At this week's VoiceCon event in Orlando the highlight was a "virtual" presentation by Cisco CEO John Chambers and former Vice President and Noble Laureate Al Gore on the potential of using unified communications technologies to reduce greenhouse emissions. Gore spoke not only on how virtual applications such as telepresence could reduce the need for travel, but also how distributed groups developing greenhouse gas emissions policies are leveraging telepresence to improve their meeting experience, leading to more effective collaboration.
I've had the opportunity to speak to a number of end-user organizations that are investigating the potential of telepresence. Most dismiss the idea that telepresence can reduce travel costs, as in-person meetings are still largely preferred over virtual conferences. Instead, two "killer-apps" for telepresence are often cited:
Improving the quality of meetings compared with audio conferencing,
Increasing client/partner face time with senior executives
One executive I spoke with cited the ability to meet with half a dozen clients in a day using telepresence compared with how long it would take to travel to each client location. He noted that he would normally conduct client or partner calls via telephone, but with telepresence, he felt that they were achieving a stronger level of client/partner interaction.
These benefits are of course difficult if not impossible to quantify, and the inability to create a firm ROI model has been a limiting factor in telepresence purchase. But as system prices fall, and more people become aware of the benefits of telepresence versus a traditional audio conference, I'd expect to see deployments continue to increase.
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