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Dispelling Teleconferencing Myths and a Look at Its Brighter Future.

Elliot Gold has a thing about teleconferencing. First as a user, and now as a consultant and newletter publisher, he's been one of the industry's biggest boosters for nearly a decade. Yet, he's also a realist, acknowledging that teleconferencing can't be all things to all people. Gold can point to cases where teleconferencing simply can't be justified, but then he can cite 10 times as many as cases where it can, and work extremely well.

He also likes to dispel what he calls the "myths" of teleconferencing, particularly the one that says it should be used primarily as a means for saving travel costs. It can do that, of course, but that shouldn't be the driving force for installing a system, he says. Gold likes to point to the early days of videoconferencing, in the 1970s during the oil embargo, when it was described as a means for saving energy by replacing travel. "There were desperate attempts to exchange barrels of oil for electrons," he says. Back then, the National Science Foundation predicted that as much as 20 percent of business travel could be displaced by teleconferencing.

"Teleconferencing isn't just for replacement of travel," emphasizes Gold, noting that reading books wasn't replaced by radio, radio wasn't replaced by TV, TV wasn't replaced by other video technologies. Teleconferencing, quite simply, he says, "is for holding certain types of meetings that couldn't be held by any other means."

In fact, he adds, his former employer, NASA, found that even though it used teleconferencing very heavily, travel to scientific meetings kept rising. NASA found that people who used teleconferencing the most also travel the most. Teleconferencing simply was a useful supplement to meetings.

Gold comes from a background in mathematics and sociology. He did undergraduate work in mathematics with a minor in mechanical engineering and computer science, and ended up at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for about 15 years. NASA has been heavily involved in teleconferencing since the Apollo days, and has extensive audio and facsimile networks for coordinating activities between its dispersed centers and contractors. Elliot Gold became personally involved in teleconferencing for NASA in 1977.

During the next couple of years, he came to find that there was no central clearinghouse for information on teleconferencing. A study he conducted in December of 1980 found there were about 60 vendors of teleconferencing systems worldwide, and a growing number of users. Feeling strongly about the potential of the still-fledgling industry, he left NASA to form his own consulting firm early in 1981. He launched his TeleSpan newsletter in May 1981 and has been actively tracking teleconferencing industry activities ever since. A frequent trade show speaker and contributor of many articles, Gold has become a guru of teleconferencing. As a consultant, he has advised more than three dozen of the large producers of teleconferencing equipment and services.

Gold's Altadena, California-based firm also publishes the annual Definitive Buyer's Guide to Teleconferencing Products and Services, and just a few months ago, launched a new Telecommuting Review newsletter. The latter is an outgrowth of the peripatetic Gold's spending so much time on the road in pursuing teleconferencing activities. While on the move almost constantly and finding himself in airports and hotel rooms around the country, Gold is always in touch through the telephone and his personal computer. In fact, he's constantly shaking off little kids while at airport telephones, the ones who ask him what video game he's playing on that thing.

As an interesting sidelight, the telecommuting newsletter is edited by Gil Gordon, a consultant in Monmouth, New Jersey, and is written and published using the tools and techniques described each month in the newsletter. The editor and publishers have never met face to face--only electronically. Each month, Gordon writes the text and transmits it to TeleSpan's California office using SourceMail, the electronic mail service available on The Source data-base network.

CN Editor Don Wiley recently talked with Elliot Gold, discussing the teleconferencing industry--how it has developed, where it's at today and, in particular, where it's going.

CN Elliot, as you've pointed out on a number of occasions over the years, teleconferencing isn't a medium only for travel displacement, yet, for the most part, that's how it, particularly videoconferencing, has been promoted since its early days--the 1970s.

