Why hasn't telepresence taken off?

Telepresence is one of Forrester's Top 15 technology trends to watch ... so why hasn't it taken off in the enterprise? Henry Dewing explains.
Written by Henry Dewing, Contributor

In his report, “The Top 15 Technology Trends EA Should Watch: 2011 To 2013Gene Leganza names telepresence as a tech trend to watch.  42% of respondents to the August 2010 Tech Trends survey said telepresence would have a strong impact over the next two years.  Why? Because telepresence deliver life like video across distances, making telepresence meetings as similar to live meetings as possible when participants can’t get together face to face – and in today’s economic situation companies continue to trim travel budgets and look for economies wherever they can.  Many clients I have spoken with have paid for their telepresence deployments in under a year, and others have touted significant business gains from being able to meet more often and more effectively  with a wider cross-section of experts, decision makers and other stakeholders.  With this significant value statement, telepresence seems like an obvious choice so why has it not taken off?  The answerer is simple and lies in Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network grow exponentially with the number of endpoints connected. When companies can only meet over telepresence among themselves, the value of their telepresence investment is effectively capped.  Applying Metcalfe’s law to telepresence has led industry heavyweights like AT&T, BT, Tata and others to invest in the ability to interconnect telepresence studios on different company networks, building telepresence exchanges that unlock a near infinite number of new telepresence meeting opportunities.  The ability to talk to customers and suppliers, as well as partners, greatly increases the value of telepresence to companies that invest in it.  The maturation of these exchanges will drive the value of telepresence high enough so that more companies will eb able to invest in the technology.  One need not look far today for the proof points from large company deployments – for example:

  • Proctor and Gamble uses telepresence to improve collaboration and communications, to drive greater creativity, and to enable them to innovate faster and more efficiently than their competitors.
  • Georgetown University credits telepresence with enabling them to provide a quality educational experience to students on the Qatar campus of their School of Foreign Service
  • Lazard Limited used telepresence systems in 6 global offices to save over three million dollars in travel expenses, while allowing the firm’s rainmakers to generate many times that figure in incremental revenue.

Each of these examples get more effective when inter-company communications are added –collaborating with customers to innovate new consumer products, including guest lecturers from their own classrooms, or negotiating financial terms with clients half way around the world.  Within the next 2 years, global telepresence exchanges that enable multiple enterprise networks, using different telepresence technology vendors, to communicate simply will significantly increase the impact of, and demand for, telepresence solutions.  Telepresence vendors are also addressing the time zone issue by offering home telepresence solutions for executives that must meet with business partners half way around the globe at an hour when they cannot be at the office in the corporate telepresence suite.

The formulation for Metcalfe’s Law is generally credited to technologist George Gilder, but the idea began with Robert Metcalfe and formed the basis for his assessment of the value of Ethernet – a technology on which he and three other Xerox scientists were the original patent holders

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