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Telepresence: Will it Beat the Heat?

Jayakishore Bayadi
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Jayakishore Bayadi
Picture this—Six executives of a global company are sitting in their conference room, three on each side of a table, deeply engrossed in a discussion and frequently banging on the table, which has a clear glass panel running down its center. Surprisingly, if you look closer – only three are physically present in the room, in this case in New Delhi. The others could be sitting in their U.S. office at San Jose, or anywhere else, but their life-size, high-definition images are projected onto the glass panel in the conference room.

Three 65-inch high-definition screens channeling images of executives from the office at San Jose had no discernible latency. An array of speakers and microphones catch and project audio in stereo, convincingly mimicking the direction of voices across a conference table. Even the room’s lighting and wood paneling is designed to eliminate shadows and make the users feel as though they’re separated by just a few feet. It looked like as though six people were actually having a meeting.

Welcome to the modern virtual corporate world! The high-end version of video conferencing, aptly named Telepresence, is fast replacing the good old video conferencing. Video conferencing was often a grainy, jerky image, which did little to increase the feel of actual presence of the persons on the other end. “But with Telepresence, one gets life-size remote participants, fluid motion, accurate flesh tones, studio quality acoustics and lighting, true eye-contact or a close approximation of it, and immersive environments that establish consistent quality of communication between disparate locations,” informs Yugal Sharma, Country Manager, Polycom. Interestingly, industry researchers have found that employees using Telepresence systems had the same chemical responses that they would in face-to-face meetings.
Telepresence Gaining Momentum

Undoubtedly, Telepresence is becoming a reasonable substitute for meeting in person. The technology has a huge opportunity. The research firm Frost & Sullivan found that global Telepresence market generated $165.3million in revenues in 2007. That number is expected to exceed $1.44 billion by 2013. Top players like Cisco, HP, Lifesize, Tandberg, Teliris, and even Microsoft (MS RoundTable) are now increasingly bullish on this technology since it finds fast adoption by the corporations to bring down their opex. Globally, the blistering recession is on. However, the debate is whether technologies like Telepresence will help these meltdown-hit corporations to cut quite a good percentage of their operational costs? Across the globe, companies have started cutting on business trips of their executives. And it appears, however, that there may be a permanent drop in certain types of business travel. Instead of exhausting interstate and international trips, many managers are now staying put in their offices, linking up to other offices via advanced teleconferencing tools. The research firm Gartner predicts that Teleconferencing is one of the hottest global trends to watch.

“With the slow down really hitting businesses worldwide, there is a growing demand for Telepresence since it can help cut costs on travel,” says Rajesh K, Business Development Manager, Cisco. The Telepresence giant Cisco has so far deployed Telepresence rooms in more than 25 countries and over 85 cities worldwide. Cisco, internally, has 284 Telepresence rooms across the world. So far there have been 32,376 meetings, which helped avoid travel, saving Cisco $279 million. The increase in cost of travel is a major driver for adoption of Telepresence. Increase in productivity due to time saved in traveling and cost savings in logistics are other key factors. According to Zinnov Analysis, even a 10 percent reduction in travel could save $500,000 for a 1,000 employee organization.

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