GOLD One of the real myths at that time was that video teleconferencing was for only interstate, long-haul communications. A study done in 1978 by the Institute for the Future of Menlo Park, California surveyed all of the permanently installed public teleconferencing rooms in North America (some 22 systems). What they found was that the majority of video systems were for local communications. They identified Liberty Mutual Insurance, which has Picturephone Meeting Service-type rooms in Boston and Portsmouth. They found that several BOCs, which at that time were still tied together with AT&T, had systems around their state that were connecting sites that were like an hour apart. What they found was that it was as difficult to get down in the elevator, find their car in the parking lot, get out of the parking lot and maneuver around the city streets and do the opposite when they got there for the meeting as it was to go to the airport.

So we found that one of the myths about video teleconferencing systems being only for long-haul was indeed a myth; that there may be more need for videoconferencing for short-haul than for long-haul. The thing that's interesting to me is that the people who read your magazine know that better than anyone else, because they know that about telephone communications. If you look at the distribution of telephone calls, the shorter the haul, the denser it gets. CN Isn't that what the DEMS (Digital Electronic Messaging Services) carriers have been going after, too? GOLD I think the classic study was done by Xerox when they developed the XTEN concept in the late 1970s. Xerox planners found they would make more money if they looked at the last mile and offered communications around the city using microwave or radio distribution than if they went long-haul. And that's been replicated in the DEMS services that fell out of that licensing.

So that myth, hopefully, has been ended. They felt they had to go with the long-haul, and that wasn't true, either. They also felt that if you made a system that was "magnetic" in its ambience--that if it was tastefully decorated, that it had nice soft sheers and nice full-color pictures on large monitors--that people would be physically, psychologically attracted to the rooms to use them. That's just not true at all. Because a teleconferencing room is down the hall, or down the elevator or across the campus from somebody's office does not mean they will go use it. It is not in itself an attraction, because all it is is a meeting; an electronic meeting, but after a few electronic meetings, it turns into a regular meeting. It loses its "sizzle." They'll use it only if it does something for the people.

So what you found was that the most-successful systems in the beginning were those that were linking people together who were closely tied geographically.

CN So a "glamorous" room doesn't necessarily contribute to a successful system?

GOLD It's been found that even though you made the room very pretty, that wasn't an attraction. But what we learned in the work of the people at the Institute for the Future and others around the world was that you had to match the teleconferencing system to the culture of the company. A lot of your readers represent technical companies, companies that I've visited. When you go to a company that's technically oriented, that has rolled-up sleeves, what you find is that they have highly used teleconferencing systems with cables dangling all over the place. Because that's what their labs look like; that's what their home stereo system looks like. That's what they understand. They like to tinker. If you go into an insurance company, you don't see that at all. Everything's hidden. We had to learn that. We had to learn that when you install a system you had to cater to the culture of the organiation.

Where we are today is that we have found that full-motion video may not be the top of the line. Everyone felt that that would be the most-prestigious, the most-magnetic form of teleconferencing.

CN Wouldn't that be because that's what people are most accustomed to seeing on their home TV sets?

GOLD That's right; people expect that. But what we found is that the system that helps you get your work done and makes you a hero is the one that's attractive. And we find that when you examine the statistics very carefully, if you account for all of the teleconferences that are held in the country--defined as conference calls all the way through full-motion video--well over 90 percent of the meetings are audio only. The most-frequent form of teleconferencing, we believe, is the PBX-initiated conference call--the three-way calls, the add-on calls.

CN What about audiographic-type systems?

GOLD We found that we went through an era between about 1975 and just about a year ago where we were convinced that there had to be stand-alone audiographic devices that occupied space on the desk, dedicated to the conference room, and provided the interaction. It turned out they were very expensive and had drawbacks. For example, you're talking about $10,000 per room just for the equipment. And that's all it would do. If you wanted to go to a freeze-frame system--what I prefer to call captured-frame video, slow-scan technology--prices can range from approximately $10,000 all the way up to $100,000 for a fully installed, full-blown system.

