Telepresence and the branch

* Telepresence can provide more advancement opportunity for branch office employees

Telepresence systems, which rely upon high-definition video, high-speed networks, and wall-size video screens, create a meeting environment that feels like everyone is in the same room. Verizon Business last week announced a telepresence service with Polycom, joining a growing list of vendors who are offering products in this space.

Nemertes has been discussing this and other virtual-workplace technologies with nearly 100 IT executives during the past three months. It’s clear that telepresence is gaining the attention of global enterprises.

One of the biggest drivers is the business case. Despite the fact that these enterprises are spending about $500,000 per room, the IT leaders consistently say that the rooms will pay for themselves within one year if they reduce their international travel by 2% to 5%. The big difference between telepresence and traditional ISDN-based or even newer IP-based videoconferencing networks is that the quality of telepresence is notably better. That means executives will use it, and it doesn’t take too many first-class international flights start seeing some significant cost savings.

So why am I writing about this in the branch office column? Let me be clear: I do not expect organizations to invest $500,000 or even half that, to equip branch offices with telepresence (unless there is some compelling reason unique to that particular site). But I do expect it to affect those who work in branch offices, and ultimately drive adoption of the technology in at least some percentage of the sites.

I expect we’ll quickly see global enterprises deploy telepresence rooms in regions where it makes financial sense. In heavy-business areas, they’ll likely deploy more than one telepresence center.

Branch office employees will then travel to one of these centers, rather than to another country, for meetings. In other cases, they’ll get opportunities to participate in meetings they otherwise would not have. Perhaps it would have been too cost-prohibitive to physically bring them to the meeting site—but it’s not cost-prohibitive to bring them to the telepresence room.

From a behavioral and organizational standpoint, employees reduce the amount of travel, so employees; productivity improves. And, those working at branch locations have more chances for promotions - even to high-levels of an organization. Their superiors will see them and hear them more because they’ll be able to participate in the meetings using this technology.

Next time, I’ll discuss how this technology will then penetrate even deeper into the enterprise. In the meantime, let me know what you’re organization is doing with this technology by writing to

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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