The emergence of what has been termed the “information age” is in large part characterized by the presence of real-time communications technologies. Telecommunications technologies are in operation continuously and in virtually all parts of the world. Telecommunications infrastructure is an important facilitator of economic growth and may be important to some level of social development in the world system. Technology does not create new ages, but the people who use the technology have the potential to forge new economic and social conditions (Goleniewski, and Jarrett, 2006).
As this new information age emerges from the ashes of the industrial revolution in many areas of the world, new ways of production emerge. Previously non-existent factors are prominent in the new digital age. In general, technology has always been thought of as an important aspect of production and driver of economic growth, but telecommunications technology is sometimes overlooked as an initiator of development. This paper will explore the impact of telecommunications infrastructures and use of the videoconferencing development in Education, Healthcare and Business.
Telecommunication Technologies in Organizations
Organizations appear to be evolving toward new forms such as virtual organizations, spherical organizations, dynamic network organizations and network organizations (Hinterhuber and Levin, 1994). These forms may be a response to changing environmental conditions. An important characteristic of these forms organizations is distributed collaboration (i.e., work spread across personnel in many locations). The use of information technology in support of these forms is on the rise (Lucas and Baroudi, 1994).
With the widespread usage of electronic communication facilities such as: facsimile, electronic mail, teleconferencing and videoconferencing, physical-meeting places are becoming less of a necessity (Goleniewski, and Jarrett, 2006). Additionally, telecommuting, or working from home using computer communications that started in the 1980s has gained momentum with improved support in recent years, and this has also limits the need for physical meeting places. In addition, federal laws (e.g. Clean Air Act of 1990) require businesses employing more than one hundred employees in one location to reduce their employees commute time (Venkatesh and Vitalari, 1992).
Information and communication technologies are the tools to run all business activities. The introduction of new technologies is expected to have dynamic ramifications on the methods organizations do business (Remenyi, 2000). This close interaction between information technologies and business operations makes it very difficult to predict the full range of possible benefits impact of the technology implementation. Some aspects of real-time communication systems as computer-mediated communication and videoconferencing may produce tangible benefits that directly improve the performance of groups in the organizations (Goleniewski, and Jarrett, 2006).
The direct benefits of real-time communication systems stem from: 1) Reduce work delays and incidents of rework due to fast response from information sources, increased information availability, or reduced ambiguity in existing information; 2) Improve quality of work due to timely and better decision making, clearer instructions, and reduced ambiguity in information; 3)
Time savings for contractor and engineer due to decreased need for submission of formal requests for information (RFI’s); 4) Considerable savings in costs related to travel to attend meetings or to resolve issues. On the other hand, telecommunication technologies may produce several intangible improvements in the general work environment. Those benefits are more difficult to measure, however, they may have critical impact on project success (Remenyi, 2000).
Teleconferencing, defined as groups of people communicating electronically between locations separated by distance and/or time, is a technology that has become beneficial for education, healthcare and business.
It can be an effective tool for conducting important decision-making or problem solving meetings that might not otherwise be held. It can reduce unproductive travel time, optimize attendance and access to scarce talent, and provide an excellent education and training medium. In other words, teleconferencing can significantly increase productivity and efficiency, can improve management communications at all levels, and can significantly enhance business opportunities when used appropriately (Johansen, 1984, p. 20).
Teleconferencing is a broad term encompassing four basic types of communication: audioconferencing, conferencing, computer conferencing and videoconferencing. Each of these areas of concern can and has been integrated within a single teleconferencing system.
To many users, the term teleconferencing means only videoconferencing. Videoconferencing is one form of teleconferencing, and a form of teleconferencing that allows geographically separate conferees to see and hear each other. Videoconferencing can be divided into the following categories: still video, interactive motion video, and one-way broadcast video (Johansen, 1984, pp. 21-3).
