To Go Green, Make Videoconferencing Affordable

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
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To Go Green, Make Videoconferencing Affordable

Today's Globe and Mail newspaper has a great article written by Joanna Pachner on videoconferencing as a green technology. The article cites a December, 2008, report on "green IT" from Gartner Inc. points out that in some organizations, such as large global consultancies, business travel can produce nearly 50 per cent of the company's total greenhouse gas emissions. 

The story cited how noted Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki began substituting videoconferencing for travel when he realized how much emissions he was causing. That a round trip from Toronto, Ontario to London, England "spews a [metric] tonne of carbon into the atmosphere". 

Suzuki has been doing videoconferencing from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, BC, where he is based. And beginning in December the David Suzuki Foundation, which he formed, will install Cisco's TelePresence that gives high-end 'being there' functionality.
"When I saw TelePresence," Suzuki told the newspaper, "the illusion was very real. The people seemed to be right there. Now I turn down 95 per cent of [travel] requests."

Yet while e-footprints coupled with high travel costs plus congestion, security and health concerns have boosted videoconferencing purchases--150,000 to 200,000 videoconference rooms per year-- Gartner analyst Scott Morrison told the paper "business videoconferencing adoption has lagged behind the hype." 

The high-end [high/senior level business travel-competitive] immersive systems like TelePresence are only a niche success, said the analyst. As of the end of 2008, only 2,200 rooms had been installed by clients globally.

"Cost is a major reason. A TelePresence room costs an average of $200,000, but that's just a start. Add dedicated high-end networks needed to transmit the video, plus the ongoing maintenance and services of a technician on call, and companies can expect to pay $600,000 per room over a four-year period, Mr. Morrison estimates."

Another reason is the age-old tech bugaboo of incompatible systems. This is more of an issue with telepresence than with standard if marginally lower quality videoconferencing units. 

Says a special report on videoconferencing that appeared in the July, 2009 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions: "some of these high-end units utilize different codec technology to optimize performance. That means a firm or office with one vendor's telepresence system cannot communicate with another firm or office that uses a competing product without sacrificing performance.

"Some vendors say the lack of standards could hurt the market for telepresence," the story adds. "They liken it to 'going down to the cellphone store and given a choice of a Motorola or a Nokia or an Apple iPhone and being told one of those models can only talk to phones of the same make'. You may not buy one, they say 'because you don't know which ones your friends or colleagues have'. "

Sounds like the videoconferencing suppliers and customers and users need to get reality checks and come somewhere in the acceptable middle, just as what has been happening with cellphones, before this technology can truly take hold as a popular green solution. 

You can go for 'being there' but do you really need all the bells and whistles? Or is there a next-step-down quality level that gives what only videoconferencing can provide but at a lower cost and greater interoperability? 

As a longtime virtual worker I've found that I don't have any need for videoconferencing, but then again I'm a journalist and PR person that works in words: I can flesh out emotions from language. That is part of the answer too; limit videoconferencing to the high-end interactions, use audio/web conferencing for just-the-facts communications. IOW 'is the ability to see the zits and/or unwanted facial hair necessary'?

At the same time the suppliers need to get the message that 'ok, fat profit-per-sale-time is over, let's go for volume.' It is very nice to sell Lincolns but if you want to get the products on the road--and maximize total profits--you need to have and market Tauruses. 

There are signs that this is beginning to happen. The Globe and Mail story said that Cisco's recent purchase of videoconferencing supplier Tandberg is "partly in an effort to beef up its consumer and small-business share of video-conferencing." It also reported that "Hewlett-Packard [makers of the Halo telepresence system], meanwhile, has unveiled SkyRoom, a personal video-conferencing system that an HP executive said would cost less than a plane ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles."

The story reports that Gartner analyst Morrison increasingly sees firms making videoconferences an option within their travel-booking systems, with staff having to justify why a trip is necessary. That is music to the ears of environmentalist Suzuki.

"We haven't yet made that adjustment," he [Suzuki] says, "to looking at having people fly [to meet with you] as a luxury." But, he thinks, in time we'll be forced to."

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