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Why next-gen videoconferencing can mean more travel

April 25, 2008 | Chris Payatagool
silicon.pngThe Lab included an ROI case study for Pearson's telepresence deployment in our publication: Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light.

Case study: How Pearson has boosted staff productivity - but not necessarily cut carbon emissions...

By Natasha Lomas

While high-end videoconferencing can play a role in reducing the costs of corporate travel - financial and environmental - the most notable benefits of the 'telepresence' technology are the softer ones, according to media company Pearson, an early adopter of the tech.

Speaking at Gartner's Enterprise Networking & Communications Summit in London, Steve Scott, director of technology services at Pearson, which deployed Teliris' immersive videoconferencing system around seven years ago, said the key business benefits are faster decision-making, improved productivity, effective teamworking and better use of staff time.

Teliris' immersive videoconferencing system

Teliris' system was chosen back in 2001 when there wasn't really a choice of vendors, said Scott. The market has broadened since then - with the likes of Cisco's TelePresence and HP's Halo systems.

Pearson made the decision to invest in telepresence to improve links with its New York office. The company's headquarters are in London but - back in 2001 - the US market accounted for 60 per cent of its business which meant ensuring effective channels of communication between senior executives in the two offices was critical.

"It was a significant investment in technology at the time," said Scott.

As well as boosting productivity - by reducing the likes of wasted time at airports - the work/life balance of its senior executives was another consideration. While occasional corporate travel may be a perk, lots of travel "can be tiresome" - as well as a productivity drain. The company's CEO made the decision to deploy telepresence after she saw it in action at investment bank Lazard Brothers.

Scott said: "I have no doubt at all that there is an environmental theme to this... [And] Telepresence has reduced our costs to some degree."

But he said the air miles of Pearson's senior execs have probably not been reduced. Rather telepresence has freed them up to travel more strategically - i.e. to locations where the company is looking to expand its business.

Other benefits are that meetings can be set up in minutes, said Scott. And while it does not exactly replicate the experience of a face-to-face meeting, it gives the feel of being "across the table from your colleagues".

He said: "You do have eye contact which is crucial in decision-making." The system also has directional sound - another vital factor in creating a realistic environment, he said.

Managing the system has been challenging. Pearson's IT team initially undertook this task but "it was a disaster", Scott said. So in 2003 the company opted to buy into a managed service from Teliris. Since then the quality and reliability of the experience has "improved significantly".

Scott said: "From the IT department's perspective, it's not mainstream to what they do. My life's become much easier since Teliris provided a managed service" - though he added someone from IT is still dispatched half an hour before a telepresence meeting to make doubly sure the audio and camera angles are sound.

He added: "There's an element of fear that we can't afford for things to go wrong."


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