Videoconferencing images are transmitted over a variety of telecommunications networks including the telephone network, a compressed digital network of transmission capacity and analog networks using terrestrial or satellite systems. Videoconferencing systems can be categorized as: still video, T1 video, fiber optics, analog baseband and/or direct broadcast satellite systems (Wilcox, 2000, pp.7-9).
Impact and Benefits of Videoconferencing
Since videoconferencing can encompass all forms of teleconferencing, it was selected as the focus for this paper. Videoconferencing is important to the fields of education, business, healthcare because it can offer a cost effective way of imparting the message to consumers who might not otherwise have an opportunity to receive valuable information. Often, because of monetary constraints, educators complain that they are unable to offer courses to all students who want to take them. If the situation is one in which there are only a few subject matter experts, but a large number of willing students, time often inhibits the educator’s ability to reach all interested students (Wilcox, 2000).
On the other hand, in many states due to geographic size, all students cannot be reached. Many must travel great distances to obtain an education on a campus environment or forgo the education. There are also situations where, due to accidents or ill health, students are unable to attend classes. Videoconferencing can present a cost effective means to reach a large, possibly remote, audience and impart a simultaneous message (Johansen, 1984).
In business, videoconferencing has been used to increase productivity and efficiency, improve management communications, and make better use of scarce talent. Education can be viewed as business-students provide revenue-institutions are competitively seeking to increase revenue by expanding enrollments. Like business, institutions of higher learning need to find innovative ways to increase enrollment, limit administrative costs and improve the quality of their product –education (Wilcox, 2000).
Videoconferencing was originally promoted as an alternative to traditional face-to-face meetings, and as a means for an organization to save money in travel expenses for employees, however the benefits have gone far beyond travel savings. Videoconferencing changes the way organizations communicate. More efficient meetings can be conducted, since access to people and information is easier, and information can be communicated to as many people as need to hear the message. The potential for higher quality decision-making is greater because the opportunity exists for greater access to needed decision-makers.
Videoconferencing improves and expedites the flow of information so that an organization can respond quickly to business opportunities and customer problems. Meetings tend to be more focused, reducing extraneous talk. The time intervals that occur between information processing, decision-making and implementing action is greatly reduced, which can improve an organization’s competitive action in the market (Combs, 1990).
Problem definition is easier when videoconferencing is implemented, as projects can be monitored from beginning to end. Videoconferencing enables organizations to maximize use of subject matter experts, whose talents may be required by many departments of an organization. Videoconferencing is currently being utilized by a number of institutions in Education, Healthcare and Business. The examples cited below utilize a variety of organizations and applications for videoconferencing.
Education, Healthcare and Business Organizations Using Videoconferencing
In 1977, the Central Maine Interactive Telecommunications System (CMITS) was started to facilitate exchange of educational information among seven health care institutions. CMITS provides motion videoconferencing with educational programming for health professionals. An emphasis was placed on planning education programs, rather than producing shows. The CMITS experience led to the establishment of the Aroostook County Telecommunications System (ACTS).
The interconnection between CMITS and ACTS allows members to share educational programs within the state. The systems are also members of the Association of Hospital Television Networks, a national consortium of 30 regional television networks providing educational services to staff and patients at over 900 hospitals nationwide (Niemiec, 1980).
In 1969, Dartmouth Medical School set up INTERACT, a two-way video link between two hospitals for communication between health care professionals. The system was later expanded to provide continuing education, assistance to rural physicians, and engineering courses. The system is currently being marketed to a larger user base, including businesses in surrounding communities. The network director, Bill Loftus advises other groups who might be using videoconferencing that content is the key.
Expansion of network uses is the next step. The system provides another example of the adoption and usage of videoconferencing. It also demonstrates how organizations can work together to mutually benefit from the adoption and usage of videoconferencing technology (Gold, 1985, pp. 79-84).
