Calculating the Opportunity Costs of Video Conferencing

When the American public learned on Sunday that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by an elite unit of Navy SEALs, the country had much reason to celebrate. Since 9/11 our country has endured the high costs of terrorism that occurred on our soil. Not only did we lose thousands of lives, but New York’s economy lost millions of dollars in 2001 alone. The war on terror has created opportunity costs that are associated with any war – the funds that are allocated to military operations are dollars that are not spent elsewhere, such as on education or health care. Our government considers these opportunity costs when making decisions about our priorities and about which investments would benefit us the most.

In business, as in government, we must consider opportunity costs when we make decisions. When we invest in any area, such as in a new technology, we look at the return on investment (ROI), but we should also look at the opportunity costs that would be incurred should we not make the investment. For example, we know that meeting face-to-face is the preferred form of communication in most situations. When we see the other person we can gauge reactions and relate better to each other. When we must meet with other parties remotely, an audio call will simply not deliver the same quality of experience as an in-person meeting, and we are at a disadvantage. When a company has not invested in video conferencing, the opportunity costs of this decision are numerous – a reduction in efficiencies, decreased quality of communication and an increase in travel costs (compared to those organizations using video), and delayed product time to market, among others.

According to most trade reports the video conferencing market place is growing and will be at least a $5 billion industry in the coming year. The opportunity costs of not utilizing video when the competition is will be high.

Collaboration Lessons Learned from London

With the Olympics taking place in London this year, many local businesses throughout the city braced themselves for the increase in tourists and potential disruption of daily operations. While the actual totals are still being calculated, the total population of London was expected to expand by a third, with approximately an additional million people using the “Tube” or subway each day. What was normally a 10-15 minute commute to work could take 30- 45 minutes; placing a significant burden on employees and corporations alike.

Advanced planning and preparation were needed prior to the Olympic Games to keep corporations and other organizations running smoothly and avoid lost revenue or extended downtime. The Cabinet Office released a guide which addressed many potential obstacles companies might face in areas affected by the Games. Preparing Your Business for the Games suggested continuity plans that could be implemented to minimize the impact of increased traffic, technology failures and supply chain interruptions.

A significant concern was employee availability, as staff wanted to take time off to attend or volunteer at the games, or simply because they did not want to deal with the increased congestion traveling to work. As a result, many organizations allowed more flexible work options; such as working from home or at a different office, or altering work times to off-peak hours. Unified communications (UC) and video conferencing solutions provided an optimal platform for staff to stay engaged at work while avoiding congestion from the Games.

Karen Bond, a Director at the London office of an international consulting firm, said she encouraged most of her employees to work from home during the Olympic Games. “It was just easier than dealing with the traffic and the Tube. We kept in touch using email, phone calls and instant messaging but I did miss the face-to-face interaction with my staff.” says Ms. Bond.

Another concern was a technology failure; according to the Cabinet Office “it is possible that internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet.” Some businesses turned to cloud services to support the collaboration solutions in place by addressing network dysfunction. These services ensure video calls and other systems run over the network go smoothly no matter how much or how little traffic exists at a given time.

As the Olympic Torch has been extinguished and employees return to business as usual; companies can still use the Olympics as a learning experience. Doing things a little differently for a short period of time can offer unexpected rewards. Maybe the increased use of a video conferencing has reacquainted companies with all of the benefits video offers; from reduced travel time and expenses to a highly functional remote workforce. Or, perhaps implementing a business continuity plan prepared organizations for an unexpected power outage, snow storm or other natural disaster.

The World Collaborates – Social Media at the Olympics

With collaboration becoming more and more social, we will be looking at the effect of social media on society, culture, and group dynamics. What better way than to start with the 2012 Olympics in London, a social media hot spot.

NBC’s coverage of the Olympics includes tape-delayed broadcasts of live events that are available in real-time to fans around the world via NBC’s live video streaming service and various social media web sites. It would seem that in the age of up-to-the-minute news and sports coverage, NBC may suffer a decline in TV viewers of the games.

Actually, social media’s influence may be helping the network earn higher ratings. Social media adds to the hype of Olympic competitions, drawing viewers in and giving them a forum to discuss and comment on the performances they have seen; the energy of enthusiastic sports fans is moving from the stadium to web sites.

