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What's Video Good For?

Videoconferencing is a hot technology, one that's seeing 30%+ annual growth in both revenue and units shipped, according to Wainhouse Research. The assumption is that this growth is being driven, at least in part, by companies' desire to avoid employee travel as fuel prices rise. But people who look at this market closely say travel avoidance is only a small part of video's appeal.Certainly you can't minimize travel avoidance. It's always been an intangible -- as many people have pointed out, between the indignities and the inefficiencies, no one looks for excuses to travel more. And as costs go up, the dollars-and-cents case, already compelling, will become almost a given.

But a lot of people are saying that what video is really about is more and better meetings. Now, that sounds crazy -- your first impulse is to picture the most agonizing meetings you sit through on a regular basis. You're constantly trying to find ways to reduce those meetings, not increase them.

Those aren't the meetings we're talking about.

Mostly what we're talking about is using video to establish stronger relationships with partners, suppliers, subsidiaries and colleagues in parts of the world where it's simply impractical to maintain frequent travel schedules. The idea is to use high-quality video to do something that you basically can't do in person, which is hold, say, daily or weekly meetings.

We have an example of this approach in a blog posting on No Jitter today. Marty Parker of UniComm Consulting writes about an exchange he had recently with a systems integrator who described why video isn't just about user productivity:

While desktop video alone would seem to be the UC-User Productivity category, behind that investment is usually a business process that needs to be improved, such as collaboration between a product company and their off-shore manufacturing sub-contractors for product release "collaboration acceleration" or for production throughput management via "resource identification and problem resolution."

In previous technology generations, videoconferencing didn't significantly replace travel because, in the end, if you have the choice between meeting critical stakeholders in person, or meeting them via video, you want to meet them in person. What video is doing today is changing the equation, and offering you the chance to hold meetings with people you couldn't meet with at all, or as frequently.