One of the problems we found was that people walked into the room expecting video like they saw at home, and it got the bad name of being of poor man's videoconferencing system. It was actually a very skilled, finely tuned graphics system that allowed you to take a camera and point it at anything--a document, a Vugraph, a three-dimensional object. Where it was used that way was very effective. IBM has one of the largest, if not the largest, worldwide networks of freeze-frame rooms. They use it to support their engineers and their product people who need to look at products and project-planning documents. It's used very heavily within IBM.

CN Obviously that works very well for such meetings, such as looking at engineering drawings. But what about the CEOs who want the full-motion videoconferences?

GOLD That's right, they request that. What's interesting is that one of the most-successful systems, with the longest run of success, is the Bank of America executive audioconferencing system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Weekly meetings are held by the very-senior staff of BofA. Video is beginning to be used by executives around the country and around the world, and as prices come down I think we'll migrate over to that. But you're right. It has been difficult to convince executives that there are these other forms of teleconferencing. We have found that teleconferencing--regardless of the fact that over 90 percent of the meetings are audio, regardless that audio is the cheapest and has the highest utility in the sense that it takes advantage of the public switched network--has always been perceived as video. In 1980 and 1981, two very important things happened in the area of video. One was that the FCC deregulated the installation of television receive-only earth stations (TVROs).

The second thing is that major engineering firms, including NEC in Japan, Compression Labs in the US, and companies in Europe such as GEC, began looking very seriously at compressed video. They looked at the research that had been done by NASA and by others and looked toward producing a product. NEC, of course, had a product on the market for quite some time, although its high data rate--one of 6.2 megabits down to 3.1--means it's a T2 or a pair of T1s if you go to 3.1; that was very expensive. So people began to say, in the digital area, let's come up with a T1 codec; let's converge on that twisted pair and bring T1 into your building, converging on the standard telephony channels.

Concerning the deregulation of TVROs, the FCC in effect said, "Hey, if you want to try and get the signal, go ahead. We won't worry about it, and you won't even have to tell us. It's your risk. If you want to blast it up, if you want tou uplink it, then you have to talk to us." Holiday Inns said, "Hey, this is an interesting opportunity for us." They looked at the emergence of Home Box Office, and Holiday Inns said the next step in their evolution from TVs, to color TVs would be to satellite-delivered movies by HBO. Holiday Inns was a real pioneer and said to the world that they were going to have daytime business meetings at their hotels called teleconferences. At about the same time Holiday Inns began deploying its network, called Hi-Net, another company by the name of VideoStar Connections in Atlanta said they were going to do that too, and go to the up-scale hotels.

We found that the industry created by those two companies started growing at the same time as the other industry, which was being dominated by NEC America and CLI, began looking at two-way interactive digital. One was analog, one was digital, one was one-way, one was two-way. Both industries have emerged on their own, and provided an interesting solution to different problems. The one-way video market has grown at a faster rate, at a compounded rate of over 60 percent per year since 1980. During 1984, there were about 500 meetings that were one-way video broadcasts.

What we found is that companies like the feel of high-quality video, that which their middle-level and below people see at night when they go home. You can book large meetings in hotels and public broadcast studios and even bring them to your own company to see very important presentations--training, new-product introductions, press conferences and so on--through this magic medium of video that we're all accustomed to. It gives a very crystal-clear picture to a large audience.

CN Have the Hi-Nets and others serving the lodging industry somewhat negated the need for private corporate video systems?

GOLD My feeling is that the use of the one-way has actually begun to sap some of the interest in the two-way digital. I strongly believe that and will give you a darn good argument for that case. First let me go back to the two-way, and then I'll show you how that's actually occurred. The T1 codecs emerged in the fall of 1981, with CLI showing off in its San Jose labs the very first T1 codec in the United States, at a price of $150,000. The next month, NEC America showed off its codec, and quickly dropped its price, which had ranged up to $230,000 for the same device. NEC was shipping, CLI was not. The price was fairly high. So let's say the price was between $150,000. Transmission, to go across the country at that time using a tariffied channel from AT&T for Picturephone Meeting Service, was about $2,000 per hour. You could lease a T1 full-time from one of several carriers, but you could end up paying close to a million dollars a year. Since that time the price of a codec has dropped down to somewhere between $85,000 and $110,000, depending who you're buying from and how many. So we've dropped the price of the codec literally in half. The cost per hour for PMS, to use that as a milestone, has dropped twice. First they dropped down from two T1s to a single T1, so they were able to lower the cost, then they further reduced the rates, to where we're now at about 30 percent of what we were in the beginning.

