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Forbes Article: Virtually Flu-Free Meetings with Telepresence Options Publisher Howard Lichtman's Thoughts and Analysis

April 28, 2009 | Howard Lichtman


Virtually Flu Free Meetings - via Forbes

by Andy Greenberg and Quentin Hardy

"Telepresence" continues to grow as companies look for alternatives to travel.

With the specter of swine flu rising, companies have yet another reason to consider holding their meetings virtually rather than sending executives on planes. That's good news for the likes of giants like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard as well as for smaller companies that offer specialized telepresence networking gear.

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Polycom 400 Series RPX in Telepresence Meeting


"Disasters drove the video conference business," says Polycom Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Hagerty. "Then, it becomes mainstream." The first set of disasters included Sept. 11, 2001, and the SARS scare. The economic slowdown, with slashed travel budgets, pushed it further. So, too, will worries about swine flu.

Cisco's gear is at the high end of telepresence set-ups. To demonstrate its networking brawn, Cisco has set up telepresence rooms more than 321 video rooms in 135 cities across more than 40 countries.

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Google Map Showing Cisco's Internal TelePresence Locations.  CTS 3000s are Dark Blue, CTS 1000s are light blue, CTS 3200s are Purple, CTS 500s are Green, and Publicly Available Suites are Yellow.


Most feature enormous screens: In its New York center, for instance, Cisco has three 65-inch high-definition screens that channel images of Cisco execs from the opposite coast with no discernible latency. An array of speakers and microphones catch and project audio in stereo, convincingly mimicking the direction of voices across a conference table. Even the rooms' lighting and wood paneling is designed to eliminate shadows and make users feel as though they're separated by just a few feet.

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Cisco's CTS 3000 Telepresence System


Those details add up to prices as high as $300,000 along with an extra $10,000 or so a month in bandwidth costs, enough to make telepresence rooms seem less like a cost-cutting measure and more like a World's Fair exhibition. As frilly as it sounds, Cisco's David Hsieh argues--with a straight face--that telepresence is designed to save a company money.

By creating a real alternative to costly business travel, Hsieh claims that the rooms will often pay for themselves in less than a year. "It's an easy one. In a tight economy, you've got to do more and spend less," says Hsieh. "When customers look at this creatively, the key advantage is that you get that in-person meeting experience along with immediate hard-dollar travel savings."

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Polycom 200 Series RPX Connected to Webcams, Traditional Videoconferencing, and other RPX Telepresence Systems in Multipoint Call


By contrast, Polycom fills out its offering with Webcams and video management software that costs $100 per employee (it is used for security and picture quality, along with overall system management) and a large TV/camera combination that costs about $3,000.

All in, the 2,600-employee firm has 1,200 video systems running for its own use, with about 300 calls a day with an average of four people on a call. With development offices in India, Denmark, Israel and across the U.S., "about 70% of the staff now works with someone who isn't located with them," Hagerty says "People meet and can't recall if they have met in person."

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The $120,000 2/4 seat HP Halo Collaboration Centre


HP, which sells a really high-end system called Halo, also manages its own network to ensure quality. A two-seat system costs $120,000, plus $9,900 a month in management, while a "collaboration studio" that can fit 15 to 18 people runs $349,000 and $18,000 a month in fees.

Still, that is half what the hardware cost when HP came out with its systems in December 2005, and costs are expected to drop.

"We're a pretty quick payback, compared with travel," says Kenneth Crangle, general manager of Halo. "The rooms get used over 100 hours a month." The better quality and security, he says, brings in customers like Dreamworks, which can run video inside the network, or pharmaceutical companies looking to do secure research.

Polycom may have a lead with its cheaper products only for now. HP teamed with videoconferencing vendor Tandberg to offer standard Internet gear that works inside Halo. In addition, HP has announced a deal with Marriott  to offer Halo services in Marriott hotels. Cisco, which says video will be a billion-dollar business for the company, has the systems in the Tata Group's Taj hotels for rent from $300 to $500 an hour.

How big could the telepresence business be? An IDC report from March 2008 projected that by 2012, the number of deployed telepresence systems like those sold by Cisco, HP, Tandberg and Polycom would grow from around 600 to more than 8,000 worldwide, and that revenue from those systems will increase tenfold, from $170 million to around $1.7 billion. That growth may be dampened by the economic downturn, but at least Polycom's Hagerty figures there's plenty of room for expansion--literally. By his calculation, there are about 1.5 million video systems, from Webcams on up, installed now. "But there are 30 to 35 million conference rooms," he says.

"You can be in a telepresence meeting for three hours, and after about an hour and a half, you forget there's this extra thing there. It largely disappears," says IDC analyst Abner Germanow. "You get that solid, across-the-table meeting that lets you feel like you've actually connected with a person."

And working together via screen may look increasingly good if business travelers decide that getting on a plane isn't the best choice for their companies or their health

[via Forbes]


Telepresence Options Publisher Howard S. Lichtman's Thoughts and Analysis

In Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light I specifically listed employee health and safety with the ability to do business in regions experiencing public health emergencies as one of the top benefits of telepresence (page 29). 

