Videoconferencing is starting to gain traction among companies beyond replacing business travel as there are additional benefits to be had. However, the technology will not completely replace face-to-face meetings as there is still a need for human interaction, industry players said.
Nicolas Domeyko, general manager for telepresence at Cisco Systems Asia-Pacific and Japan, noted that many companies have expressed interest in using video communication technologies such as videoconferencing to replace business travel, while some have already implanted such tools.
He added that the financial savings gotten from reducing the number of business trips is a "low hanging fruit" for the technology.
Other benefits include the reduction of carbon footprint and attracting younger employees, he listed. The Gen Y employees, for example, are used to having video communications in their daily lives and have come to expect such technology at the workplace, too. By adopting videoconferencing, companies will be able to entice these younger workers to work for them, Domeyko said.
Peter Quinlan, vice president for integrated business video services at Tata Communications, gave credence to the Cisco executive's observations on saving on travels costs. The company, for one, reaped 27 percent savings from reducing executive travel in the first year of adopting telepresence, and 12 percent in the following year. Employees' travel expenditure also fell 10 percent, and carbon emission reduction dropped 39 percent, he added.
Collaboration is another benefit that videoconferencing brings, said Danny Mesrop, business solutions consultant for unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) at Verizon.
"Ensuring decisions are made quickly with the right people affects competitive advantage… [and] video helps employee and market communications," he asserted.
Getting user buy-in
Mesrop also said the use of videoconferencing is no longer limited to high-level executives for board meetings, or research and development teams across geographies. "What we see from our customer base today is that it is not just the executive, specialist or CEO that requires video. The democratization of video is applicable to everyone."
Domeyko had a different perspective, though. He said that user buy-in is still needed to boost adoption, instead of pushing the technology to users. This is why video communication technology has yet to cross the "tipping point" to mass adoption, he added.
He suggested IT departments engage business users and get them involved in terms of testing out the proposed videoconferencing technology. Most people would be "excited" to participate, and companies can then work out the kinks based on the users' feedback, he said.
Quinlan added that users who have had bad experiences with the technology should give it another chance.
"The technology is now easy to use, and the quality has reached a level where it really can serve as an adequate substitute for a face-to-face meeting," he assured.
Videoconferencing not for all
That said, videoconferencing services will "never" replace business travel but act as a secondary source for face-to-face meetings, noted Domeyko,
Organizations that ZDNet Asia spoke to appear to corroborate the point made by the Cisco executive, too.
Randell Jesup, principal software engineer at Mozilla Corporation, said videoconferencing will not replace all travel, although the technology is useful and efficient for follow-up meetings.
"The technology doesn't replace the synergy of getting a bunch of people in a room or conference occasionally, and initial meetings can be useful in person, especially when interacting with people outside the company," he said.
Another business user, Jeff Richardson, partner at Bottom Line Consortium, also said the company has yet to replace business travels entirely, although it has "significantly embraced videoconferencing".
"In our experience, an initial face-to-face meeting is mandatory to establish the trust and understanding needed to start a business relationship. After that, most, or about 75 percent, of the follow-up meetings work extremely well using videoconferencing," he stated.
Mihir Nayak, owner of India-based Mitaroy Goa Hotel, however, said the "old-fashioned" method of flying to meet up with business associates still worked best for him.
"E-mail didn't work because very few people replied to my messages despite the fact that I had met them before. Video conferencing via Skype was difficult due to time differences. Also, videoconferencing as a concept is not common in India, or Europe for that matter, according to my experience," he explained.
"Maybe I'm old fashioned. But at the moment, I find business meetings are best done face to face," Nayak added.