Cisco pitches collaboration technologies via videoconference

Procter & Gamble and BBC talk about coming video and other collaborations

Using a Cisco TelePresence videoconferencing system to communicate live with IT leaders in other cities, CEO John Chambers kicked off Cisco's annual analyst conference this week.

The high-end videoconferencing technology, introduced a year ago, brought together remote IT executives for a 45-minute session from Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, the BBC in London and an MIT researcher in Boston.

Chambers interviewed the three men about the importance of video collaboration and related social networking technologies, viewing them on three large digital displays on a stage in front of hundreds of analysts.

Chambers also said that Cisco is developing an enhancement to its teleconferencing system called Musion that is a kind of hologram for projecting images of people during sessions. The technology was used successfully about a month ago at Cisco's opening of an office in Bangalore, India, a spokeswoman said later.

For one minute midway through Chambers' presentation, the three screens went blank. He quickly turned to address his San Jose audience, moving away from the blank monitors, while saying, "Now is the time I use distraction and a little humor."

But when the displays went live again, the discussion got serious. Filippo Passerini, CIO at P&G, described how use of videoconferencing and other collaboration tools have helped boost productivity at the consumer product maker.

P&G is using virtual reality to run consumer focus groups, allowing participants to navigate through virtual stores to see the retail product inventory, Passerini said. TelePresence, online video and unified communications tools that integrate voice, e-mail and instant messaging have kept P&G in touch with advertising agencies and top retail accounts, he added.

"We're creating technologies and business models that are IP-enabled, which allows us to operate more effectively," Passerini said. "The name of the game is the speed of innovation ... and video strategies play an important, strategic role."

Erik Huggers, group controller for future media at the BBC in London, said via TelePresence that the BBC is developing new technologies to move four times as much audio and video traffic to consumers over the next year, compared to what the BBC offers now.

He also predicted that Internet consumers of BBC content will help mine a massive 1.3 million-hour archive of BBC TV and radio programs through a kind of "recommendation engine" similar to how Facebook and other social networking sites operate.

The BBC is spending £60 million to upgrade network connections to enable the expected online growth, with fiber-optic cable installations between offices and high-speed network links to allow video to each desktop for editing of content, Huggers said.

By 2012, the BBC wants to have all content produced and stored digitally, he said. Online users now view and listen to 1.3 petabytes per month of BBC content, Huggers said. That number should reach 5 petabytes per month within a year, he said, partly because of additional radio content being added for the first time on December 25. He didn't directly describe the use of TelePresence at the BBC.

Chambers said that Cisco has held 42,000 TelePresence sessions internally over the last year. The company announced Monday it has sold 100 of the TelePresence systems over the past year. Typically, the systems are a substantial investment and can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, involving studio lighting and precise layouts of cameras and microphones.

The Boston-based speaker on the TelePresence session, Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT center for digital business, said that predictions of productivity growth in the U.S. have been put at 2% in coming years. But he said those estimates are "too pessimistic" because they have not considered the next generation of collaboration tools, whether they are related to videoconferencing, social networking in the workplace or unified communications technologies that bring a variety of voice, data and video communications together.

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