Published in May 2009

Telepresence Revolution
By S.Ann Earon, PhD

Adoption unlocks strategic value.

Telepresence can be defined as the ability to share audio, data and video with a distant site or sites as though the person were truly in the same room, across the conference table. In other words, the ability to have a meeting that is as good as actually being there. What makes telepresence different from traditional videoconferencing relates to how the audio, video, document sharing, control systems, room environment and transport are handled. As more users adopt telepresence technology, it is important for integrators to understand the value of the technology, why it is being deployed and how to add this strategic tool to current offerings in order to meet the demand being made by customers. Here, we present examples of how users have adopted telepresence technology, detailing the value it brings.

Telepresence is the latest buzzword in the collaborative conferencing space that signifies videoconferencing that works! Championed by Cisco CEO John Chambers, C level executives began to look at telepresence as a technology that allows them to communicate effectively without leaving the office. But why have organizations deployed this technology and is it really as good as being there? A survey of selected users helped answer these questions.

LexisNexis

• LexisNexis is a leading global provider of business information solutions to professionals in a variety of industries: legal, risk management, corporate, government, law enforcement, accounting and academic. The firm used videoconferencing for 15 years and found that usage was dropping due to low quality. LexisNexis reviewed telepresence for six years and finally implemented Polycom RPX systems in January 2008.

Jeffrey Sira, Manager of Conference Services at LexisNexis, stated, “The two main applications are for the transfer of technical information between sites and to allow executives to stop getting on airplanes. The users like the system because they do not have to do a thing...just meet.” Although the current systems are located on the East Coast, LexisNexis realizes that the value of telepresence will increase when rooms are installed internationally. The company is also aware that using video helps it be more carbon friendly.

Sira noted that organizations have to keep in mind that some telepresence systems have a big footprint and it is not always easy to shoehorn the systems into an existing space. It is also important to realize that people want to use the systems immediately. All the training should be done and issues resolved before opening the doors. He added, “Installing telepresence has made us look at improvements for our traditional videoconferencing systems. We are bumping up the bandwidth, improving displays and adding more systems.”

United Steelworkers

• United Steelworkers installed two Tandberg Experia telepresence systems—one in Pittsburgh and the other in London, England—that initially were used interdepartmentally for bi-weekly meetings by accounting and legal. The company especially likes the ability to communicate with legacy video systems. Mike Krueger, Director-Information Systems, stated, “We are impressed with the overall quality of the video and the perfect lip sync of the audio.”

He added, “We found the upfront costs higher than expected because we didn’t realize we would need a bridge. Using telepresence also takes more bandwidth than we expected and the annual cost for a data circuit is fairly hefty. However, we will pay for the systems in two years and they are worth the investment. We don’t have the luxury of waiting to travel. Having instant ad hoc meetings using the telepresence systems is a benefit.” Krueger recommends that the telepresence rooms have to be identical to get a truly complete experience.

Lazard Ltd.

• Lazard Ltd. is an advisory and asset management firm with offices in 15 countries. The company provides services such as mergers and acquisitions, asset management and restructuring to corporations, partnerships, institutions, governments and individuals. In 1999, Lazard partnered with Teliris to create a global meeting capability as simple to use as walking down the corridor to a conference or meeting room and discussing a business issue face-to-face.

Initially, Teliris systems were installed in New York, Paris and London. Additional systems have been added in San Francisco, Chicago and Milan. The fully managed solution enables executives from multiple points around the world—at a moment’s notice—to hold a meeting that fully replicates the effectiveness of a live interaction.

A Lazard executive stated, “We wanted, above all, to have sufficient human interaction to resolve conflict without having to travel, thereby moving our business forward much faster. This has been achieved in spades. It is really this aspect that is unique. It comes from the ambience—the image size, quality, placement, etc.—and from the sound quality, two-way, etc.”

One Communications

• One Communications is the largest CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) in the Northeast. The firm offers a robust portfolio of advanced telecommunications solutions, including voice, converged solutions, internet and private networking services. In 2006, the firm released a request for proposal (RFP) to deploy telepresence and avoid travel costs.

One Communications currently has a mix of telepresence and legacy video systems, both group and desktop. It installed Tandberg Experia telepresence systems in Rochester NY and Waltham MA. Russ Oliver, EVP and Chief Technology Officer at One Communications, stated, “Start with the end in mind: ‘What do you want to have and how long will it take to get there?’ We like a standards approach to be able to interoperate with anyone. We like the flexibility to connect with anyone with the push of a button.”

In the future, One Communications will explore the use of video for training and the installation of a bridge to link sites together. Oliver added, “There is enough competition now to be able to get a fair price. Telepresence affords us executive-proof systems that can operate with one touch.”
Nortel

• Nortel is both a user and reseller of telepresence technology. Telepresence has been deployed globally to drive efficiency and effectiveness. The technology is being used to allow organizations to become more strategic: to connect with partners, customers and suppliers. Hugh McCullen, General Manager of Nortel’s Global Multimedia Services, stated, “Telepresence is not a corporate toy. Service programs and proper training are key to its success. Users don’t care about the technical aspects. They want to bring legacy systems up to the level of visual equality. They want to connect and interact.”

McCullen also noted, “Video communications are not just viewed as a synchronous technology. Organizations now wish to use video to capture information and re-distribute it in very creative asynchronous models. Users don’t have to be on the video call to get value from the communication. They can view it later and away from their desks. The value is capturing the video information and repurposing it for training, meeting documentation or other strategic business purposes.”

One example he cited was live webcasts captured from a desktop PC or video room and being sent to hundreds of participants. He also noted that some organizations are turning on video and never turning it off. They are seeking simultaneous response and no longer having to chase people down.

Telepresence is a form of video being used to improve communications. Some customers are installing telepresence systems in locations where they don’t wish to travel due to geo-political or security issues. Others are using it to reduce their carbon footprint.

Must Be Strategic Differentiator

To be successful, video has to be viewed as a strategic differentiator, scheduling must be simple and meetings must be as natural as face-to-face communications. Telepresence is a mix in the offering of visual communications. Up to 10% to 20% of organizations’ video units might be telepresence units; 40% to 50% might be traditional videoconferencing units; and 30% to 40% might be desktop units.

The importance is to offer users what they need to match their meeting and business requirements, and provide seamless service that drives high satisfaction, regardless of the device endpoint or geographic locations.

Clearly, telepresence has made users sit up and take notice regarding how they can use this technology to improve communications. It is one of a variety of video technologies available to allow users to communicate visually for a variety of reasons: become more efficient and effective, become more strategic, improve global communications, reduce carbon footprint and get a visual message to the masses.

Organizations are using telepresence for executive communications, new product introductions, sales, training, interviewing, supply chain activities, retail, healthcare, energy, etc. The introduction of telepresence, and its ability to allow easy visual communications, has meant an increased interest in all forms of such communications.


S. Ann Earon, PhD, is President of Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI), a 26-year-old consulting practice specializing in marketing, communications and training with an emphasis on market research, assessment, design, project management, promotions and training for collaborative conferencing (audio, web and video) systems. Earon is also Editor of Sound & Communications’ twice-yearly supplement, IT/AV Report. She can be reached at aearon@testa.com.


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