Telepresence revolutionizes video conferencing

This solution session at Orange Business Live 2010 focused on the evolution of video conferencing in the shape of telepresence. According to Michael Burrell, Orange Business Service solutions marketing, old technology and hard to use systems meant that video conferencing never really fulfilled its promise, and on average companies only saw around 5% utilization of their video conferencing systems. But Burrell says this is all changing and the arrival of new technology and business demands has sparked a renaissance in video.

On the business front there has been a perfect storm in drivers for video conferencing. These include reduction in carbon footprint, travel and energy costs. Also disasters and pandemics have made it very difficult to travel. For example, the H1N1 pandemics shut Mexico City for a few days, and in April, the Icelandic volcano shut European airspace was for six days with over 100,000 flights cancelled.

On the technology side, the arrival of telepresence has changed the experience of videoconferencing and the uptake of high-definition equipment amongst consumers is driving down the cost of telepresence systems. Telepresence offers improved face to face contact, better audio and ease of use and allows businesses to both substitute physical meetings and enhance collaboration throughout the organisation.

To illustrate the use of Telepresence, two Orange customers Marc Tholler from Accenture and Jordan Miller from AXA tech shared their experience with Telepresence.

Miller said that AXA Tech was an early adopter of telepresence. It had problems with video conferencing with on 4.5% utilisation of its systems. Telepresence revolutionised its video usage and it now has 60% utilisation over all its 34 rooms, with some of them over 100%. It decided not to link its Telepresence systems to its legacy systems so that it could keep a consistent quality of service across its entire video estate.  Telepresence has been so successful, that it is putting another 20-25 systems by end of the year.

Tholler said that Accenture chose Telepresence to support its business structure, which is a network of different companies with no headquarters per se. Whenever a C-level executive is appointed they don't go to headquarters because there isn't one. They are rarely even in the same country at same time. They did link the Telepresence systems to other video conferencing equipment, because they wanted to open up video conferencing to home workers. In addition Accenture used Telepresence to keep its young workforce engaged.

A question from the floor asked how the two companies could accurately judge the travel expenses saved with Telepresence. Miller said that its booking system asks two questions: are you going to the meeting? And would you have travelled to the meeting? This will give them actual travel saved, which in AXA Tech's case is around 28 million kilometres or 3000 trips. It based its business case on analysing travel budgets and the cost of meetings per hour.

Of course, Telepresence isn't just about travel avoidance, it can also enable new applications. Accenture said that it now uses Telepresence for recruiting for all types of positions because it is much more efficient than a conference call allowing recruiters to see body position and show potential recruits that they are technology innovators. Orange also said that another customer was using Telepresence to show its experts based in India to customers.

Later in the day, Orange Business demonstrated the latest in technology with a 3D telepresence system speaking to a customer in Canada and the R&D labs. Incredible stuff.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.