Poised To Strike Out or Hit A Home Run?

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by S. Ann Earon, Ph.D.

President, Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI)

Chair, Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA)

With Y2K behind us, it is time to concentrate on how to achieve wide scale deployment of collaborative communications technologies. How do we get to 1000 sites or more per location for videoconferencing and collaborative communications tools?

Some of the vendors are beginning to see the picture. I am encouraged when I read statements made by vendors like "human support needed & wanted", "systems need to be intuitive", and "simple & easy to use".

Simply put, users (not those implementing the technology) donít care about the buzzwords, but want technology to be transparent to allow them to conduct business. If the technology can help them be more strategic and competitive that is even better. One way of looking at collaborative communications (audio, multimedia, and video) is to equate it to a personal computer. When PCs first entered the marketplace no one was expected to immediately sit down and use a PC to solve all business problems. Instead, most users found a learning curve associated with the hardware and with each software package. And as we all now know, few of us use all the packages loaded on our PCs.

The same holds true for collaborative communications. Users look at a set of technologies that will improve productivity, increase access to subject matter experts, and allow meetings to be held when needed. These are all factors that are difficult to quantify and place a dollar value on. Yet many users have discovered that collaborative communications provide many business advantages. The problem is that few users, or vendors for that matter, understand how to make videoconferencing and other collaborative communications tools something wanted by everyone.

Although we have done much better with audioconferencing, there are still an awful lot of offices and conference rooms without conference phones. In fact, there are still conference rooms without telephones! Because audio is intuitive to most, and easy to use, it is much more widely accepted. Videoconferencing and other collaborative communications tools are different.

We need to set accurate expectations with users. Many are still surprised that videoconferencing doesnít look like television. Nor is it as easy to use as a telephone. For many, collaboration is a paradigm shift in the way one works. Another problem is that users donít know where the responsibility for these technologies belongs within their organization.

So whatís the answer? The answer is to look at collaborative communications technologies as strategic business tools. The answer is to start small and grow. The answer is to continue to provide promotions and training. The answer is to be sure equipment is updated and procedures are in place across an organization. The answer is for vendors to advertise and place public relations articles in general business publications, not just technology magazines. How is this accomplished?

Videoconferencing and collaborative communications need to be viewed as strategic business tools, ways for an organization to improve communications and positively impact the bottom line. Unfortunately, few organizations view videoconferencing or collaborative communications as anything more than technologies. It is time to place responsibility for these technologies in a more strategic position within the organization like Strategic Planning, Corporate Communications or Public Relations. While the day-to-day operational responsibility can be handled by telecommunications people, the strategy for implementation and applications development should be placed with strategic planners in an organization whose job is to interface with all levels of the organization and its customers. If this was done more often, videoconferencing and collaborative communications would be positioned as strategic business tools, not just technology.

What steps can be taken to ensure ongoing and growing usage of videoconferencing and collaborative communications tools within an organization?

  1. Determine Your Benchmark For Success
  2. Often technology is installed without any thought to how it will positively impact the bottom line of an organization. Videoconferencing and collaborative communications are not telephones. They are not intuitive to everyone. Rather, they are more like telephones with all the fancy features no one understands how or why to use. It is time to make the technologies a necessity. Not only must they be easy to use, but people need to know why they should bother using them at all. One way to start the process is to establish a benchmark for success at the beginning.

  3. Assess Your Needs
  4. Assess the needs of your organization. Doing so in a structured way allows you to (a) select the right technology to meet specific user needs, (b) identify individuals who will champion the project because they have a need, (c) cost justify the project, and (d) provide data for growth in all areas of collaborative communications. Many people, especially those selling equipment, shy way from conducting a needs assessment. They wrongly believe the process takes a long time, costs too much, and may convince you to buy someone elseís equipment. In reality, a needs assessment can be accomplished, on average, in a 2-4 week period. The value of the data in selecting the right technology and ensuring its usage far outweighs the cost to the user and the vendor. In fact, in many instances those who conduct a needs assessment are better prepared to purchase more equipment in a shorter time frame than those who did not conduct a needs assessment.

  5. Donít Stop At Implementation

Too often individuals responsible for implementing videoconferencing and collaborative communications believe their job is done once equipment has been installed and is working. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to be successful several important issues need to be addressed. These include room treatment, scheduling, room management, bridging, promotions, training, operating procedures, and growth.

Successful growth of a videoconferencing or collaborative communications network can be achieved by setting a benchmark and then working to meet it. Once this is done, growth is logical. Today much of the growth centers around set top systems, desktop units, video over the Internet, and streaming. For successful growth, the issues raised in this article need to be addressed and a written plan developed. Having evaluated hundreds of videoconferencing networks over the years, I can assure you that success lies in proper, prior planning.

S. Ann Earon can be reached at 609-597-6334 or Email: AnnEaron@AOL.COM.