Teleport to Your Next Meeting
Ask business travelers to share a time when they wished they could teleport back to their enterprise and you will get more than one evocative experience. The costly, time-consuming nature of traveling can make even the most seasoned traveler wish for “Beam me up, Scotty” capabilities.
I felt that way earlier this month when our sales leader for North Dakota slated me to present to his sales teams in Fargo and Grand Forks over the course of two days. Those two 1-hour meetings would require me to spend 10 hours behind a windshield, two days out of the office and a night at a hotel.
I was ready to do it as I always have, but then, I asked if we could leverage new technology that would allow me to “teleport” to the meetings. Interested in seeing it in action, the groups kindly obliged.
While it sounds like a line from the television series “Star Trek,” a combination of recent advancements in video, audio, internet, and compression capabilities is bringing businesses a 21st century-take on the teleporting concept made popular in science fiction.
A Virtual Table
Telepresence technology enables groups to meet and collaborate in multiple locations worldwide in real time. By combining high-definition video, real-time audio and interior design, I was able to connect with the sales teams in conference rooms in both Fargo and Grand Forks and feel as if we were actually gathered together in the same room across a virtual table.
Telepresence technology is scalable, and businesses with multiple locations like Marco are seeing the benefits of integrating it into their facilities. I recently evaluated the needs of each of locations in the Upper Midwest and began implementing varying levels of the technology. Here’s a look at the scalable options:
We chose to simply purchase a modest camera (similar to a web camera) and a license to give our small offices in communities such as Marshall, Minnesota, telepresence capabilities.
The camera is mobile and makes sense for professionals who desire to connect to the main office from their hotel room, home office or another place with high-speed Internet access. It essentially takes Cisco’s WebEx meeting experience to another level and can bring up to 48 locations together in one meeting.
Organizations can get started for $400 per camera location and they do not need to start from scratch. They can integrate telepresence into their existing SD or HD video conferencing systems.
Your Personal Teleport
At this level, organizations purchase a license, high quality camera, a phone and screen to equip a person’s office or meeting room with telepresence capabilities. This is really the first level that allows organizations to achieve the true telepresence feel and ease of use.
We just equipped our CEO’s office with the technology and now with the push of a button, he can begin speaking to employees in a conference room at one of our branch offices – and even connect to multiple locations at once and be multiple places at once. This also works best for our conference rooms at our mid-size offices in places like Mankato. Depending on the technology chosen, this option between $5,000 and $12,000.
While this requires a more significant investment, we have already seen the ROI in reduced travel expenses. It also yields heightened productivity and increased collaboration. Marco employees now can more easily speak to – and see – me, our CEO and other members of the team to discuss an issue or work through a project.
Designated Conference Room
Creating what is being called a “designated telepresence conference room” requires organizations to go a step farther and not only consider how it is hard wired, but also the lighting.
Controlling and diffusing the lighting is the key to removing shadows and achieving the “you look like you’re here” feel. We turned our conference rooms in the Twin Cities, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Rochester, and St. Cloud into these designated rooms.
Telepresence conference spaces can cost $30,000 to $50,000 and certainly much more. A new hosted solution that just became available allows organizations to get started for a fraction of the cost. Through the hosted model, companies buy the screen and camera and pay a monthly fee for unlimited connectivity between their locations.
The technology continues to evolve and grab the interest of the IT industry. Doting its 3D capabilities, some spinoffs of the technology incorporate holograms, mirrors and ultra, high-definition projection. In one instance, I saw a combination of technology and mirrors make a head of a person teleporting for the meeting float at eye level.
While it may take some getting used to, the face-to-face collaboration and productivity benefits of telepresence are expected to accelerate its adoption in the business world. Welcome to the future.