The public relations executive was enthusiastic on the phone. The IT company he represented had started installing green data centres and energy-efficient computers. Would I like to fly to California to see for myself? That would be a 2500 mile round trip from my home in Midwestern Canada. According to the online calculator from Terapass, the trip would release 1,1232 pounds(about 500 kilos) of CO2 into the atmosphere. ‘If you’re really into green technology, couldn’t we do a videoconferencing instead? ’ I asked. ’Sure,’ said the PR person. We are totally into green issues’.
He promised to arrange it. Months laters, nothing had happend. The high-tech industry is quick to praise the benefits of flexible communication, but videoconferencing is one area where things have failed to live up to the hype. ‘Videoconferencing has not significantly displaced travel,’ say Frank Modruson, CIO for global technology consulting firm Accenture. As the IT sector continues to push its green values, this mismatch between rhetoric and reality is becoming harder to ignore. So why are relatively few people using videoconferencing?
Andrew Davis, managing partner at online collaboration market research firm Wainhouse, says the technology is let down by usability. For many peple, videoconferences are just too difficult to set up. This is why Nortel is emphasizing the services side. ‘The barrier isn’t the technology. It’s the services around that technology,’ says Dean Fernades, the company’s General Manager of Network Services. Nortel is one of several companies getting into a relatively new segment of the videoconferencing market called telepresence.
Specially equipped rooms enabled people to appear as if they are sitting across the table, with life-size video representations of remote colleagues in high-definition video. Customers pay to use Nortel’s facilities, which can also handle video filming, enabling the room to double as a production facility for corporate TV, for example. Nortel will also handle post-production tasks such as editing. Accenture, on the other hand, opted for the capital investment route. Mr Modruson said it is installing rooms in Chicago and Frankurt, and hopes to roll out another 11 cities in the next few months.