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Strategy or Excuse? With HSL's Thoughts and Analysis

March 26, 2008 | Chris Payatagool

By Tom Nolle, CIMI Corp. on No

SMART_Tech_Rear.jpgThere's something for everyone to love in today's notion of videoconferencing, now renamed "telepresence". You get rid of travel, which reduces energy consumption and global warming. You cut out all that time lost by key people sitting in airports. You create instant team communications for your far-flung enterprise. If you're a vendor, you sell equipment, and if you're a service provider you generate revenue from traffic. Some of these benefits may even be true (particularly the last two). But chances are that your own enterprise telepresence plans need a clear strategy today or you'll need a good excuse tomorrow.

There are a number of business cases for telepresence but they all reduce to supplying an alternative to physical presence. A good telepresence strategy therefore has to start by asking just what "physical meetings" are targets for a telepresence alternative, and why. Surprised that I'm not suggesting that voice relationships be considered? There's a reason.

[Read the rest on No Jitter]

HSL's Thoughts and Analysis

Some excellent points on the limitations of telepresence vs. "real" meetings but the author leaves out a number of benefits of telepresence over conference calls for pairs of people or very small groups.

1. Telepresence humanizes the interaction of people who might work in seperate facilities but have never met. This builds trust faster which helps team-building and, ultimately, productivity.

2. Telepresence improves the comprehension of attendees by giving them more information I.E. nonverbal cues that many times carry more information than what is being said.

3. Telepresence improves attention and retention by focusing attention on the topic because of the social pressure of being in a real/virtual meeting vs. what can be achieved on a conference call where people are often multi-tasking.

Telepresence and Highly Interactive Meeting

The author's premise that telepresence loses value when meetings are interactive and participants are using a whiteboard doesn't have to be the case. As consultants who advise companies interested in implementing telepresence one of our stock recommendations is that organizations integrate an interactive whiteboard capability into each telepresence room. Our philosophy is that for virtual meetings to besuccessful the participants must have their usual and customary tools in their usual and customary format. One of the most important collaborative tools in conceptual learning/design etc. is the whiteboard.

In networking (and other disciplines) there are certain concepts that are difficult to comprehend without a graphical representation and there is a certain segment of the population (Visual Learners) that learn and communicate best through visualization and graphical representation. While most webconferencing applications include a whiteboarding capability, the ability to achieve any degree of detail with a mouse is virtually impossible and unnatural so an interactive rear-projection whiteboard (We like the SMARTBoard) is key to giving participants the ability to whiteboard naturally with a stylus.

We have also recommended this to ever vendor in the telepresence industry. The product manager or executive's usual response is something to the effect "Well.. we have tried interactive whiteboards but no one ever uses it" to which my reply is usually "because no one has elegantly integrated the device into the environment."

Throwing a document camera in the corner of a videoconferencing room is not an elegant implementation of a technology. HP Halo integrating the Wolfvision visualizer into the ceiling over the table and making it "Fisher Price simple" is.

Finally, because telepresence is being deployed on telepresence Community of Interest Networks where you can reach other companies in addition to your own collaborative benefits with partners, vendors, and customers are starting to accrue. This improves the utility of telepresence and increases the types of meetings that can be had. I.E. this is not simply internal meetings producing cooperative decisions but external meetings where learning and collaboration are improved.


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