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Cisco Exec Sees TelePresence Interoperability Evolving, Costs Dropping
January 3, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
DECEMBER 29, 2009 -- Cisco TelePresence director of marketing Erica Schroeder this month spoke with Business Travel News travel management editor Seth Harris about increasing interoperability among telepresence systems, broadening the client portfolio and bringing down technology costs.
Business Travel News: What barriers remain to true interoperability between the various manufacturers' telepresence units?
Erica Schroeder: There are no industry standards. That is the big one. The industry as a whole needs to have agreement on how to handle different methods of doing multiple-screen switching. For example, if I have a three-screen system and it is connecting to a two-screen system, how do you handle the switching of the video? What is the standard or the protocol you use to do that? Cisco can certainly help in that respect and it is fully our intent to do so.
BTN: When do you expect agreement on those standards?
Schroeder: It takes a while. It goes from something you can do in the labs to something that you put in front of industry groups and make the various technologies available more broadly. I expect that 2010 is a big year when we will start seeing some real progress in this area.
BTN: How does the acquisition of Tandberg affect your interoperability capabilities
Schroeder: I don't think it changes really anything. As we wait for the acquisition to close, Cisco continues to push ahead on everything we are already working on. As far as interoperability goes, it strengthens the case for the industry that it is super important. As a company, if you've invested a lot in videoconferencing and you are looking at telepresence units, of course you want to be able to leverage the investment you already have, and if you are a company that hasn't done a whole lot of video, you want to be able to make choices about deploying video without having to worry about whether this stuff works together.
BTN: Do you have a specific target audience for your TelePresence technology?
Schroeder: We just had our three-year anniversary of Telepresence in the market, and it is fair to say that our earliest customers tended to be big, multinational corporations because the value proposition was so strong. For example, if Procter & Gamble, which has more than 135,000 employees and offices all over the world, is so focused on how to innovate through collaboration, you look at a technology like TelePresence where you can get tons of market advantages. That was the first wave of customers we saw. As the product portfolio got bigger and we had more one-screen systems, we saw a lot of midmarket customers. If you look at the mix today, it is a pretty broad mix from midmarket commercial customers all the way through big corporations. We've done things to make it easier for companies to deploy TelePresence and more cost-effectively. We have something called "extended reach," which allows you to run a one-screen TelePresence system over a T1 line or the open Internet. Things like that really make a big difference when you are a smaller company or if you are a large company and you have offices in locations where bandwidth is really expensive.
BTN: How has usage expansion of the technology affected what companies want to do with it?
Schroeder: Intercompany has really changed the way people think about the value proposition. It isn't just, how can I cut travel costs and take advantage of my engineers in far-flung places or my finance department that is spread all over the globe? Now people are starting to think about how to get closer to their suppliers or build better relationships with their customers. You start to see behavior where these ecosystems pop up.
BTN: Price has been considered one major barrier to companies implementing telepresence technology. Is that changing?
Schroeder: Of course it will go down. Look at what has happened on the video side in consumer electronics. Remember when a 1080p TV was a really big deal? Those economics are in play on the TelePresence side as well. When it was first introduced, we had to engineer special 65-inch plasmas because we couldn't find anything in the market that met our specifications. Now a 65-inch display is still a good-sized display, but it's not that unusual anymore. As the cost of bandwidth comes down, the cost of camera technology and displays come down, then Telepresence also becomes more affordable.
BTN: Who are some of the key decision makers within corporations that you find yourself dealing with?
Schroeder: Telepresence is an early market. Videoconferencing has been around for a while. There typically is an existing videoconferencing buyer and that person may be thinking, what next? Cisco knows IT really well, so we have an existing group of customers who bought it because they have strategic IT departments. By and large, the people who have made the decisions in the early part of this market have been business decision makers, often the C-level, because they recognize what video could mean as a strategic business tool as opposed to a productivity tool.
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