Conference Room Trends: Video Conferencing Comes Of Age

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Photo: Vpod Solutions Limited

By Liz Close
Published in the September 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In the minds of facility managers (fms), guarded skepticism is the appropriate response to “cutting edge” technology claims when it comes to conference rooms. Most still struggle with video deployment, reliability, and acceptance. After decades of being promised the next big thing for conference rooms, fms finally have reason to get excited.

Video conferencing has indeed come of age with the emergence of high definition technology and IP enabled networks. The key players in the market are providing state of the art video conferencing and telepresence solutions; and with each new product, the technology and usability just gets better and better.

Making It Affordable

So why is it that the deployment of video conferencing across many organizations is taking so long? Cost is a key factor. With a telepresence room costing in the region of $400,000 to install, the capital investment can be a tough sell, even though the return on investment (ROI) is proven and tested.

Experience can help minimize these costs and improve the experience. But too many users have memories of fuzzy screens, inaudible audio, and delayed responses to jokes and comments.

Just The Right Space

Having an adequate footprint and the right location for equipment is a key factor to a positive experience. Video conferencing gear is too often found within the hallowed domains of the boardroom, making it underused due to the restraints on access to such territory. Telepresence rooms require a larger investment, so they are often not considered a company wide tool. Instead, they are considered a tool accessible only to the top tiers of management.

This under use is often exacerbated by the fact that the environment into which the technology is placed is not suitable. Beautifully glazed partitions and panoramic views are not natural bedfellows for video conferencing technology.

To add to the inefficiency, when video conferences are held, they normally involve three or four people sitting in a room designed for 20 or 30. These kinds of numbers are not a great return on the real estate investment.

So how can these problems be resolved? And how can video conferencing truly become an affordable, reliable, democratic, and valuable business tool in today’s workplace?

For fms, meeting room congestion is a common problem. When high value technology is placed in dual function areas, the ROI in the technology and the meeting space is never fully recognized (since it will probably take too long to achieve). By implementing dedicated video conferencing lounges suited for different sized meetings, fms can overcome these issues.

Case Study: Vodafone

Vodafone plc placed video conferencing at the core of its business strategy. The three main reasons for this new strategy were:

  • To increase the productivity of its workforce and reduce travel expenses;
  • To reduce the company’s carbon footprint and offer the workforce a better work/life balance; and
  • To provide evidence to the market of the massive savings achievable by using its own telecom solutions.

Photo: Vpod Solutions Limited

Vodafone realized that the use of video conferencing in hybrid meeting rooms was not accomplishing the expected targets. To combat these issues, representatives from management introduced dedicated video conferencing rooms (called “Vpods”) to key global business locations. With these video conferencing facilities, Vodafone saw the usage increase to 80% (compared to the 5% being achieved in hybrid meeting rooms). The ROI was realized in less than six months, and travel costs were cut by $40 million.

The other advantage from a real estate perspective was that these video conferencing environments were placed in traditionally underused spaces, such as reception areas, atriums, and other spaces with poor natural light. All that was required was power and an Ethernet connection.

The Vodafone experience points to a trend in the way in which fms are approaching the use of valuable real estate. The desire to maximize the ROI of every inch of space is paramount. Maximizing seemingly unusable space for delivering key technology and business critical tools is a key differentiator in the achievement of a fully optimized property asset.

Close is vice president of marketing at Vpod Solutions, a global company specializing in modern communication environments.

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