KUALA LUMPUR--One of Malaysia's largest regional banks, CIMB Group, has deployed telepresence technology in the four Southeast Asian countries in which it operates, as part of the company's efforts to improve its productivity and cut costs.
Speaking to local media here Monday, Iswaraan Suppiah, head of group information and operations at the CIMB Group, said the bank in April completed its implementation of Cisco Systems' telepresence suite in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and the system has been in operation for two months.
He said the main driver for the deployment of telepresence in the CIMB Group was the need for regional integration.
Suppiah explained: "CIMB has presence in these four countries and our aim in using telepresence is to ensure our regional centers can communicate more effectively with each other so that we can improve productivity and cut traveling and other logistical costs."
He revealed that the CIMB Group initially utilized the system for about 160 hours per month but this figure has since increased to 600 hours.
Asked how much cost savings and increased productivity the telepresence deployment has helped yield, Suppiah said it was still too early to quantify as it has only been two months.
"We believe it's a significant amount," he said. "Just take myself for example. I used to travel to meet my regional heads once a quarter. But today, I can have weekly meetings with them and whenever issues crop up. The savings I alone attained from logistics cost is a sizable amount so just imagine what can be saved if more people were on it."
He added that regional projects undertaken by CIMB could also be shortened. "Now that telepresence is in use, we expect a regional credit system implementation between Malaysia and Thailand to take nine months instead of 14 months," he said.
Currently, the main departments that utilize the telepresence suite are the CEO's office, the group finance department and the regional integration and steering committee. The suite is also used for project meetings, contract negotiations and board meetings, Suppiah added.
The implementation cost 9 million ringgit (US$2.8 million) spanning four countries, he said, noting that CIMB expects to recoup its investment in two years.
Previous system unreliable
Prior to deploying Cisco's telepresence suite, Suppiah said the bank used a basic video conferencing system which its employees found cumbersome and unreliable.
Staff often experienced frequent drop calls and frozen video frames and the overall experience was not pleasant, he said.
"But with the new telepresence suite in place, many of the bank's executives want to travel less and instead have more meetings on it," he noted. "With telepresence, the participants get a real sense of being in the same room together but without having to travel."
The CEO can also speak directly with regional employees without having to go through regional heads, helping to foster better ties between upper management and staff, he added.
Asked to highlight lessons CIMB learnt from the deployment process, Suppiah said: "Enterprises thinking of implementing such a system must first evaluate what their needs are and whether the technology would benefit them directly.
"Telepresence also should not be confused with video conferencing as the two have very different experiences, and companies will need to decide what's best for them based on their individual needs," he said.
Anne Abraham, Cisco Malaysia managing director, noted that the market for telepresence in the country is bright, with other verticals apart from the banking industry expected to adopt the technology in the coming year.
"CIMB is the first in the banking industry to adopt this technology but we believe other banks will follow CIMB's cue, as they begin to realize the benefits in store for them," Abraham said, adding that the public sector and telcos, for instance, are also expected to adopt telepresence soon.
Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.