There's a lot of competition in T1 because of deregulation--primarily directed toward corporations that want to ahve voice channels. T1s are almost a commodity, and indeed they're getting so low now that we're down to a price well below $400 per hour. And in bulk you can get them even cheaper than that; if you have full-time use you can amortize it. So the cost of the T1 channel itself has dropped a couple of times; now down to about a quarter of what it was in 1981.

Earth station equipment has dropped, too. And the cost of building rooms has dropped tremendously because we've learned a lot about them. Now you can go buy either a transportable room or one that is fabricated off premises from basic parts, then shipped and literally put together like a jigsaw puzzle. You can get them now for about $350,000. And depending on what kind of hardware you put in there, you can have a fully integrated room, with a codec, for anywhere from about $200,000 up to $500,000. Now you have that spread. So we've dropped the price of a room by almost four-fold.

CN So, all of these price reductions undoubtedly have been a major factor in spurring the growth of teleconferencing.

GOLD Now what we're doing is looking at the market and saying, "OK, folks, we've dropped the price of all of these things; what do you think?" And, indeed, a couple of things have happened. One is that corporations have begun to line up and buy into video teleconferencing. Indeed, in 1984, as many people bought into video teleconferencing, anyway you measure it, as did for the previous three years.

CN Back in August, in The Wall Street Journal, you were quoted as projecting a 50-percent increase in the number of teleconferencing buyers this year over last. Is that projection still on target?

GOLD That's still true. It depends on how you look at it. There's tremendously more interest than there was. We're seeing things like Sears, which has probably been the most dramatic announcement, with 26 rooms for Allstate alone; Xerox with a network that ultimately will go to about seven; Citibank with a similar network, maybe even going bigger; Arco building its up to about 11. We're seeing these large networks going in, and more and more companies are coming in.

CN Do you feel that too many people still see videoconferencing as a "Gee Whiz-type" technoogy, as something that's for the mythical "office of the future"?

GOLD I think there are some companies that are trying to get around that, but I think that there are a lot of people who feel that it's too expensive and too complicated. So in that way, yes, I agree that there are large corporations, and large pockets of potential users who feel that it's not in their cards right now. But the prices are coming down and there's a movement afoot to bring it way down with the 56-kilobit codecs. The trend we're on now is that the cost and the size of the channel--the bandwidth--is the problem, but let's folow that along for a minute. If that is indeed the problem--cost and complexity--then why don't we go to something that's like a telephone. Widcom, the first to demonstrate a 56-kilobit motion video codec with color, is kind of a manifestation of a trend today to try to drop it way down. We now have several startup companies, and companies worldwide that now have for delivery 56-kilobit motion codecs. One is NEC America and one is Widcom. They are saying to their business clients, "We will provide you with full connectivity." We're expecting a new public switched network at a data rate of 56 kilobits per second, provided by AT&T and other carriers and also the BOCs. I believe now that by the middle of 1986 we will have most major markets in the US tied together by a switched 56-kilobit circuit.

CN What does this mean for users?

