Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being There.

Ted-Schadler  by Ted Schadler

I had the chance to join 50 other people at a telepresence event last week. This one took place in real-time using Cisco's TelePresence rooms. (Okay, full disclosure, it was a Cisco industry analyst event held on December 9th.)

(This is a long post, so for those looking for key lessons and gotchas, just scroll now to the bottom.)

For those of you who've been asleep for the last 4 years as first HP and then Cisco followed by LifeSize, Polycom, RADVISION, Tandberg, and Teliris demonstrated the like-being-there experience of telepresence, it's pretty amazing stuff. Video conferencing with near face-time quality. You can in fact see the whites of their eyes.

Companies like P&G, GE, and Dreamworks are using telepresence technology to slash executive travel and give technical staff the tools to collaborate across massive distances with almost the same experience as being there (save the ability to shake hands, share a meal, and have a side conversation).

I first experienced telepresence in 2004 at HP's Corvallis, OR, lab, and it blew me away back then. It's only gotten better. (Colleague Claire Schooley has calculated the ROI of telepresence for those thinking about this technology.)

Back to this telepresence event:

  • Cisco used 12 telepresence rooms in at eight cities: Boston, New York, San Jose, Toronto, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Bedfont outside London.
  • At least 50 people joined from across 9 time zones. (Yes, some people had to get up early or stay at work through suppertime. So cry me a river.)
  • The quality of the communication was very high. It was like sitting across a conference room table from CFO Frank Calderoni, SVP Chuck Robbins, and sales VP Carl Weise for two hours. And each of the 50 attendees had the same intimate, conversational experience. Try doing that in a large conference hall.
  • Best of all, I didn't have to get on an airplane. And neither did 50 other people. We slept in our own beds, hugged our own families, and saved the hours or days it would have taken to get to the event.

It was a fabulous experience, something that I'm sure will grow only more important over the next decade.

Now, some gotchas and lessons learned:

  1. A single telepresence room is useless. Same as a single fax machine. And 2 rooms or even 5 rooms is almost as useless to most employees. You need dozens of rooms or end points for a network effect to kick in. (Just do the math. Hint: The value is exponential.) Now you know why Cisco bought Tandberg to add customers and cheaper products and why I'm so excited about desktop video conferencing. More "end points" is more better. (Cisco has the luxury of 666 rooms in 45 countries. No other companies do.)
  2. Smile, you may be on Candid Camera. With 12 rooms in the conference, it was typically the speaker and one or two other rooms on display. But which other rooms? Turns out it may be yours. So watch out how you're coming across. (One time, it was me, caught in the camera's unrelenting eye and displayed in technicolor agony for all to see as I conducted a side conversation with a colleague. On mute, thankfully. But I wasn't the only one. Several others failed to realize that they were scratching their nose or staring blankly into space.)


  3. Partner and customer collaboration is the next conferencing cliff to climb. Cisco knows this and is working with carriers like AT&T, Tata, and BT Conferencing to host "business exchanges" so video conferencing with customers gets easier. (By the way: Tandberg knows this, too, which is why it has also been building out a business exchange.)
  4. Desktop video conferencing will accelerate the benefits of telepresence. For two reasons: 1) The network effect really starts to kick in. 2) Normal people can participate, not just C-staff. I've seen Tandberg's demoes on this, and it's impressive. A high-end Webcam brings a person working at home into sharp focus on a 60" telepresence screen. Almost like being there.
  5. We're just getting going here. The ways in which telepresence can be used will only multiply. Technical reviews, customer conversations, public events, telecommuting support, and so on. Forrester, for example, is going to host our Business Technology "lean technology" event using telepresenceon January 22nd across five US cities. Love to have you join us.

