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Global CIO: Video Must Do More Than Cut Travel

Saving money and travel time is great. But if that's all your company gets from videoconferencing, you're wasting an opportunity.

There's no shortage of excitement in the growing videoconferencing market.

Microsoft buys Skype in a blockbuster deal around desktop video.

Polycom buys Hewlett-Packard's Halo telepresence business, giving Cisco's room-based systems a rival whose heart is really in this fight.

Now this week, a well financed startup, Vidyo, is trying to shake up the telepresence market with a new Internet-based system that costs tens of thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands.

And yet. As I was doing some research on collaboration software in recent weeks, I came across data from a report Forrester issued earlier this year, data that I take as a bad sign for how companies are using collaboration technology, of which video is one of the top new investments.

First, the good news. Sixty-two percent of the companies Forrester surveyed said they reduced travel costs using collaboration technology. Twenty-nine percent of them are upgrading or building room-based videoconferencing systems. Forrester analyst TJ Keitt noted that, based on past implementations, this would bring to 62% the share of companies with such systems in the "next couple of years." One third of companies are making new investments in desktop video.

The bad news comes from where most companies are NOT seeing benefits from collaboration technology so far. Writes Keitt:

They are not seeing benefits related to product development and launch. Business processes concerning the company’s products are at the bottom of the list of benefits. Just 9% of businesses report that collaboration tools lower their time-to-market for new products. Likewise, improved innovation (19%) and improved partner relationships (22%) are perceived as collaboration tool benefits in a minority of companies.
This finding is troubling. Product development is the most vital and creative work that companies do, yet this wave of collaboration investment is having a tiny impact on improving it? Video tools are supposed to shrink the world, bring creative minds together in ways that would've been too difficult and costly before. Yet this Forrester data suggests that's not happening.

Why not? Are the tools not up to the job, not up to delivering an immersive enough experience to do real creative work? Are the tools that are up to the task--the truly immersive, high-performance telepresence rooms--available only to senior executives? Are they the virtual equivalent of the corporate jet or first-class travel, not used by the everyday creatives getting products out of the chute?

I spoke last week with Vidyo CEO Ofer Shapiro, who's trying to shake up some of those factors with a new product to deliver cheaper room-based telepresence, using Vidyo’s Internet-delivered video. "Travel replacement is just one justification," Shapiro insists. Vidyo's just-launched system, called VidyoPanorama, uses off-the-shelf HD TV screens, which companies can wall-mount in configurations of up to nine screens. (It looks a bit like Hollywood Squares, or the beginning of The Brady Bunch.)

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