The organizer of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), recognizes the place social media now has at the Olympic games, and condones its (appropriate) use by athletes. The IOC encourages athletes and other accredited personnel to “take part in ‘social media’ and to post, blog and tweet their experiences,” according to its published guidelines. Facebook created a page for athletes to communicate with their fans called Explore London 2012. Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Instagram all have Olympic themes as well.

Social media allows fans to get into more detail of the games than the networks can provide. Users share stories, pictures, and videos. Sarah Hughes, an American figure skater and 2002 Olympic gold medalist, is attending the games in London this year. Ms. Hughes, who has a following of thousands on her blog and social media web sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, is chronicling her experience at the games. She gave IVCi a first-hand account of the influence that social media is having at the Olympics this year.

“Many athletes competing in London have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, which is letting them have a more direct connection to fans and supporters. Athletes are posting personal pictures and sending real-time updates, sometimes even from the warm-up area right before their competition. Social media has added a whole new dimension to the Olympic experience, making the games even more exciting,” said Ms. Hughes.

For example, those interested in gymnastics can follow USA Gymnastics on Twitter and receive updates on competitions, access instantaneous analysis by sports reporters, and read athletes’ commentaries. In addition to having her own web site, Gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas is featured on several YouTube channels, has a Facebook page fans can ‘like’ and uses a Twitter account to communicate with fans.

We are just beginning to see the impact social media has on the Olympics and other major sporting events. Athletes like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Roger Federer all have major followings online. The Olympics is setting a powerful precedent: when it comes to sporting events, let the social media games begin.

Photo courtesy of www.icenetwork.com

Video in the City: Local Government & Video Conferencing

Each U.S. city and county is unique in its climate, population, and character. This diversity lends itself to innovative uses of technology by city governments that aim to improve life for its citizens. Metropolitan areas are using video conferencing solutions to create processes that are more efficient, and they are accomplishing this in ways that are as unique as the cities themselves.

Here is a snap shot of some of the ways video is being used in towns throughout the country:

New York, New York: OATH (the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings), is an independent agency that handles disciplinary cases for New York City. Its health tribunal deals with violations to the city’s health code and other laws affecting health. OATH’s main offices are located in Manhattan, so restaurant owners from outer boroughs who receive tickets for violations must travel to the city to have their cases heard. The agency’s commitment to providing fair and timely public hearings led it to seek a more convenient and accessible alternative to these hearings.

OATH opened a Staten Island office to better accommodate Staten Island residents. However, inspectors based in Manhattan still had to travel and were unable to attend if they were busy with other hearings, which resulted in the need to reschedule. Video conferencing technology was the key to making the new Staten Island location convenient for all participants; video was integrated into the hearing, connecting inspectors in Manhattan to a judge and respondent in Staten Island. Based on the success of its video system OATH is now looking to expand the use of video to agency locations in all five boroughs

San Antonio, Texas: The San Antonio Municipal Court offers video conferencing services from an Oak Ridge location to citizens who have received traffic tickets or notices of other violations. Live, interactive video conferences are held with the Judge. Those eligible to use video are those wishing to plead guilty or nolo contentre, choose not to be represented by an attorney, and are prepared to pay fees/fines as ordered by the judge.  “Video court” is offered on a first come, first serve arrangement; no prior scheduling is needed.

City of Orange, New Jersey:  After a suspect is arrested for an indictable offense, The City of Orange Municipal Court holds preliminary proceedings. Preliminary proceedings include arraignment and the setting of bail where appropriate. Video conferencing is now available for use in this arraignment process. When used in this manner, video conferencing creates a safer environment by removing the need to transport prisoners and saving tax payers money in the process.

Nashville, Tennessee: A bill in the final stages of debate in Nashville would allow local school board members of Knox County to attend meetings via video conference. This provision would provide greater flexibility to those board members who otherwise would not have been able to attend meetings because of the need to travel out of the county for work or family emergency. The use of video would allow board members to more easily do their jobs.

San Diego, California: The U.S. Department of the Interior is using video to cut down on its employees’ extensive travel. By increasing the number of meetings that are held over video, the government aims to save on travel costs and reduce its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the route between San Diego and Sacramento ranked as one of the 25 most frequently traveled cities by DOI workers; video is one tool that can create a more efficient process for local government workers to meet.

Kern County, California: Kern County is so large that it can take several hours to get from one area of Kern to another. Now, instead of traveling long distances to get legal questions answered, Kern residents can use the video conferencing system at the Kern County Law Library to speak with law librarians. The library installed a video system that is easy to use, reliable, and high quality to maximize the user’s experience. Based on the positive feedback it has received, the library is looking to expand its video conferencing capability.

