How Videoconferencing Improves Decision Making

Decreasing expenses isn't Genworth Financial CIO Scott McKay's top priority when he evaluates new IT. Rather, he says, it's how the new technology can improve Genworth's competitive position. When, in 2008, the company spent about $500,000 on videoconferencing systems to cut down on travel, it wasn't just trying to save money. Executives wanted to make business decisions faster.

The $9 billion financial services company installed Polycom's CMA 5000/4000 high-definition videoconferencing system in 38 offices in the United States, Europe, Australia, India and Canada-the major regions where Genworth does business. Such ubiquity is the key to getting the most out of videoconferencing, telepresence and other networked collaboration technologies, says Don Lewis, president of consultancy Strategic Intersect. "If you skimp on it, it won't get widely used."

Within the first year, Genworth saved more than $1 million on travel, which means the videoÃ'­conferencing investment more than paid for itself. But it has also let employees collaborate across oceans on key projects more easily and quickly, McKay says, without the hassle of Ã'­booking flights and waiting in airports. "Taking knowledge workers off airplanes results in faster decision making," he says.

Executives at Genworth headquarters in Richmond, Va., often collaborate with counterparts in London about new ventures, McKay says. Instead of waiting several weeks while executives and their assistants coordinate travel arrangements, many of those meetings can be scheduled to occur via video within a week. "We can get ahead of the market by not having to wait for logistics," McKay says.

Together Across the GlobeInside the IT department, McKay communicates with his 300 staff members via a live global broadcast for three or four yearly all-hands meetings to set IT objectives.

Before videoconferencing was available, McKay would meet with his direct reports who, in turn, would meet with theirs, and so on, until the message, captured in a PowerPoint presentation, was disseminated. The process took three or four weeks. "There was slower trickledown and multiple interpretations," he says. Today, the IT staff recoups hours that used to be lost to repeat meetings and everyone gets the same message at the same time.

Genworth tracks usage of its videoconferencing rooms, asking meeting organizers to report whether they and attendees would have traveled had the technology not been there. Usage last year increased 50 percent compared to 2008 and is expected to increase 30 percent this year, McKay estimates.

Having a simple user interface helps. Upon log-in, users see an instant messaging-style menu of colleagues and can connect by clicking their names. Participants can share applications on screen, including a whiteboard for drawing and writing. The high-definition video is more natural-looking than the choppy, flat visuals on older conferencing systems, McKay says.

"When you can see each other clearly and work with common tools, it makes you come up with better ideas."

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Kim S. Nash

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