The perils of ad hoc Telepresence

Published: October 26th, 2011
First of all, let me apologize to our friends at Cisco Systems Inc. for inadvertently leaving a dry run of the lead in my story “Cisco extends Telepresence to smaller businesses.” The words “blah de blah” were not reflective of my level of interest in the subject, but of the facts that a) I was writing at 6:30 in the morning and 2) I have four functioning brain cells at 6:30 in the morning.
Tuesday's announcements of new Telepresence products were made, naturally, over a Telepresence connection, but it was more complex than any I've seen before. This was not point-to-point, but encompassed a number of end points on four continents. Thus, the three 62-inch main screens were changing location dynamically, as were the three inset screens in each of them. It was alittle hyperactive.
Another difference was the variety of end points. While some Cisco officials were in the high-end, purpose-built suites (which I've always found to be a bit much), but others were on smaller-scale multi-purpose units, and some analysts were connecting through their PCs over WebEx. These alternative connections, including smaller telepresence units from other manufacturers, are the fastest-growing demographic in the environment. OJ Winge's stated aim of making videconferencing as easy as making a phone call will lead to more ad hoc use. You could be sitting at your desk in your hame office and suddenly have to take an unscheduled video call. This, especially for those working at home, can be perilous.
Some things to keep in mind in the era of ad hoc Telepresence:
* There was much discussion before the call officially launch of the backgrounds of the desktop and home office users. ANalyst Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research took the commercial approach, ensuring the company logo was prominent in the background. Analyst Zeus Keravella has a lot of gadgets in his office. Other backgrounds varied from spartan to cleanly elegant. This will be an issue for me whether I'm in my home office or in my cube at work, as both look like the aftermath of an explosion at a Grand & Toy store.
* It was a 1 p.m. Eastern teleconference, so even the home office types were dressed. This is important during a videoconference. When we're only tied to the business world by phone and e-mail, there's a temtation to be a little slovenly. I have interviewed executives in my pajamas. In the ad hoc video conferencing world, I'm apparently going to have to get spiffier PJs, perhaps ones that will take a tie.
* It's difficult to remember that, in a multipoint call, what you see is not necessarily what everyone else sees. You could suddenly appear on a 62-inch screen without knowing it, and your face had better show rapt attention when it does. I, myself, am an inveterate head-scratcher. That'll have to be kept in check.
* And remember this advice from my good friend Michelle Warren: As a last resort, you can always put tape over the lens of your Web cam.

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