I'm planning a report in the spring on the Business Value Of Video. I'd love to hear your stories.




re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Hello, this is Shanley Stern Gravel, Marketing Director at Teliris. While it continues to be important to see telepresence as top-of-mind in the analyst sector, I noticed in this particular write up that HP and then Cisco were credited with launching the first telepresence systems! It was actually Teliris way back in 1999 that deployed the first commercially viable telepresence solution, and those same rooms are still in use today at Lazard. It is important to note that Teliris was not only the first to market, but continues to be in the forefront of telepresence innovation.

re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Shanley:Thanks for weighing in. My first experience with telepresence was with HP, but I'm glad to learn that Teliris was a pioneer in this market. With your long history in this market, it must be gratifying to see the market for telepresence gaining critical mass and heating up.Ted

re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Telepresence may be usefull for very few uses, as you need to get exact human impressions from your remote partners (or for some medicals diagnotics cases)...Telepresence rooms are also very expensive for this very single cases.... except for high management ?But what remote meeting attendee really need is the sharing of the data, on which they are able to work... and to discuss about. Also webconferencing, shortly resume. From the ROI side, this is the ebst invest a company can make on e-collaboration.

re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Thanks for your comment on Web conferencing. I couldn't agree more that firms will get more by conference-enabling every worker than they will by building a handful of telepresence rooms for executives only. (Just did a post on IBM's new Sametime 8.5 release to say more.)But it's not an either/or decision for most firms: It's a "both" decision. Both are required to lay the collaboration infrastructure for higher individual, team, and business productivity.Ted

re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Now that you have seen how far teleconferencing has progressed, Ted, I think you would be amazed to see how the technology is impacting healthcare through Telemedicine. As the communications manager for GlobalMedia of Scottsdale, Arizona, I invite you and others to visit our Web site, Not only can doctors see their patients and speak to them, but they can also listen to their hearts, look into their ears and throats, check moles and skin lesions, with the use of our unique TotalExam camera. But the use of the equipment and the technology is expanding nearly exponentially.One physician who is the head of pathology at a Phoenix hospital is physically located in an area of the hospital that used to require a five minute walk to and from the path lab. Now, a lab assistant puts the frozen section on a slide, uses GlobalMedia’s Cap-Sure to capture a high-resolution, full-color image, and then teleconferences with the pathologist who is able to view the image in his office. This saves a significant chunk of time for the pathologist each day, and provides a quicker path lab response to the treating physicians.Even though H1N1 hasn’t been as serious (yet) as first expected, there was concern about people who presented with flu-like conditions mixing with other patients in emergency room settings. The GlobalMedia Telemedicine products allow physicians to “see” patients in a different area of the hospital without exposing others to a potentially infectious disease. The mobile telemedicine carts even have anti-microbial table tops that resist bacteria.We have a growing shortage of physicians in the U.S. In the future, your doctor’s office may not be as close as a few miles away. Finding one in the same town or city may not be possible. VA hospital administrators are already moving to a telemedicine solution to treat veterans with disabilities in remote areas, saving them a lengthy trip to see a physician at the hospital.Law enforcement operations that we take for granted are feeling the effects of governmental budget squeezes. Would you be surprised that some counties in the United States do not have trained investigators to investigate alleged child abuse? If not investigated properly, the evidence (bruises, lesions, etc.) heals and the perpetrator may elude the criminal justice system. One state is preparing to use GlobalMedia products to allow specialized child abuse investigators and medical experts to have rapid access to a potential victim in counties where they have no such personnel. The telemedicine equipment can capture images of the injuries and preserve the evidence in a digital repository.True, an increasing number of businesses are recognizing the value of telepresence to their operations. But imagine the savings in money, time and inconvenience as we devise its many other uses.

re: Telepresence As Global Conference -- It's Almost Like Being

Roger,Thanks for sharing this interesting offering. I think that with enough bandwidth and the right video conferencing codecs, end points, and particularly control systems, we will see dozens or hundreds of other opportunities to bring experts to the scene in highly efficient ways.The door that opened with radiologists Down Under after lunch doing midnight assessments here is revealing a world of possibilities.I'd love to hear more from a customer.Ted