Additional Resources:

Video Conferencing & Telepresence Solutions for State and Local Government

Open for Business: SMB Video Conferencing

If you are a small or mid-sized business owner, you probably know the secret to success lies in the quality of the relationships with customers. In an increasingly competitive corporate landscape where consumers have access to more information and more choices than ever before, small companies must build and maintain closer, more personal bonds with their clients. It is this customer-focused approach that helps small businesses please customers and increase revenue.

Of course, most organizations recognize the importance of providing outstanding customer service, but small businesses are truly in the position to deliver. They can use video conferencing technology to not only keep up with competitors in their market space, but to create more efficient processes that are needed to stay competitive and keep customers coming back.

For example, video can help small businesses:

Reach out to customers: Video conferencing allows small to mid-sized businesses to extend the personal feel of the face-to-face interactions that are their hallmark. When clients can actually see the customer service agent or sales person they are speaking with, trust is more readily established and relationships are built.

Connect remote employees: When company meetings require the participation of many remote workers, time and travel expenses can add up quickly. Video can unite dispersed teams, facilitate discussions, and foster a collaborative environment – even when employees are not based in the same corporate location.

Speed up decision making: Management teams that meet frequently to discuss corporate strategy and resolve businesses issues can do so efficiently face-to-face, without leaving their offices. Desktop systems enable busy executives to connect with each other at the touch of a button, and in doing so, receive the benefits of in-person conversations.

Shorten product development time: Smaller companies can get a leg up on the competition by using video to abbreviate a product’s time to market. Video cuts down on development time by easily connecting design teams with remote subject matter experts and other knowledge workers with specific expertise.

Train more effectively: Human resources departments at smaller businesses often consist of one or two HR professionals that communicate company policies and training material to the entire staff. Video provides the ability to communicate more efficiently by delivering one message to many people simultaneously; the same message can be streamed or delivered to all workers’ desktops or remote devices at once.

Align business divisions: Even when a company is small there are no guarantees that all departments will communicate well with each other. For example, inter-departmental use of desktop video systems makes it easier for accounting to sync up its data with purchasing, or marketing to share new material with the sales team; at moment’s notice any member of the departments can have a face-to-face conversation.

Work-life balance: Skilled employees have a choice of where to work, and companies often need to compete with incentives to hire the best in the business. Video gives organizations the ability to offer a work-life balance by allowing employees to work from a home office or mobile device when needed, yet still retain the feeling of being there.

Small businesses can especially benefit from cloud based-services to help make managing the technology and expense of video conferencing easier. In addition, these services allow remote employees and customers using consumer-based video solutions or tablets and smartphones to connect effortlessly.

Video Conferencing – The PMP's Best Friend

The essence of effective project management lies in communication – conveying goals, updates, and other information among the many parties involved.  While the type of projects that need to be coordinated may vary across industries and company departments, all project managers must accomplish set goals within a specific timeframe. To accomplish this, project managers utilize the collaboration tools that are available to get the job done; these include email, instant messaging, and audio conferences.

While these communication devices can work well, projects that utilize video are more likely to be completed on time and on budget. Video is a valuable tool for project managers because it facilitates face-to-face communication among numerous remote parties, often simultaneously. When paired with a managed service that specializes in making video easy to use and reliable from any device, all members of the project team can check-in and meet from almost any location with internet access.

The following are some of the ways actual project managers say they use video to get a job completed on time:

Start the process:  In the beginning of a project, all remote parties join the kick-off call via video. The project manager goes through the proposal with all levels of project staff and stakeholders so that everyone understands and agrees upon the deliverables. In addition, the processes needed for achieving the deliverables can be established. Video helps all parties get better familiar with each other, and establish rapport from the beginning.

Meet with the client: Communication is not only important internally, it is vital to maintaining a good relationship with the client. Video delivers a face-to-face meeting experience, and provides the sense of control clients need to be assured that all is going according to plan. When any issues arise, video aids the discussion, as it can be used in place of an in-person meeting at a moment’s notice.

Access remote experts:  Remote experts and consultants that are needed for additional service, support, or consultation can be readily accessed without the time and expense of flying them to the company or client’s location. Video also facilitates connecting to outside vendors and agencies in multiple locations.