Last month on March 6th I wrote an article on vaccine manufacturer Baxter International being caught in what appears to be an attempted world-wide release of weaponized flu.  In that case Baxter was caught shipping flu vaccines to at least 18 countries that contained live H591 avian flu virus that had been mixed with easily communicable seasonal H3N2 flu viruses.  That same day I sent an e-mail to over a dozen friends, family, and colleagues predicting a pandemic. 

According to reports this current outbreak involves a never before seen mix of swine, avian, and human viruses and Baxter has announced that they are working with the World Heath Organization on a vaccine.

Whatever or whoever is ultimately determined to be responsible for this current outbreak, the telepresence and videoconferencing industries will benefit by providing solutions that allow business continuity in the face of a public health emergency that is set to impact business travel on a variety of levels:

  • The Obvious - Telepresence will allow businesses to continue operations effectively without exposing their employees to the potential for infection represented by planes, airports, trains, and subways. 
  • The Not so Obvious but equally as Important - The airline industry which suffered over 2 dozen bankruptcies in 2008 from sky-high fuel prices, has been suffering this year from the demand destruction of the economic collapse.  A global pandemic that significantly reduces demand for air travel will most likely bankrupt marginal carriers still reeling from high fuel prices and the economic collapse.  A pandemic (or simply the realization of the importance of having a business continuity plan in place for the inability to travel in the event of a pandemic should this current epidemic peter out) will push more businesses to telepresence and effective visual collaboration which will further reduce demand for seats among the airlines' least price sensitive and profitable customers.   Gartner predicted in February of this year that telepresence could replace 2.1 million airline seats a year by 2012 costing the travel industry $3.5 Billion Dollars.  A pandemic would accelerate these losses likely sending additional carriers into bankruptcy and/or causing additional mergers and acquisitions in the industry.  This will result in higher ticket prices and reduced convenience of air travel which will push more organizations towards telepresence and effective visual collaboration in a vicious cycle for the airlines. 

Resources for Organizations Interested in Deploying Telepresence
Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light - The most comprehensive overview of telepresence technologies, the ROI of telepresence for business, and the future of telepresence.

Telepresence Consulting from the Human Productivity Lab - The ability to fast track a telepresence strategy for business continuity from the leading consulting firm in the telepresence industry.

Which Telepresence System is Best? A Telepresence Buyer's Guide from the Human Productivity Lab - A concise overview of the various telepresence solutions and important aspects to consider to future-proof telepresence solutions, telepresence managed services, and telepresence inter-networking solutions. 

Launching Monday, May 4th 2009
Telepresence Options Solutions Overviews

The Human Productivity Lab and Telepresence Options will be launching the most comprehensive guide to Telepresence Solutions, Telepresence Managed Service Providers, and Telepresence Inter-networking solutions available anywhere on this website on Monday, May 4th.  The Solution Overview section will feature the most comprehensive catalog of telepresence solutions available in one place from the leading firms in telepresence, telepresence managed services, and inter-networking telepresence.  Starting next week we will begin publishing detailed Solution Overviews. Sign up here to subscribe via e-mail or RSS.



Telepresence People

Rick Glickman has joined to Teliris as Chief Financial Officer.  Rick comes to the company from  EYP Mission Critical Facilities, where he served as Chief Financial Officer during a period which saw the sale of the company to HP.

Jason M. Cohen has joined Allied Fiber as President and Chief Operating Officer

Patrick Opelt has joined Allied Fiber as Vice President Engineering & Construction

Bill Strupp has been named General Manager for The Whitlock Group's Tampa, FL Office

Dan Brumm at Polycom has been promoted to Senior Director, North American Marketing

Industry veteran Mike Funge is looking for his next gig where he can leverage his knowledge of telepresence and videoconferencing managed services and inter-networking

David Morrison won the LifeSize Communication's Putt Putt Open and took the coveted Super Sized Plastic Golf Club

Commander Robert Durand has left LifeSize Communication and returned to public affairs in the Navy where he will be protecting the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.

Howard S. Lichtman, President of the Human Productivity Lab and Publisher of Telepresence Options joined hundreds of active duty military and police and veterans on the green in Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19th (the anniversary of the opening battle of the American Revolution on the spot where it started) who renewed their oaths to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Howard was sworn in by Navy SEAL Captain Larry Bailey in an event organized by Oath Keepers

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Telepresence Industry Professionals


Telepresence Industry Professionals (TIP) is our telepresence industry association on Linked In which is now over 720 members!  I like to call it "the telepresence industry's cool kids club" because so many of my favorite folks are on-board. The group is a superb venue for discussions, networking, and industry news and information.  There is a Jobs board for organizations looking for talent and for folks that are in the market for their next gig.

New and Notable Members this week include: Vab Goel, Venture Capitalist and Board Member at LifeSize Communications, the lovely Chris Fidler from Nortel, Bob George, Managed Service Director - Global Accounts at BT, Darla McCormick - VP of Corporate Communications at Face to Face Live, Le Devehat Arnaud - Senior Project Account Manager at Polycom (France), Andrew Milich - Business Analyst at Face to Face Live, Paul Fenner - Major Account Executive at Qwest, Elliot Blanton - Recruiting Manager at MindWave Research, and others!

New Jobs on the Telepresence Industry Professionals Job Board: Telepresence Engineering and Solution Architect - New Jersey, Telepresence Project Manager - EMEA (Paris), Telepresence OSS/BSS Software Architect - New Jersey, and others!

Come on in! The water is great!     






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