Online conference paints telepresence green

Saving the planet, as well as business travel costs?

Pushing telepresence as a way to cut the cost of corporate travel isn't working too well so the industry is looking to promote the video/audio technology as a way for businesses to embrace green principles, according to speakers at a recent telepresence conference.

Businesses don't believe in the potential savings or just don't adopt the technology as a substitute for corporate travel, according to speakers at a Wainhouse Research Point 9 forum set up for discussion of conferencing and collaboration.

A speaker from WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) says the technology could encourage businesses to travel less, resulting in fewer airline flights and less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. With businesses interested in having a green image, this could prompt telepresence purchases, says Peter Lockley, head of transportation policy for the WWF in the UK.

Even so, Lockley also touted potential business gains by using telepresence, such as less wasted time during travel, the ability to hold meetings more frequently to move work along and getting products to market faster. He said one pharmaceutical firm says it cut by three months the time it takes to bring new drugs to market by using conferencing rather than travel.

The Point 9 conference was held via Cisco TelePresence gear at six locations in the US and Europe. Had the 39 participants all met in London instead, their flights would have dumped 6,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, according to David Maldow, senior researcher for Wainhouse.

But Wainhouse managing partner Andrew Davis says that is a false savings because the planes participants would have taken flew anyway, so the C02 got dumped anyway. Over time, if enough people used telepresence, it would result in fewer flights and actual CO2 reductions.

BT Conferencing spoke about its videoconferencing service that supports Cisco gear and runs over BT's MPLS network. Low expectations about videoconferencing have made things tough for telepresence, says Scott Wilcoxen, senior conferencing and collaboration consultant for BT.

Getting telepresence used within organisations takes a lot of work with end users, he says, including email campaigns and information sessions, both live and via the web.

The help-desk service BT offers is key because users are easily frustrated if they can't get conferences going. For instance, the service offers remote call launching, so users can call in and ask a BT operator to turn on the conference if they are having trouble doing it themselves.

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Tim Greene

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