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Article by Mohan Babu


Is videoconferencing, the next killer app?

Managers, sales people, consultants and specialists who generally prefer to conduct most of their business face-to-face with customers are starting to rethink their strategies, writes Mohan Babu

Even the darkest cloud has a silver lining. In the past few weeks, we have been seeing a tremendous amount of negativity in the media — there are talks of a slowing economy moving into a global recession. All this talk in the media is contagious and many of us are inadvertently being forced into this mindset. However not everyone is of the same mindset; instead of moping over how ‘things could have been’, many of us are trying to look at the silver lining. As any economist will tell you, it is just a ‘passing phase’.

Last night I attended the annual conference of the local chapter of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs). TiE is a non-profit / non-political organisation solely focused on providing a platform for networking and mentorship in the interests of nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit. The mood at the conference, in spite of the downturn was upbeat and it was hard not to be sucked into this mindset. After the conference, during the 60 mile drive back home, a thought stuck me: isn’t it time we start thinking outside the box?

I have been hearing talks and reading about a number of new technologies that are poised to take off, especially after the New York City bombings. Many technocrats are animated about the future of wireless, biometrics, security systems and biotechnology and other bleeding edge uses of technologies that will make our life more ‘secure’. Apart from technologies that are focused on security, there is renewed interest in teleconferencing technologies.

Technologies that enable collaborative working, including work-group software, net meeting, chat and other interactive software, have been around for a while. They have been extremely popular, especially among the net savvy techies and programmers. Many of us use net-meeting and instant messenger software at work. We also use these systems to chat with families across the continents. Technical people are already comfortable using collaborative tools in their workplace. However, ‘industrial grade’ uses of collaborative systems are yet to emerge. By ‘industrial grade’, I mean systems that can be used by non-technical executives, sales, marketing and financial professionals to communicate with their peers across the organisation or with external users.

Executives in the business world in the US are rethinking their approach towards business travel. This is being done for two key reasons: one reason is the renewed fear of flying that many of us are experiencing and another is the expense that travels entail. A typical business trip undertaken by a team of two mid-level managers can set a company off by about eight to ten thousand dollars. In a slowing economy, companies are looking at every item of expense. Business travel stands out as the most likely candidate.

Those most likely to benefit from the use of collaborative systems are businessmen who are affected by the new travel restrictions. Managers, sales people, consultants and specialists who generally prefer to conduct most of their business face-to-face with their users and customers are starting to rethink their strategies. What is the next best thing to meeting face-to-face? The answer is video/teleconferencing. Technology to facilitate videoconferencing and teleconferencing has been around for a while. If anything, the dotcom and B2B boom helped us build an excellent high bandwidth network criss-crossing the US. Even in India, shadowing our primitive telecom systems, we were able to leapfrog to the digital age.

Even though the technologies to facilitate videoconferencing have been in existence for a while, the widespread usage hasn’t followed.

Why hasn’t it become popular? The reasons are not hard to find. People are generally more comfortable in face-to-face meetings. They like to observe the body language and other non-verbal aspects of communication that are not very easy to capture on a screen. This is especially true if one is sitting in a group and the camera is focusing on only parts of the group. There is another human element to videoconferencing in groups: the camera will generally focus on the group leader or the senior most member of the team. Hence the purpose behind the conference — to see and observe is wasted. It is especially difficult to grab the attention of all attendees all the time; added to this is the possibility of being disturbed / called / paged during videoconferences, something that the party at the other end will be unable to appreciate.

Until recently, most businesses which were contemplating the use of videoconferencing were doing so just to keep up with the Jones — even if it meant building a multi-million dollar videoconferencing centre that hardly anyone wanted to use. However in a slowing economy, there is a greater incentive and motivation to start using the tool as a means to cut costs.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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