GOLD It means that they're going to bring a channel that can be used many different ways in the office right to the office door, through a switched network. And they're also going to bring in a low-cost channel. What Widcom and the others who have jumped into that arena, such as PicTel, are banking on is a very large market based on the decrease in the cost and the ability to bring it right to the person's desk--almost a desktop picture telephone. The cost per minute for those calls, when you pull everything together, is going to be about 75 percent per minute, versus 25 to 30 cents per minute for voice. That's hard to beat! It allows everyone to begin to believe that if they won't have a Dick Tracy wristwatch, then they're going to have a picture telephone on their desk. So, if this is the case, what I believe these folks are trying to say is that everything the science fiction writers have been talking about--the residential videophone, the desk-top videophone--is coming back, from the annals of science fiction to the pages of The Wall Street Journal.

CN Or from AT&T's 1964 World's Fair introduction of Picturephone?

GOLD Precisely. The horrible pre-introduction of a technology in search of an audience. Nobody wanted it. There was a book written in 1973 called The Video Telephone based on some research by some folks at Cornell University, Dickson and Bowers. They went around and looked at the installations of the desktop Picturephone, and a couple of very funny things happened. First of all, it was an abysmal failure; there was just no reason to see somebody's picture when you were on a voice conversation. Two things stick in my memory. One is a classic example of a guy within Bell Labs who had a black-and-white photograph, in a frame on his desk, of his boss several levels up. When he was being interviewed by these two writers, they couldn't figure out what the picture was doing there. Well, when his videophone rang, he pointed the camera at that picture and then picked up the phone, which meant that the person at the other end saw, typically, a person who was many levels above them--and went speechless over the telephone. Then the guy would giggle and turn the camera toward him. It was used as a practical joke, a rather expensive practical joke. The other thing is that there was a guy who didn't like the Picturephone. So every time the phone rang, he stood up. Every time he did, all the other party saw was his beltbuckle.

There is a belief in this country and worldwide held firmly by the carriers, who have the most to profit, that the next best thing to a telephone is a video telephone. Nearly everybody watches television, and there are more television sets than toilets in the United States. Then why shouldn't there be as many video telephones on people's desks as there are telephones. Look at the market. Carriers could make a fortune with all of the bandwidth that would be consumed. So everyone thinks there's a market.

CN But you don't?

GOLD Well, I think it's an exciting prospect, but the question I raise, and the users are raising today, is, "Gee, that's great, but what am I going to use it for, and why?" What we've found is that video, although it's becoming popular in its two-way sense, is actually being under-used furnctionally. Television has an abundance of information, whether you look at it in analog, in digital or in reality, coming to you, can't even consume it all. But it makes people feel as if it's "warm and fuzzy." So I believe that we'll ultimately have a very big market in the area of video. We'll be driven there by the people who think it's the answer.

CN Let's get back to the one-way video area.

GOLD The one-way video people have found a real market niche. They have found that, indeed, people like the feel of video, and video is being used now by corporations to keep their company informed. There's now an emergence of what we here at TeleSpan call dedicated broadcast networks; that is, permanently installed networks of TVROs on organizational sites that allow them to receive as they wish, part-time or full-time, video signals from a satellite, broadcast from a central site within that organization. We are seeing companies like Merrill Lynch, AT&T-IS, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Texas Instruments, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and many other who are installing systems. What we see is a trend where companies buying both forms of video--the two-way and the one-way--will buy five to 10 times as many stations for the one-way as they will for the two-way. And indeed I think that that relationship will change, and the one-way will walk away by an order of magnitude.

I am aware of very large networks that are under examination right now where enormous procurements will be made next year for oneway video. IT's sismple, it's understandable. You just put a big antenna on you roof, and you go from coax there to wherever you want. I don't care how simple you make the switched 56-kilobit network, or how simple you make T1s, this is real simple stuff. Complexity makes money.

CN So what's in store for the two-way video-conferencing market, then?

GOLD We feel that what's going to happen is that there's going to be a leveling off of the two-way, although it'll be a sizable market. We think that the 56-kilobit will eventually overtake the T1s because of the connectivity, being able to put them anywhere--eventually you'll be able to pipe it through a PBX and around to the desk. Concerning the one-way, we're going to have so many of them and they're going to be so standardized that we're going to develop a business cable network. The smart guys are going to put together some business plans to develop specialized programming directed at daytime business people.

