Meeting across the miles

According to science fiction movies and television shows, we’re on the edge of making every telecommunication also a video communication. Video phones are portrayed as broadcast quality, real time, and as ubiquitous as normal phones are today.

Even though those expectations are still unrealistic at the moment, Robert Ceballo, a research analyst with Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said videoconferencing is not a far-off future endeavour. It might not have broadcast quality, the timing is referred to as “near” real time and it’s limited mostly to boardrooms and some high-tech desktops, but Ceballo said there is a place in today’s enterprises for videoconferencing.

The decision, however, depends on a company’s culture. Ceballo said many people like travel and won’t easily give it up in favour of videoconferencing.

“This is more of an enhancement to their collaboration. You’re not going to do away with your IT travel budget and just replace it with videoconferencing,” especially since the video is not broadcast quality.

In fact, because of the jarring differences in quality, Ceballo recommends that when purchasing videoconferencing equipment, decisions on quality and expense be left to the people actually using the products instead of the IT department, even though the IT people understand better what the network can handle.

“We tell our clients to come up with two solutions: a high-bandwidth one and a low-bandwidth one and put it in front of their CEO or whoever is going to make the decision on the purchase and let them decide what is good enough quality, because… if the end user is dissatisfied with the quality, then the equipment is not going to be used and it’s total failure, which happens a lot,” Ceballo said.

The system should reflect the way meetings are held, and not the other way around, according to Ceballo. If people are forced to change how they conduct their meetings because of the technology, the odds of them adopting the technology fully and successfully are low. While it is one thing to have to jump through some hoops to initiate video calls, it’s quite another if meeting participants can’t read fine text from a whiteboard or can’t hear each other.

Ceballo urged that the videoconferencing room always be equipped with a telephone in case the video component fails. He said it is the audio, not video, that is the most important factor, so his advice is to invest in the best audio package available.

He also advises that pilot studies be run under the same financial policies that will govern deployment. If chargeback fees or travel budget cuts are to be implemented after the video is deployed but aren’t included in the pilot, a positive pilot might turn into a sour reality when system-usage levels drop because of the financial issues.