and studio-quality audio and lighting equipment. Three cameras capture images of the left, middle, and right sides of the room and the image is transmitted as a High Definition (HD) video image in three parts to the far site which also has three large screens. A fourth part carries the date to display on the data screen.
The Cisco TelePresence System is so well designed that you feel as if you are physically present in the same room as your colleagues at the distant location. For me, it was so realistic that it was an emotional experience to use it to talk from London with Cisco staff in San Jose, California. Business Week gave it a Best Product of 2006 Award and called it ‘spectacular’. That is some praise.
Ed Leonard, Chief Technology Officer of DreamWorks Animation SKG, observed about telepresence: “This technology has profoundly impacted our ability to collaborate across geography, enabling us to bring people together without the cost and burden of travel. It has fundamentally changed how we run our business.”
Sometimes a person-to-person meeting is the only way to do business or make things happen. But Telepresence is a wonderful substitute because it helps your company bring people together – without travel – in a meeting with all the necessary emotional and other nonverbal cues and eye contact. With Telepresence, much more time is spent being there and no time is spent on going there. A Telepresence or video meeting can be set up in seconds.
AMD, the semiconductor manufacturer and Intel rival, installed HP Halo studios in Austin, Texas and Sunnyvale, California. Hector Ruiz, AMD chairman, president and CEO, said: “We’ve been able to cut down on executive travel and we are able to have impromptu meetings with colleagues located miles away…. Our next step is to put a Halo room in Dresden, Germany. So now we are talking about continent to continent.”
So far, almost 90 HP Halo studios have been deployed around the world, including those in HP’s own sites. The HP Halo customer base includes: AIG Financial Products Corp, AMD, BHP Billiton, General Electric Commercial Finance, Novartis AG and PepsiCo. HP told us that 85 percent of its customers have already returned for additional systems.
Steve Reinemund, Chairman of the Board, PepsiCo said: “Halo is the single biggest investment we’ve made to improve the effectiveness of our business and the quality of life of our people.”
Why is Cisco so successful? Because the design team asked 250 customers what they wanted; because it uses the highest form of HD video – 1080 lines progressively scanned, known as 1080p (other companies use 720p); because the audio reproduction is of natural, high fidelity quality; and because, for the first time ever, the studio in which videoconferencing takes place is designed with proper broadcast studio lighting and acoustics.
Videoconferencing is now in high definition, is high quality, easy to use and easy to manage. It is also very convenient. Both Cisco and HP have made their Telepresence systems capable of ‘talking’ with single HD videoconferencing systems of other manufacturers. So you can invite into a meeting persons at other sites who do not have a Telepresence system. But this and multi-site conferencing is a refinement.
Telepresence was designed primarily for connecting two sites and their CEOs and senior management teams. That is what Telepresence will be used for in the main.
Telepresence will mean less travel, less associated hassle and a much improved lifestyle for the CEO of the future. Both the CEO’s company and the CEO’s family will benefit.

Richard Line is Editor of Videoconferencing Insight Newsletter.