CN Such as the US Chamber of Commerce's BizNet?

GOLD BizNet is one of the first, and it's a classic example, and in the sense that they deliver a lot of daytime programming, as does the Catholic church through CTNA (Catholic Telecommunication Network of America), and others. I believe you're going to see these things all mixed together and you're going to find two or three primary courses taught daily to corporate America. You're going to see Accounting 101, you're going to see Engineering 101, you're going to see Project Management 101, and probably Employee Relations 101 brought to corporations every day because positions that require knowledge. I think there's an opportunity for communications managers to expand their realm.

CN What about the impact of the personal computer on teleconferencing?

GOLD Well somebody began to look at what people do at their desks. They write, they calculate, et cetera. Obviously what I'm leading to is that some people at Apple Computers about eight years ago said, "Gee, we can take the power of the microcomputer chip and put it on somebody's dest--either their home desk or their office desk--and we can provide them with all sorts of specialized products. And indeed, when IBM jumped into the market, it not only legitimatized the market, but created the standardization on an operating system and a chip set. Suddenly, the personal computer became very personal and very much a business tool, and began to be set down with increasing frequency on the desk near, but not too close to, the telephone. There was an attempt for a while to integrate the telephone with the personal computer, which I think makes sense, but for some reason hasn't taken off yet. I believe they ultimately will take off, but the direction we're going in is what your magazine has been showing us for a number of years. That is that we're going toward an integrated digital environment. We're going to begin, for economic reasons and for management purposes, to intergrate all of our communications needs, with either a public network or a private network. We're going to send information down the pipe that's coded--that is, being audio for voice, video for teleconferences, data for computers or for facsimile--and we're goind to pull it off at the other end and pipe it around where we want in a nice neat package. That's happening at the desk.

CN and, of course, there's a growing number of suppliers offering expansion cards for the PCs to broaden their applications.

GOLD what we saw in 1984 finally, and what we'll see more of, was the providers of teleconferencing begin to say, "Hey, there is this engine you can buy in a box from Boca Raton, Florida, and you can put that into a bigger box that has something else. For example, how about teleconferencing?" What we got in 1984 was about 12 manufacturers who looked at the IBM PC and its compatibles--they looked at the expansion slots in the back--and began to take teleconferencing and put it on a card, or series of cards. And you found Robot Research, IBM itself, Colorado Video, Racal-Milgo and others beginning to look at taking advantage of personal computer technology and audiographics technology and put it on an expansion board for PCs. They've dropped the price of the system by probably 60 percent, if you have that engine on your desk--and I have three or mine--you can put in a card and make it a freeze-frame system, or put in a card and make it into an audiographics system. Each of those systems will cost me about $3,000. Now when I get done adding everything, I may have a very expensive system, but right now on my desk--or it could be in a conference room-for $3,000 I can add one of the features that used to cost me $10,000. That's very interesting; you've got their attention now. So if there are millions of personal computers installed right now, that's heck of a market. It's not as big as telephones, but it's a lot bigger than the installed base of teleconferencing. Now you've got a target to go after. And indeed this is whats' happening. We have a whole concept now coming out of the microcomputer industry called video capture. AT&T recently introduced a card that you can put into the back of AT&T's 6300 PC to make it into a freeze-frame system. The software will probably be announced in 1985. IBM is working on a system that it's introduced in a limited market trial, although it's more complicated than that for a room.

CN What about the integration of text in a computer-based system?

