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Video Conferencing -- Will It Work for My Company?

One of the wonders of modern technology is the ability to use audio and video services to facilitate discussions between people in different locations. This ability, known as video conferencing, can be a major convenience in a world where communication across the globe is necessary.

It can be vital when individuals need a face-to-face conversation, when visual cues not present in telephone communication may be of importance, or if a physical meeting is difficult or impossible due to travel considerations or time constraints. It is not ideal in every situation, so it is important to consider its downsides in addition to its benefits.

A Little History

Video conferencing has been possible since television was invented. Simple systems have been around since the 1930's, such as the German Reich Postzentralamt network in Berlin. NASA developed a much more complex mechanism during the first space flights, but it was too expensive and could not be used for business meetings.

The use of telephony, which would have been ideally suited for such meetings, was difficult to implement since the picture quality was low and it was difficult to compress the size of video for transmission. Finally, in the 1980's, digital technology made it possible to use telephony for videoconferencing. This was done over the Internet in the 1990's, and services such as NetMeeting and Skype allowed people to communicate remotely.

The Basics

Systems for videoconferencing consist of input and output devices for both audio and video as well as a channel for data transfer (usually the Internet). Cameras, computer monitors, microphones, and speakers are often sufficient to conduct a successful videoconference. A company that conducts only occasional videoconferences may be outfitted with a desktop system, which consists mainly of several add-ons to its existing computer systems.

The business that has more frequent videoconferences, however, may want to consider a dedicated system used solely for these meetings, which is more advanced than a desktop system. This is more costly though, and the equipment may be more complex.

Saving Money is Good

Video conferencing has numerous attractions. It is more cost effective today than it has previously been, with high-speed Internet and hardware prices falling. Often times it is a much more budget-friendly option than traveling to conduct meetings. Many different software options are available, so a company can pick and choose what it needs.

Video conferencing makes it possible for employees in different offices to have quick meetings or ones without much advance notice; this is especially attractive to companies with multiple locations. Often, individuals do not even have to leave their desks to attend the meetings. The technology has also made it possible for many to telecommute and work from home.

Online networks have even begun to use videoconferencing, allowing businesses to more quickly and easily form relationships with others. Banking industries, for example, have taken advantage of this. Companies can even conduct interviews with potential employees, allowing for many of the pros of an in-person interview while maintaining the flexibility of a phone interview.

Do I Hear the Other Shoe Dropping?

There are several shortcomings that need to be considered, however. As hinted at previously, videoconferencing systems can be quite complex, so expertise may be needed to set them up. These systems may also be quite expensive, so it is necessary to consider how useful they will be to the company before spending a large sum of money on them. Also, a successful videoconference requires not just one, but both locations to have access to high-speed Internet.

But perhaps the largest issues that many have with video conferencing are matters of personal comfort: eye contact and self-consciousness. In terms of the former, while eye contact is absent from normal telephone communication, many find that it is uncomfortable in a video conference which can give the appearance that the participant is avoiding eye contact since his or her focus is often on the screen, not the camera. To compensate for this, some systems have cameras located in the center of the screen.

As for the latter issue, many people, used to typical telephone communication, are not yet accustomed to having their appearance captured and sent remotely. This, however, is likely to become less of an issue as video conferencing is more widely used.

Video conferencing is an application of various technologies that can be of great use to many businesses. Not only can meetings be conducted more easily, but also other events, such as networking and interviewing, can be made much easier. Video conferencing is not without its drawbacks, but as people become more accustomed to this method of communication, and as technology advances further and becomes less expensive, many of these issues will diminish or completely disappear. For now, it may still be a cost effective and flexible way for people to meet and discuss important issues for the company.

If you're thinking of using videoconferencing in your business, you may want to talk to a telecom management professional. They can help you find what is best for your business and assist in its implementation.

Nermine Shaker is a Partner at THE SYGNAL GROUP, a telecom consulting firm that offers telecom expense management, telecom auditing and VoIP management to businesses of all sizes. Find out how to lower your telecom expenses at www.SygnalGroup.com/ or visit our blog at www.TelecomExpertise.com/

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