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The Intangibles of Telepresence

July 30, 2009
at 12:00 pm PST

I usually emit a little chuckle when I see any of the 100′s of articles written about “HD Video Conferencing”…a category that Telepresence will often get mistakenly mislabeled into. I sold traditional video conferencing into large accounts for MCI for many years and one large customer in Cincinnati highlighted for me what was so often the problem. Primarily, it was just not easy enough. Any time the technology has the ability to get in the way of the meeting, then you lost. Its all about the meeting. I had seen this one large customer watch as HUGE PictureTel rooms with incredible technology and dedicated teams remained largely vacant. The hassle factor was too much. This same customer came a long way by transitioning to much lower cost systems by Polycom and their very popular at the time small-room systems that allowed you to use your own TV screen. This customer had their own 5ESS switch and thus were in the rare position of being able to provision their own ISDN lines right to your cubicle. I shudder thinking about ISDN and the high cost of dedicated networking technologies that we had to deal with in the past. Moving to IP has been one of the best standards to embrace video conferencing growth but there was more to this ‘ease of use’ integration that Cisco really nailed well with what I agree is the next generation of video based meetings…’Telepresence.’ I think Bill Haskin’s really nailed it in his blog at Global Crossing. Again its all about the meeting…not the technology. When I look at what Cisco has designed, I am amazed at how they decide what NOT to do. I think this is the hardest thing about good design (or many other subjects) -- how do you stick to your audience focus and remain hyper vigilant in resisting the urge to try and be all things to all people. I think this is incredibly hard and I think Cisco has done an amazing job here. The focus for Telepresence is very tight -- its the face to face meetings that probably make up 90 plus % of all meetings I attend. By locking this down in an appliance form factor and choosing not to allow it to be ‘rolled’ into other rooms, or do any cool triangulation of your voice with a PTZ camera, or any of another 100 things video conferencing has attempted in the past…we have been provided with a very high performance, predictably consistent way to meet people over large geographies without losing focus on our meeting objectives. Check out Bill’s opinions -- and share yours with me too!

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