GOLD What I think is going to happen is that people are going to start saying, "well wait, if we can integrate the telephone and put it on the side with an electronic Rolodex, and telephone accounting and a little bit of least-cost routing, and we can put a freeze-frame on there, what about messaging in general?" And indeed there's an announcement coming out of AT&T for Unified Messaging directed toward the System 85 PBX. What they're doing now is looking at the concept of taking what we've called teleconferencing and integrating it into a single workstation based on the new PC they're bringing out. These are going to be just features on a personal computer, networked by the System 85. AT&T, through AT&T Information Systems, is demonstrating that it's back to basics, floks--where's the communication in the office, where are the tools for communication in the office, where's the hub (it's the PBX), what's the data rate (it's up to 56 kilobits). What do these people do? They look at documents, they type them, they send them, they look at graphics. Suddenly the forecasts of five, 10 or 15 years ago of audiographics taking over are going to come tru. We're not going to call it audiographics; we're going to call it personal computer-based communications.

This all is aimed at the convergence of several important things. One is that there's a switched network that allows you to gain access to people anywhere they are. Another is the importance, or advantages, of video, either being a CRT display, an RGB monitor or an NTSC-quality television system. It is a very felxible way of inputting and displaying informationa. It's all goind to come together. One of the most interesting things we're seeing today, which is an early integration of the easy-to-use audio-based conferencing with voice mail. There was an interesting case study we ran across this past year, where Deere and Company began to use audioconferencing for its distributed sales force. Deere's sales force uses telephone booths and hotel rooms for their offices. The company found that they had to distribute competitive information to them daily, so that they could compete with International Harvester, Caterpillar Tractor and others. So they began holding a lot of audioconferences. Well, what they found was that if there was an emergency, or ad hoc, audioconference that needed to be held, how do you get the message to these people when you don't even know where they are? What they began to do is use the VMX system for voice mail, and told their salespeople to check their electronic mailbox once or twice a day. Deere began to broadcast store-and-forward voice messages to all of the salespeople--updates on the interest rate being charged, what International Harvester dropped its price to on such and such a tractor and so on. Deere has integrated the two.

I suspect that when you look at some of these new talking data bases, such as DEC-Talk, these are teleconferencing tools. If we believe that teleconferencing is a basic generic term--that is, interactive group communication through any electronic medium--then we open up our eyes and we begin to look at some very interesting relationships, most of them very simple. If a telephone works, there are things you can add onto it to make it work better. I believe what we're going to find is that the word teleconferencing will disappear on us, or it may become a definition for video only. The concept of teleconferencing is going to become what you've been covering in your magazine for 20 years. You're going to take the basics of communications and you're going to expand it to groups. You're going to do it because we tend to be working in groups more often. We tend to be more mobile. And we tend to have shorter times to make more critical decisions. The concept now of distributed work groups, where in order to get a competitive edge you need to bring those work groups together, can be done only through telecommunications. You can't bring them together physically very economically.

CN How should communications managers be evaluating teleconferencing?

GOLD I suggest that telecommunications managers should not think about saving a penny of travel. What they should think about is being competitive, think about the bottom line. Those poor folks get called by the senior VP above them every year for pennies to be squeezed out of their fingers, asking, "How much did you save in telecommunications costa this year?" And they say the least-cost routing system saved an additional two percent, or whatever. I would suggest that's nice for the corporation, but I would submit that it's nicer to be a hero and go up there and say "We were able to enter other markets.c

CN so you're talking about thinking in terms of using teleconferencing for competitive leverage in their businesses?

GOLD I wrote a paper about eight years ago on the fallacy of the telecommunications trade off, that in fact you could not save any travel through the use of teleconferencing. The last sentence said that it's going to take one company in each sector to learn that they can become more competitive through the use of teleconferencing, and the rest of them are going to have to follow or they'll be left behind.

CN What about international videoconferencing?

GOLD One of the inhibiting factors is that it's been difficult to hold international teleconferences. I think that's why you're seeing so much interest in the links to Europe, why standards are going to be so important, and why you're going to see things like Comsat, through its links with Intelsat, provide teleconferencing to Europe, and PanAmSat and Orion and others looking at full-range systems with video.

CN So far, we've primarily dealt with business applications of teleconferencing. Is there potential for a home market?

