Magazine article Communication World

Seeing You Loud and Clear: Will Visual Technology Ever Make a Real Impact on Business Communication?

Magazine article Communication World

Seeing You Loud and Clear: Will Visual Technology Ever Make a Real Impact on Business Communication?

Article excerpt

The rapid development and accessibility of e-mail, intranets and the Internet have revolutionised business communication. Now a new communication revolution is underfoot as visual capabilities humanise such technologies. Thanks to greater bandwidth, more reliable networks and wider accessibility, visual interaction can now take place via a multitude of devices in different locations. Many organisations already are using videoconferencing to hold internal meetings and business television to communicate with employees, and the use of webcasting and video streaming is increasing. The future holds the potential for 3-D images of colleagues and compression technologies enabling visual communication using mobile devices.

Technological advancements are the second most important element affecting professional communication, as cited by IABC members in Profile 2002. Boston Consulting Group, in its report "Company Communication Trends," published in early 2002, projected that in 2001 and 2002 companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia would increase their use of technology to aid business communication by 15 percent. The group, which surveyed 123 large corporations in the U.S., Europe and Asia, also found that European and Asian organisations are catching up with their U.S. counterparts in their rate of adoption.

Although visual technology is already demonstrating real benefit for many organisations, the uncoordinated and piecemeal use of existing technologies, coupled with the perceived reduction in value as communication volume increases, has led many business communicators to approach new forms of technology with some caution. But challenging economic conditions call for changes, and organisations must embrace the time-and cost-saving opportunities presented by new technologies while ensuring that they understand the business benefit of their investments.


To examine the developing role of visual technology within business communication, Sony Business Europe in 2002 conducted a study with a think tank made up of directors of multinational organisations such as American Express, UPS and Frito-Lay. The company released a synopsis of the think tank's findings in its recently published report "The Emerging Trends, Uses and Benefits of Visual Communications." Given a global environment of mergers and acquisitions and dispersed and increasingly mobile workforces, effective internal and external communications are more crucial now than ever before, and the think tank recommended that visual technology could improve the effectiveness of such communications.

The humanising potential of visual technology offers some obvious attractions when compared to the travel time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings or to the faceless nature of mass electronic communication. But participants also identified significant, largely unexploited potential for visual communication to make a positive impact in a number of important business areas, including leadership building, internal communication, customer relationship management and knowledge sharing.

Enabling better internal communication. Usage of visual technology for internal communication varies widely, from fairly simple webcasts to carefully orchestrated multimedia live events where people using a range of technologies collaborate and share ideas. For example, Safeway Stores, a worldwide grocery chain, holds a "Meeting for Everyone" every fortnight in the U.K., where directors discuss company performance and direction. Simon Finn, the company's internal communications controller, explained the program at a session held during the 2002 Multichannel Internal Communication Conference in London. According to Finn, Safeway staff from offices and depots across the U.K. can actively participate via videoconferencing link.

Building the profile of leaders. In a challenging global economy, building the profile of leaders and communicating company direction in a clear, open and consistent way is crucial. …

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