Training: At any point during a project additional training may be needed on equipment or software. Video provides the ability to deliver on-the-spot training to numerous participants at the same time, bypassing the usual scheduling conflicts that arise, and thereby keeping the project on schedule.

Video is a valuable collaboration tool that helps project managers streamline processes and get results.

Effective project management is the hallmark of any organization. Whether its implementation of internal or external projects, proper process and engagement must be followed. The Project Management Institute is an organization that exists solely to advocate for project management and project management professionals. To learn more about gaining certifications and the organization as a whole, visit www.pmi.org.

Hail to the Chief – Video in the C-Suite

With the rising popularity of video conferencing applications on mobile devices and desktop units, it is easy to forget that this technology once had the most appeal with c-level executives such as CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs. Video conferencing has transformed from an elite technology used mostly by corporations with big IT budgets to a ubiquitous communications tool that now reaches a large portion of the business and consumer markets. However, c-level executives are still a group that has much to gain from use of the technology and its implementation throughout their organizations.

When executives use video conferencing for meetings with staff members or clients they expect the calls to run flawlessly every time. They neither have the time to wait for issues to be fixed nor the patience to sit through troubleshooting. The only solution that is appropriate for c-levels is one that includes high-quality systems paired with a managed service that provides total monitoring of the people, processes, and technology that are required for video meetings to be successful every time.

Interestingly, while executives enjoy great benefits from using video conferencing including reduction in travel time, holding more meetings throughout the day, and the improved quality of interactions that comes from face-to-face collaboration, video also appeals to executives because of how the organization as a whole benefits from use of the technology. The following are some of the ways corporations benefit when c-level executives implement visual communication solutions company-wide:

Increased shareholder value: Good communication is the foundation of any successful company. Video conferencing provides the ability to hold instant, face-to-face meetings with colleagues or customers located across the globe.  A company that communicates well is more efficient, increases productivity and creates value for the shareholders.

Competitive advantages gained:  Video is one weapon in a company’s arsenal that adds instant competitive advantage. For example, video helps cross-functional teams get products to market faster thanks to higher-quality collaborative meetings that can take place more frequently. Video also gives   organizations an edge by improving customer call center interactions, facilitating board and management meetings, and uniting disparate team members at a moment’s notice.

Corporate culture enhanced: Employees that join companies today have vastly different expectations for the work environment than they did even a few years ago. Mobile devices, combined with the use of video collaboration, mean that team members can do their work from just about anywhere with an internet connection. Job flexibility, such as working from home, and the reduction in travel time and expenses not only add great appeal to a company but help meet corporate initiatives like going green.

While c-level executives have unique concerns and requirements for the use of video depending on their role in the company and the type of industry of which they are a part, all executives share two common goals: making the best use of their time each day and ensuring the company is earning revenue in the most efficient way possible. Video helps executives achieve these goals while gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Video Conferencing and Retail Therapy

Shopping can be therapeutic. From browsing clothing chains for the latest fashions to searching for the right tools in do-it-yourself hardware stores, the act of shopping can be relaxing and even fun. Sometimes we shop for things we don’t need because we like the experience; the layout of the store, the decor, or a courteous staff member.

In challenging economic times, brick-and-mortar retailers face more competition than ever, so the pressure is on to stand out from the crowd and get customers back in the door. To get an edge, some retailers are turning to video conferencing solutions on the sales floor or behind the scenes to improve customer service, assist in merchandise management, and enhance internal communication.

Video conferencing, when paired with a cloud-based managed service, creates realistic, in-person meeting experiences that translate well to the retail environment. Retail is all about the face-to-face, personalized exchanges that cannot be replicated with online shopping or catalogs. Video improves the in-store customer and employee experiences in the following ways:

Access to remote staff – A customer in a consumer electronics store may have a question about a new computer software application that can best be answered by an expert in a remote location. Or, the details of a product may need further clarification, but in a different language. Video is the ideal way for customers to get the right answer right away, while not having to leave the store’s premises, or engage in an impersonal audio call with a call center. In addition, the store saves money by not retaining specialized employees at each physical location.

Inventory management – When video is used among employees at disparate corporate locations, internal communication is greatly enhanced. One of the most delicate and important components of any successful retail establishment is an effective strategy for inventory control – keeping the right balance of products in stock at all times. With face-to-face communication among the staff at warehouses, corporate locations and store sites facilitated, there is a real opportunity to create an efficient inventory strategy, and store revenue may increase as a result.