GOLd Since humans are gregarious by nature and like to socialize, and if business meetings can be both slowed down and sped up by the fact that you can get more people into them, such as by bringing the experts in, then there's the implication that this will spill over into social life. What we have found, by the way, is that in some of the early market introductions of teleconferencing systems-- including the original Picturephone Meeting Service--one of the more-frequent uses of those systems was to bring Aunt Sadie and Uncle Harry to see their nephews and nieces on the West Coast. And if you talk to conference operators, you'll find that there are a lot of 85th birthdays held through conference calls. I think we have to take ourselves much less seriously when we come to the use of electronic media.

CN Look at Isacomm's Meeting Channel, which had a special holiday rate for family videoconferences.

GOLD Right. Isacomm had a special rate of $65 per half hour during the holidays. That's dynamite! CN To get back to the business side, what else can a communications manager do to help "sell" teleconferencing to his or her organization?

GOLD The best way to get a new technology implemented in an organization is to find the people who really need it. What you need to do as a communications manager is put the word out through the project managers that you're there to listen to their communications problems. It isn't so much that a light went out on their key set, but that they can't seem to get their part of a project done on time, and they suspect it's communications. The communications manager should sit there and listen to these users, and in plain managerial terms find out what they can't get done. These potential users are incredible as advocates, because if a communications manager can be a hero and save them, and make them heroes, they will really talk it up. What I used to do when I worked at JPL is go through buildings, physically, and meet people and look for "agony." I'd look for people with what I called "broken machines"--what doesn't work? What you can do is find out in their terms what doesn't work. You find secretaries on the phone for 20 minutes trying to get through to the travel department, when they could have sent them an electronic message. It's ridiculous for a manager to be on the phone to call five engineers to tell them about a meeting when it could be broadcast via voice mail.

The telecommunications managers have got to be able to clear their desks a bit and find out who has an organizational problem that can't be solved by any existing means. Telecom managers are magicians. They have available to them today state-of-the-art technology at abnormally low cost and incredible potential. They have got the power of the microprocessor, the presence of the public switched network and the responsibility of the corporation--right at their desks. And they have the incredible power to lead the organization to complete the task, to make the profit, to satisfy the stockholders, to make heroes, to whatever it is that makes sense, through the application of this power.

The most successful teleconferencing systems in the US today were put there by the users. The roots of the IBM system I mentioned earlier were from a product manager who had responsibility for a manufacturing plant in Boulder, Colorado. He walked into his manager's office one day, when they were about to finish the product and go into production, and was told point-blank that IBM had decided that they were going to separate the engineers from the manufacturers and put them in two different cities--San Jose and Boulder. And, of course, they told him that they expected him to finish the project on schedule and within the budget. He walked over and saw Glen Southworth at Colorado Video, who quickly put together a system. That slow-scan system was shown off as an example to the IBM hierarchy in Armonk, New York, and it was later adopted. Sp, it was user-driven.

CN Before we end this, would you elaborate a little more on your comments about communications managers becoming "heroes"?

GOLD The telecom manager, as I see it, is too far from the user. The typical telecom manager today has to put on three coats of deodorant and several hard hats when they go into the office. As soon as they get in they've got fires to put out, they've got to manage enormously complicated tasks such as the switching over to a new PBX or to a new network, and they're responsible for day-to-day operations. It's a tough job; there's no question. But I believe they have to think about off-loading operational responsibility and looking for these opportunities for "heroism." Believe me, you don't have to come up with a complicated system. If you can come into a person's office with an abacus and solve the business problem, or a two-line telephone as opposed to a one-line telephone and the cabling is already there, you're a hero and the corporation benefits.

CN Thanks for sharing your comments, Elliot. I'm sure we, as well as many of our readers, will be seeing and hearing you at some of this year's upcoming trade shows.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Author:Wiley, D.
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:interview
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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Next Article:Guide to Implementing Videoconferencing As Part of Your Communications Strategy.

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