The New Way of Teleconferencing

by : Julie Drake Of Jewel Technology Services, Inc.

2005 is well underway. It is hard to believe where this countryhas come with advances in technology assisting businesspractices. In the good old days meeting with a branch officemeant packing up the entire management staff and traveling tomeet with other personnel in the remote city. During thenineties video and audio conferencing came on the scene.However, video conferencing required expensive equipment andline services to operate. Audio conferencing was also pricey asmost companies offering the service were the carriers who couldcharge a lot for their elite service.

In the late nineties audio conferencing companies began toemerge, making it more affordable for the small to medium sizedbusiness to take advantage of audio conferencing. However, manybusiness owners still felt hampered by this type ofcommunication. While audio conferencing did eliminate the needfor excessive travel expenses, improved the sound quality of amultiple person conference and created a way that remote workerscould stay in touch, there was still a missing link. Thatmissing link was the ability to share documents or better yet,perform a live presentation with multiple conferenceparticipants.

Thus a new trend was born called "web collaboration". This isusually performed combining a minimum of audio conferencing andweb conferencing. By using this tool conference participants notonly have a means of hearing all members of the conference butsharing in data applications at the same time. The other itemthat can be incorporated by many services is video conferencingalong with the other two media (audio and data). This newbusiness tool has been driven by a market where businesses areincreasing their global presence plus entering into morebusiness partnering and sub-contracting relationships. The otherfactor making web collaboration a reality is that bandwidthrequirements are not as excessive as they were several yearsago. Many audio/web conference users simply need a minimum 56Kconnection and a phone line to effectively use the collaborativeconferencing services. If a video conference is desired there isno longer a need to set up special dedicated lines or purchaseexpensive monitor equipment. The users need a simple,inexpensive PC camera.

There are many similarities to a worker's day that crossvertical markets. Day to day business functions of most officeworkers combine inter-personal communication (research, creatingand absorbing information obtained) and personal interactionwith other professionals (communications, collaboration,decision making). With the use of multi-media conferencingservices allows those two types of functions to merge together.Using the various tools a worker can perform research and absorbinformation presented via video or web placement of documentswhile at the same time communicate and collaborate on actionitems and ultimately resolutions to projects. This collaborationassists in quick decision making, many times affecting theoutcome of a project.

In order to ensure that the technology is implemented properly,a manager must choose a service that best matches their currentbusiness needs but also provides flexibility to grow into thedifferent types of services offered. Not to mention test theservice for user-friendliness. If the service is not easy to useor flexible in its scheduling and media choices, then any hopefor productivity gain is a mute point. A service should bechosen that combines audio, web and video services in onesession, but also flexible enough that the business can elect touse only one of the media if desired and not be charged for theother options during that specific call. For instance, abusiness may not always need the web tool for a meeting whereaudio only would be sufficient. The log-in should provide quickaccess to all features, allowing a user to join via web ortelephone interface. The service should also be flexible in itsscheduling opportunities. Look for a service that allows usersto call in and achieve space on an as needed basis. This willhelp with emergency meeting productivity allowing those crucialdecisions to have the collaboration needed while at the sametime maximizing the turn around of that needed action.

Another benefit to using an off-site conferencing center is theability to archive meetings. Many times key committee or projectmembers cannot be present. Instead of those participants simplygetting a type written synopsis of the meeting in the minutes,they can listen in real-time to the entire meeting and view thepresented material on the web at the same time. In 2003 44% ofsurvey respondents stated that they planned on increasing theirparticipation in web conferencing by 100% in the first 6 months.Other companies that had already made this a standard businesspractice were experiencing one month ROI from reduced travel,increased productivity and quicker decision making ability.

Many business managers and owners do not see how the companythey are serving can benefit from this type of service. Listedbelow are several examples of how companies have found successwith this application: Example 1: A Boston executivehad a team of employees in New York. Before utilizing aconferencing service he was traveling to New York from Bostononce a week. Now that the team is able to meet every week viathe audio/web/video conference they have reduced that meeting toonce a month. This eliminated approximately $2,000.00 per month.A nationwide PR firm uses the technology to collaboratewith their own in-house teams, but also to conduct clientprogress meetings during a marketing campaign. This allows themto have "face to face" contact with the client but eliminate thetravel cost FOR THE CLIENT. The meetings are still productivebecause they can share files real-time. Each participant seesthe product slick, new logo, or other applicable material andagain decisions are made on the spot. They no longer have towait for e-mail passes and yay's or nay's on an action item.A business consulting firm uses this type of service toconduct mini seminars with prospective and current clients.These seminars are recorded for future viewing to allow thosethat miss out an opportunity to connect and learn at their ownschedule.

In short, business managers and owners need to be thinkingoutside of the box to attract, maintain and better serve theircustomers. Today, web conferencing is emerging as afeature-rich, cost-effective tool for many businessapplications. Each business should assess its' businesspractices to determine if multi-media conferencing can be usedto increase productivity and make a positive impact on customerservice and ultimately the bottom line in 2005. It may be justwhat is needed to soar into the next year.