Managing to Use Video Confereencing

A recent survey by Wainhouse Research (“New Research Looks at Room Videoconferencing Usage”) reported in their Bulletin issue 0813 (17th April 2007) into room system use by pharmaceutical companies representing over 900 systems, showed that nearly 50% of the systems were used for less than two hours per month. Responding to this finding, Sam McMaster Chief Executive of Questmark Limited, a leading supplier of videoconferencing systems and services, claims that this level of utilisation is worrying as driving usage is crucial to establishing videoconferencing as an accepted and cost-effective business tool. “How can we hope to grow the industry,” he asks, “if the norm for usage in a sector that is seen as leading user of the technology is so low?”

From the survey’s figures system use is on average less than 1% of the available time. Despite this in many cases a system that is used so little will still provide a return on investment for the buyer showing that the business case for deploying meeting room videoconferencing is so strong; yet the industry is still so immature and relatively minute compared to other areas of the ICT spectrum.

“There are a number of reasons for this situation,” Sam continues. “From long experience I know that one of the critical factors for this poor usage has been the channel policies of the manufacturers that result in poor quality resellers doing a pretty awful job for the end-user. Too many resellers don’t realise that their job is not just to deliver and set up the systems and connect them to the network, but to work with their customers to integrate this technology into their business operations. This makes it easy to create an internal demand for access to videoconferencing to the point where they wonder how they ever got by without it.”

He sees this short-sighted, box-shifting mentality afflicting manufacturers just as much, driven, as they are, by the need to achieve their quarterly sales figures rather than by a job- well-done approach.

“The solutions are not rocket science,” he explains, “and include meaningful accreditation programmes within the channels to create skills and competences in resellers that will supply and support this application in a way that fosters and grows adoption and usage. Another factor is that buyers look for the cheapest offer rather than the best value proposition that will deliver a solid, robust solution with training, support and development that results in utilisation that is many times higher than that shown in the Wainhouse Report. The industry needs to accept this and collectively create the skills in the reseller area and educate buyers to expect the services and support that delivers high utilisation”.

“Other initiatives to encourage videoconferencing uptake must involve support and development services provided by the systems supplier”, he adds. “These ensure that when users enter the videoconferencing room everything is prepared; the systems are ready, and the connections have been made and tested. All the customer has to do is let the provider/facilitator know, (or book through a web interface) which locations are involved in the meetings and at what times, so that all they have to do is turn up and meet.”

It’s really quite simple, and, by taking out the pain of organising and setting up the session, one of the main barriers to the uptake and use is removed. It’s easy: hide the technology; deliver the benefits and the wider community will adopt this application much more readily.”

As proof he cites those customers using Questmark’s managed service. Compared with the 10.6 hours per month per system quoted in the Wainhouse Report, this client base has an average of over 25 hours per month per system; one client’s network has typical usage ranging between 20 and 100 hours per month depending on the system’s location.

Despite his misgivings Sam believes the industry is now about to experience better growth (albeit from a low base) than at any time in the past, though it should have enjoyed such growth over the past 12 years when the business case for legacy videoconferencing was as compelling as it is now. “The reasons for my confidence,” he concludes, “are that the enhanced quality delivered by HD systems is quickly being recognised by customers as is the availability and affordability of suitable IP network services. These and a greater emphasis on making it easy to set up and manage meetings will encourage usage, which must be preferable to the alternative of letting the systems gather dust in the corner.”