Tuesday, 09 September 2008
Conferencing Connections - eBusiness Live
The increasing availability of affordable high-speed broadband connections and audio-visual equipment means that physical distances need no longer be a barrier for SMEs that want to communicate with staff and customers. Video conferencing and web conferencing are two options that enable meaningful contact between remote parties.
Video conferencing allows two or more groups of people, in different locations, to communicate in real time through the use of video and audio streams.
Since 2005, the year-on-year growth of 'room systems' worldwide has been between 35 percent and 40 percent, according to video conferencing technology distributor Videnda. Advances in technology mean an SME with some LCD screens, Cat-5 or telephone cabling, and a usable meeting room can buy a good video conferencing solution for less than EUR10,000.
Liam Fahy, financial director of Videnda, uses the example of a worker based in Dublin to explain why more SMEs are investing in video conferencing. "If I have to go to Cork for an hour's meeting, the best case scenario is three and a half hours there and three and a half hours back. That is seven hours where I am in the car. Now I might be able to take a couple of phone calls but I am at about 10 percent productivity," he says.
There are other benefits to video conferencing too. Employers pay less mileage and petrol costs, as the need for staff to travel is reduced. In addition, employees with families can spend more time at home and less time commuting from meeting to meeting.
Video conferencing is also of particular benefit to SMEs who do business with companies outside Ireland. "If you are a guy who is importing - instead of going to France, instead of going to the Far East to meet your suppliers - it is a lot easier to do a video call," says Fahey.
Recently, the UK's Minister of State for the Environment, Phil Woolas, used video conferencing to deliver his keynote speech at the 2nd Annual Climate Change Summit in Sydney, Australia. He did it all from London. He saved an estimated 60 hours of travel time and 6.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions on his air flight alone, according to Videnda.
SMEs considering an investment in video conferencing must first establish how many sites they want to link, what kind of image quality they want and how many people will be involved in a typical meeting.
Once an SME has purchased a video conferencing package, it needs to make a determined effort to use that package. "When you invest in video conferencing you make a conscious decision to change the culture in your organisation. You get the appropriate training. You need to decide within your organisation 'we are investing in this, we are going to drive it forward'," says Fahy.
Web conferencing allows two or more users to communicate in real time over the internet.
Users of a web conferencing packages generally purchase an online account (typically a couple of hundred euro) from providers such as Webex, 247meeting.com, Onlinemeetingrooms.com or Gotomeeting.ie. Participants log into a forum, similar to an online discussion group, and initiate conversations with colleagues. The web conference clients operate within an internet browser. Participants sit at their own PC and interact using a web-cam, headset or keyboard.
"It is an awful lot more flexible. People can use it more freely and easily. They don't have to book rooms in advance. They don't have to install hardware. It is all there in front of you. It's like so many web applications these days - there's no training at all required with it," explains Gavin Doherty, managing director of 247meeting.com.
Web versus video
Both web conferencing and video conferencing have their advantages. Trying to choose between them will depend on the needs of your particular business. Web conferencing has its strengths in the following areas:
When accessibility is important. A web conferencing solution does not need any special equipment beyond a web-camera and a PC with broadband internet access. Even employees on the road, with a laptop, can take part in an online conference.
Training sessions. Web conferences are geared towards Q&A sessions. One of 247meeting's clients is a pharmaceutical company that uses web conferencing sessions to train distributors in the use of their new products, rather than flying out to meet with them.
Presentation or lectures. Many web conferencing solutions allow the host to display slides or presentations on participants' computer screens. These can also be edited by participants in real time.
Video conferencing is more geared toward the following circumstances:
Boardroom meetings. Video conferencing allows for a natural meeting environment. A typical package uses a Pan Tilt and Zoom (PTZ) camera to record multiple participants sitting around a table. With web conferences, participants are confined to their desks.
Visuals. Video conferencing images are usually of a higher quality than web conferencing images. This can be an important factor in meetings where body language is important, such as in a sales pitch.
Companies with multiple offices. If a firm has multiple locations, video conferencing allows employees at each site to gather and communicate, as if they were in one physical location.
Web and video conferencing solutions allow SMEs to do business more efficiently and conveniently. If you pick the right solution, it can save both money and time.
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