Video collaboration a Catch 22 for enterprises

Cost both motivates and prohibits the use of videoconferencing in the enterprise

A unified communication provider, research analyst firm and independent technology consultant all agree that cost both motivates and prohibits the use of video collaboration tools in the enterprise.

Mitel recently commissioned market research firm Harris/Decima to conduct a survey on the use of video collaboration tools in the workplace. The survey results, released Tuesday, indicate cost as both a key benefit and debate.

Video collaboration tools allow organisations to save on travel expenses and make up for productivity lost when workers are on the road, according to Mitel, but "the initial investment in the price and IT resources is still a sticking point for organisations."

Nearly 50 per cent of respondents indicate at least one of these reasons as a barrier for deploying communications tools, states Mitel.

The first thing that pops into people's minds when they think of videoconferencing is a very high-end, extensive solution that requires not only an investment in hardware but also configuring an entire room, explained Stephen Beamish, vice president of marketing and business development at Mitel.

Another prohibitor, according to Beamish, is wondering whether "videoconference for the sake of videoconferencing" is worth the expense. "Is it worth the expense just to be able to sit there and have a conversation with somebody that may be in a distant location," he asked.

Other concerns include the need for additional software applications and training for employees, he noted. "People are saying ... I like the idea, but when I look at my return on investment, I don't see it as being economically feasible," said Beamish.

The key advantage is really the reduction in travel, which includes the lack of hotel, airfare, cab rides, car rentals, food and alcohol expenses, said Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting in Toronto. Video collaboration also presents great opportunities for increasing communication when it comes to training employees or increasing customer interaction, she noted.

Disadvantages, according to Warren, depend on the solution. On top of the hardware and networking costs, higher-end solutions can be quite prohibitive due to software licensing, she pointed out. Interior design is another concern for solutions that require room set-ups, she noted.

Warren suggested enterprises conduct a cost benefit analysis over the long term. Video collaboration can be very prohibitive when organizations initially look at the price tag, but it is also a great solution to address certain issues, she said.

Video collaboration is a custom-tailored solution, Warren pointed out. "Talk to a videoconferencing expert, a solution provider who can give a breakdown of the options and really help understand the prices ... it's possible that less expensive options would work," she said.

"Upfront costs are certainly a challenge for people who are looking at an on-premise videoconferencing installation," said Jayanth Angl, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. A videoconferencing roll-out is in many ways similar to rolling out IP telephony and there are a whole range of costs involved when enterprises go on-premise, he said.

That said, Info-Tech has also spoken with a number of clients with very high travel spends who performed an analysis ahead of time and found a relatively quick payback from their investment, Angl added. "Where it is justified, certainly we are seeing the results," he said.

Enterprises looking for more cost-effective, flexible alternatives can opt for hosted solutions instead, noted Angl. "There are a whole bunch of opportunities here that are certainly a lot less expensive," he said.

"An organization can start out small -- test out a hosted service or one of the more cost-effective tools before actually going forward with a full-blown, on-premise video conferencing deployment," suggested Angl.

Videoconferencing brings opportunities to improve collaboration, according to Angl. While less measurable, the benefits can extend to improving the effectiveness of meetings and the time it takes to deliver a new product or project, he pointed out.

Telecollaboration tools increase the value of video collaboration and allow enterprises to start to see the ROI, said Beamish. Telecollaboration, according to Beamish, is a combination of high definition video conferencing to multiple locations at the same time and being able to collaborate on any document with multiple parties at one time.

The ability to have multiple people working on the same document from different locations at the same time changes the conversation, he said. "We are very heavily into the understanding that you need a collaborative environment for a true return on investment in a video solution," said Beamish.

Mitel's survey is based on interviews with 150 Canadian and 352 American office workers.

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Jennifer Kavur

ComputerWorld Canada

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