Conferencing Systems: Bridging the Distance

by Matt McDowell

Audioconferencing systems today are quickly becoming a standard means of communication in many businesses, and may soon be used as routinely as e-mail and fax machines. Videoconferencers are also growing in popularity and this trend indicates that they too could become just as common. In an increasingly global economy, conferencing technology provides an important communications link between remote groups of people who must work together.

For companies with an international workforce, conferencers bridge the distance between colleagues, making it easier to exchange ideas. For businesses that outsource services, these devices can significantly contribute to the effective management of consultants that may be across the country, or across the world. Of course, conferencers can also be invaluable for local communications, allowing employees to “meet” with co-workers, vendors, or customers all over town, without taking the extra time to get together in person.

For most companies, adapting conferencing technology is typically a 3-step process.

Step one
First, they recognize the communication challenges they face, and come to believe that conferencing technology offers an easy-to-implement and cost effective solution. Several factors contribute to this conclusion.

Teleconferencers and videoconferencers can reduce the need for employees and consultants to travel to meet. Projects can proceed faster and companies can enjoy significant savings in both man-hours and expenses. (The cost of a last minute airline ticket to the opposite coast alone is typically more than that of a basic teleconferencing system!)

As with other technological advances, prices for conferencing devices have declined over time. Good quality audioconferencers start at about $500, while fairly sophisticated setups are available for as little as $2,000. Videoconferencers require a bit larger investment, and the need for a system at both ends of the call. Prices for these devices begin at about $600 (at each end), and depending on the size of the company and the number of branch locations, they can climb to up to $10,000 or more. Even so, when measured against the cost of face-to-face meetings, even the most high-end systems can pay for themselves very, very quickly.

Another factor that contributes to a company’s enthusiasm for conferencing technology is the ease of installation. Typically a conferencing setup requires nothing more than a phone line and an AC outlet. Just about anyone in the company can simply “plug and play.”

Step two
The second step in adapting conferencing technology is to purchase a system and put it to use. Most companies have 1 or 2 specific applications in mind when they choose a system, and quickly discover many others the more they use it. As the novelty of this new means of communication diminishes, the initial users incorporate it into the way they conduct business, much like they once did with the fax machine and e-mail. They encourage their co-workers to save time by using their new conferencing tools, as well.

In a large company, news of the benefits of audio- and videoconferencing may spread from department to department. The marketing group might use a teleconferencer to have discussions with their ad agency in the city, while HR finds it a valuable tool for interviewing distant applicants. The research and development team may use the videoconferencer to “meet” with foreign partners regarding the design of a product, finding it an easy communications aid which can speed the whole development process.

Step three
As a third and final step in becoming teleconferencing and videoconferencing savvy, many companies typically expand their reach by investing in additional conferencers. They trust the technology to help keep their businesses competitive as it becomes increasingly common for geographically scattered people to work together. For example, a leading chip manufacturer with headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley, recently installed Polycom SoundStation Premier® teleconferencers in every one of their conference rooms, at multiple sites in 19 different countries. Undoubtedly, this commitment to providing global communication solutions has played a major role in their success.