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Communicate over land and 'see.' Videoconferencing could save your company thousands.

Videoconferencing is making a steady march into the boardrooms and desktop computers of corporate America. As budget-minded companies and executives look to reduce travel costs and enhance communication with clients and colleagues, videoconferencing is becoming a key interactive business tool.

Just as the conference call became a staple of corporate America in the 1980s, the videoconference is making similar headway by allowing business-people tO see and hear-one another while sharing important data and charts. A recent study, conducted by the Pelorus Group in Raritan, New Jersey, determined that videoconferencing use among U.S. companies will increase by more than 150% within five years.

While video conferencing makes sense for some firms, it's a useless budget buster for others. Videoconferencing falls into two major categories: boardroom and desktop. Boardroom conferencing has been around the longest, and typically is of higher quality but more expensive. Boardroom systems, which cost $20,000-$60,000 to equip, can accommodate as many as l0 participants at one site and may have several high-quality cameras for different functions, such as data and graphics display.

Most companies use videoconferencing for employee training and orientation and one-on-one communication. Shareholder and board meetings, screening potential employees and communicating with the far-flung parts of an organization, such as branch offices, are other uses.

Sales, marketing and video depositions (where a lawyer based in one city can conference widh an attorney giving a deposition in another town) are also popular. Typically, firms with large, diverse organizations tend to be the best candidates for ongoing videoconferencing, but almost any organization can make use of the technology on a case-by-case basis.

"If you're trying to coordinate the efforts of marketing, legal and personnel departments with your research and manufacturing facilities, bringing chose folks together is obviously very costly," notes Michael Sullivan, director of research for the Pelorus Group. "By going through a videoconferencing connection, they have immediate access to everybody who is involved in a specific project."

Desktop systems typically cost $1,000-$3,000, not including the personal computer, and have a fixed camera. A key advantage of the desktop system is chat the image of the person who is conferencing can be displayed along with data, spreadsheets, reports and charts on the computer screen and shared simultaneously with the other participants. The Color QuickCam from Connectix offers companies a low-cost videoconferencing alternative. (For more information, see "The Littlest Video Camera," Techwatch, this issue.)

"Now moderate-sized companies are investing in video because they see it as an added productivity tool and also a way to be up-to-date," says Torsten Oberst, director of new product development for Access Conference Call Service in Reston, Virginia, which helps companies deploy videoconferencing.

Businesses that don't want, or can't afford, to buy their own videoconferencing equipment, can find videoconferencing centers in most metropolitan areas. The centers rent equipment, typically for about $250-$300 an hour. Earlier this year, Hilton Hotels added videoconferencing networks at its locations in Atlanta, Washington, Hawaii, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

The cost of buying or leasing videoconferencing services depends on the speed and quaky of the connection and the number of functions and enhancements. Videoconferencing supply companies say no prescribed formula exists to justify costs. Solutions need to be considered depending on the organization's needs. However, executives who used to spend two days traveling to and from an important, but brief, meeting, can now have a virtual presence without leaving the office.
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Title Annotation:Techwatch
Author:Greene, Marvin V.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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