The ability of videoconferencing technology to bring together urban and rural parts of the state of Minnesota in an interactive two-way environment was key to the high rating and acceptability of videoconferencing in a pilot project at the University of Minnesota. The general reaction of participants from both the Twin Cities and Morris locations was one of enthusiasm for the potential of the technology to bring groups together over distance for matters and issues of common concern (Peltz and Kolomeychuk, 1992, p. 98).
There are a number of organizations which have adopted videoconferencing and have studied the need for the technology and its usage once installed. The following businesses are examples of firms that have conducted studies either prior to or after implementation to assess the need for and effectiveness of videoconferencing.
The Boeing Company, headquartered in Seattle, Washington, began using videoconferencing in 1979 in order to meet a compressed release schedule on the introduction of the 757 aircraft. A system that began as a novel solution to a specific problem has evolved into a highly productive method of doing business. In five years, over 5,900 Boeing videoconferences have been attended by more than 160,000 employees, avoiding 1.6 million travel miles in the Puget Sound area alone (Whaley, 1986, pp. 113-120).
Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) began using videoconferencing in the early 1980s to allow employees to effectively communicate with one another, even though physically separated. ARCO did not know who the active users would be or what applications would be developed, and therefore, decided to conduct ongoing research regarding the adoption and usage of videoconferencing. Research was conducted by interviewing potential users before, during and after implementation and usage of videoconferencing.
The “success” of videoconferencing has in large part been achieved by generating a comprehensive data base of potential users. The research program resulted in a system uniquely tailored to ARCO’s needs, and therefore, employees feel a sense of ownership and involvement in system design and evolution (Ruchinskas and Svenning, 1984, pp. 166 -173).
Pratt and Whitney began using Eagle Vision II, a motion videoconferencing system, in March, 1986. The final system design reflects a combination of operational requirements established through internal research into meeting characteristics and travel patterns. Pratt and Whitney believes it was only successful because considerable time and effort were spent in understanding the requirements, applications and needs of its users before a system was developed and implemented (Truesdale, 1985, pp. 128 -139).
Martin Marietta, a technology intensive corporation engaged in design, manufacture, and integration of systems and products in the aerospace, defense, electronics, and information and data management fields, tested and evaluated audiographics conferencing, still frame videoconferencing and motion videoconferencing to determine if teleconferencing was feasible to support company communications. Martin Marietta also wanted to determine what types of meetings and what level of participants would use teleconferencing.
During a 90 day pilot program of motion videoconferencing, Martin Marietta conducted close to 100 conferences with approximately 75% using the standard conference room to conference room configuration. As a result of the pilot program, Martin Marietta decided to implement a motion videoconferencing system with several sites in order to improve overall corporate communications (McKinny, 1986, pp. 367 – 371).
Patrick Combs of Levi Strauss states that “for videoconferencing to be successful, it must achieve widespread adoption and effective use. By allowing users to try out videoconferencing in a relaxed environment, without expectations, the videophone made the conferencing concept less intimidating, and encouraged adoption” (Combs, 1990, pp. 100).
Levi Strauss trialed the use of “videophones” (inexpensive, desktop videoconferencing units that use normal dial-up phone lines and personal computers) to determine how readily users would utilize the technology if it were easy to use. The conclusion was that “videoconferencing’s successful adoption within an organization is dependent on more than just the hardware. Successful adoption also depends on how accessible the technology is to its users” (Combs, 1990, pp. 100-103).
Because a communications network assists in the interaction of individuals it can be essential to knowledge creation. These networks will facilitate an economic and social development; they are to the information age what railroads were to the industrial age.
Telecommunications like videoconferencing, therefore, to play a large part in how these networks evolve, and thus will impact the creation of knowledge in the future. In the past, telecommunications policy has been primarily focused on physical infrastructure. In the information age, it has become apparent that managers and policy-makers must enlarge their focus to emphasize the information side of telecommunications. It is not the creation of the infrastructure itself that will be the major source of profitability, but rather the exploitation of the infrastructure to create knowledge.