Straight to Video

ecosystems-0810I travel a lot, somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 miles a year. I also get a lot of emails, somewhere between 75 and 100 a day. These are the two great time sucks of my life, and, I imagine, of life in general for many of you as well. Both are necessary, both are a drag, and both can be dramatically improved through the pervasive use of videoconferencing. Let’s discuss.

Because I travel so much I am a Platinum-Medallion frequent flyer with Delta, which means I get bumped up to first/business class almost every time I fly. When I do, I typically chat up the person sitting next to me (you never know; it could be a potential client). If the person seems inclined to talk, I usually get around to asking him (or her) what he does for a living and why he’s traveling. Some are lawyers, some are in finance, some are business consultants, and most of them travel a lot more than me. When they invariably tell me they make this same trip every week, I usually explain to them what I do for a living and ask them why they don’t conduct these meetings via high-definition videoconferencing.

Their responses are so similar I could probably mouth the words as they say them. “Well, we have some old videoconference carts we bought years ago, but no one really knows how to work them. Plus, the quality is terrible, so I just end up flying. I do use Skype sometimes, but we need to share content, so travel it is.”

ARRRGGGHH!

scottwalker-videoconferencing-0112As we in this industry know, the story shouldn’t end there. The current quality offered by today’s videoconference solutions is stunning and can eliminate a huge percentage of business travel. If my row mate seems interested at all, I usually pull out my iPad and show them some photos of spaces we’ve done for clients in the same business as them. I also show them photos or video of collaboration using desktop videoconferencing that I do with employees, partners and clients. They usually say something along the lines of “Wow! I didn’t realize the technology had advanced so far.” Business cards are exchanged.

But let’s get back to me and my little pity party. Last year, I hit my breaking point with email. If you get 100 real (non-spam) emails a day and you travel a lot, you can quickly get 500 or 1,000 emails behind, which results in many weekends and late nights spent farming emails. When I analyzed those emails, about two-thirds were internal, many of which required me to review some document and make some decision. Thus, I was becoming a bottleneck to forward progress within my own company. I’m sure this happens in many companies, both large and small.

So, at Waveguide we deployed desktop videoconferencing for everyone in the company, in addition to the HD videoconference rooms we have at each office. Our goal was to use “presence” information to determine who was online and who wasn’t and replace email with chat and video. The term “straight to video” is a pejorative in the film world, but it is a mantra at my company for escaping the tyranny of email.

Since our roll-out has taken root, I’d say that I probably average four to six video calls a day, 10 or so chat messages, and fewer and fewer internal emails all the time. My office phone is becoming something of a dinosaur used for occasional incoming phone calls from new and prospective clients. With existing clients, I try to get on a video call with them whenever possible since we are usually talking about some sort of content (RFP for a new project, CAD files on a current project, etc). As we go forward and replace internal phone calls with video, I can imagine not buying phone handsets for some of our employee’s workstations.

So, why do I still travel so much? Well, some travel is very necessary and very positive. Most of my travel is for project interviews, project kickoff meetings, industry tradeshows/events, and extended visits to our remote offices. This type of business travel should always continue. However, this year was the first year we conducted employee annual reviews using videoconferencing, and it was totally great while saving us a few thousand bucks. (And, for the record: Yes, I’ve seen “Up in the Air” and understand the limits of videoconferencing in a business setting.)

Scott-Walker-rAVe-Green-AV-0910So, as I discussed in last month’s article, we need to be our own lab rats and experiment internally with green technologies like videoconferencing. If we make pervasive video part of our culture, we will be better positioned show our clients a way to a better (and more sustainable) future where travel is relegated mostly to vacationing, introductory business meetings and networking events. Attendance at Little League games will skyrocket.

So let’s get out there and take some airplanes out of the sky.

Scott Walker, CTS-D, LEED AP, is president and CEO of Waveguide Consulting, a national AV, IT and acoustical consulting firm. Scott is a past president of InfoComm International, and he currently chairs InfoComm’s AV Sustainability Task Force, which is responsible for developing the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) rating system. Scott can be reached at swalker@waveguide.com