Store connectivity –Employee turnover is a major concern for retailers. In addition, operational efficiencies can make or break any major chain or even mom and pop shop. Video can be used to effectively improve store operations and relations by creating in-person meeting experiences that unite a diverse and dynamic employee base. In addition, video can be used within and between retail branch locations to facilitate team meetings and create new employee incentive programs. Video also can provide headquarters with faster access to sales reports and employee information.

The right video conferencing solution can provide immeasurable benefits to retail establishments looking to gain a competitive advantage and attract customers. When video calls are managed by a third-party that specializes in making video equipment easy to use, the investment in technology quickly pays for itself with the revenue from happy customers that enjoy shopping in your store and keep coming back for their quick shopping fix.

Gasoline – Supplying Those Who Can’t Live Without It

When most of us think about oil, we are mainly concerned with how much it will cost to fill up our cars with gasoline. What we don’t consider is how gasoline actually arrives ready at the pump – the refining process that breaks crude oil down into a variety of consumer and industrial products. This process is the domain of commodity brokers – individuals who make their living putting together deals between buyers and sellers of petroleum products to feed the public’s inelastic demand.

Commodity brokers are often headquartered in one office, with several satellite locations located across the globe. Brokers must communicate with other energy brokers, traders, and clients throughout the day, while simultaneously watching movement of the markets. Communication – not to mention access to information – can make or break a deal.

Brokerage firms are turning to unified communications (UC) solutions that include video conferencing solutions to facilitate the deals that take place among numerous participants in dispersed locations. For example, UC solutions are used to:

  • Improve communication among the firm’s headquarters and satellite offices. Brokers in remote locations such as Omaha, Nebraska or Houston, Texas can maintain a presence in the New York City headquarters by remaining on video on a main screen that is visible to everyone. This creates the feeling that the remote brokers are part of the New York team, and information about clients, commodity prices, and deals can easily be shared at a moment’s notice.
  • Improve relationships with clients by strengthening rapport and building trust. Much of the communication among brokers is conducted via instant message and email. This method is effective, but lacks a personal touch. Even when there is communication over the phone, clients may not feel entirely comfortable with a transaction that is worth millions of dollars if the broker is an unknown entity. Once introductions have been made over video, and video is used as part of the communication mix, trust is established and maintained and as a result, deals are facilitated.
  • Monitor the fluctuation in petrochemical prices that occur daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange and other markets. Data from the Mercantile Exchange remains depicted on a main screen the entire day, reflecting prices in real-time.

Video can be used to achieve impressive results in the world of commodity brokers when used as part of a cloud-based UC solution that includes integration with voice, instant message, and data. When communication is improved and deals are facilitated, the result is thousands of dollars in commissions – amounts that easily and quickly justify the cost of the investment in technology.

How Hotels Charm Their Guests

Hospitality professionals know when they need to turn on some serious charm to attract customers. Given the economic environment in recent years, tourism and business travel have declined, leading to a reduction in occupancy rates, daily room rates, and REVPAR (revenue per available room). Competition is intense for the available customers – the question is, how do hotels, resorts, and casinos not only bring in new guests but ensure repeat business?

Ensuring excellent service is a given. To truly differentiate their establishments, hotels can utilize unified communication (UC) technology to transform not only the customer experience, but also improve the operating efficiency going on behind the scenes.

UC solutions, including video conferencing systems, are used to create the ultimate customer experience by:

  • Providing hotel staff with the ability to communicate efficiently in real-time, between all remote properties equipped with UC and video conferencing equipment.
  • Holding one general meeting for all hotel managers across locations, ensuring the consistency of information that is covered; topics may include customer service, housekeeping, and maintenance. In addition, the hotel staff at multiple locations can be managed from one place, greatly increasing the efficiency of operations.
  • Delivering interactive group training sessions to new employees, reducing the time and costs associated with covering the same training material at each property.
  • Addressing high turnover rates typical of the hospitality industry by facilitating the human resources recruiting process.
  • Allowing guests to easily hold face-to-face meetings with remote business associates, thereby not missing a beat while traveling. Content such as presentations, videos, and data can be shared with several participants over multiple locations.
  • Setting up video conferencing rooms that can be rented to companies looking to cut down on travel expenses. Video allows guests to hold their meetings in real time, with various partners around the globe.

UC integration can provide the hospitality industry improved and more efficient operations, better collaboration through real-time communication (with reduced travel costs), and improved guest satisfaction. The resulting guest experience is really quite charming.