How can your company save as much as $5,000 in travel expenses? One four-hour videoconference that keeps five people off an airplane and out of hotels and restaurants can save you at least that much. And if you did this even four times, you could justify the cost of purchasing a full-function videoconferencing unit.
There is a down side, however. Videoconferencing simply is not the same as being there. If there's a universal drawback to videoconferencing, it's the loss of body language feedback. On the technical side, problems range from hitting the wrong control buttons to using the mute button to shut off dissenting viewpoints.
A few missed subtleties, however, will hardly slow down the rapid growth of videoconferencing. The Yankee Group, a Boston consulting group, surveyed major corporations in 1992 and found that half of those using videoconferencing reported that travel was reduced "somewhat," and 16 percent said it was reduced "a lot." Of the 45 percent of companies not yet utilizing videoconferencing technology, virtually all planned to acquire systems within one to three years.
Since then, entry-level prices for complete systems have dropped from more than $40,000 to $20,000. Despite the lower prices, net revenues from videoconferencing sales are expected to grow from $350 million in 1992 to $7 billion by 1997.
One reason for the increased sales is that videoconferencing--even the low-end units--can turn any office into a videoconferencing center. This is a boon for anyone who routinely struggles to make visual plans and spreadsheets understandable during a phone conversation. By linking PCs or workstations during the videoconference, the participants can be as productive as they are during travel.
Executive recruiting is emerging as another growth area. Management Recruiters International installed videoconferencing in all 600 offices. The firm had arranged 90,000 trips a year at an average cost per trip of $1,650. By eliminating most of this travel, the head hunting firm plans to save its clients $135 million a year.
Like it or not, expect to see videoconferencing in your future. In fact, within two or three years, for $1,000 to $1,500, your desktop computer can be equipped with a camera and videoconferencing circuit board. You can't escape it, so here's how to excel at videoconferencing, according to CLI (San Jose, Calif.), PictureTel (Danvers, Mass.) and VTEL (Austin, Texas), three major videoconferencing manufacturers:
* Be on time and stick to the agenda. …