Business Video Conferencing

Both business video conferencing and Internet phone conferencing seek to manage business relationships in the most productive way, while still maintaining some sense of a personalized meeting. Each technology is involved in connecting people with each other, whether this involves employee-to-customer interaction or connecting co-workers. Usually, face-to-face meetings are vital in establishing relationships. However, large strides have been made in developing communications technologies which seek to bridge the gap, even when individuals are separated by great distances. Although further advances in these areas are inevitable and ongoing, business managers should become familiar with these tools in order to remain competitive in a global market.

First, a general overview of business video conferencing is in order. A video conference (also known as video teleconference or VTC) is a set of two-way technologies which allow people or groups which are situated at two or more locations to interact with each other. This is sometimes also called visual collaboration. The process may involve two persons in their own offices having a conversation, which is known as point-to-point, or may involve several sites (multi-point) where even groups in large rooms may interact with individuals at different sites. Besides being able to see and hear other participants, video conferencing can be used to display any other items (such as documents, contracts, artwork or training materials) which can be displayed on a computer monitor.

Advantages of this process over Internet phone conferencing are obvious. Although phone conferencing can be very useful in assembling groups via phone to convey information verbally, and technologies are continuing to develop which allow the participants to see each other and view computer displays, at this point it seems that video conferencing still has the upper hand in providing an experience which is similar to an actual meeting. However, for enabling groups to quickly come to a consensus about some matter, Internet phone conferencing is very efficient, for this allows employees to avoid the travel and delays an actual meeting would require. Also, there are some free conferencing applications which seem useful in a business context. These can be located by an Internet search.

Benefits of business video conferencing are obvious. Travel (and related expenses, such as car rentals, hotel and meal expenses) is eliminated. Rather than spending a lot of downtime waiting in airports or dealing with security procedures, events can be scheduled to make the most productive use of employees' time. Decisions can be made relatively quickly if necessary. All parties can view common documents or sales presentations. A well-prepared session can show visually the advantages of the product or service. Answer objections with demonstrations of the product's superiority by showing the item being used in real-life situations. One vital aspect of remaining competitive in a fast-moving, global environment is a quick turnaround on decisions related to bringing the product or service to market. Videoconferencing helps to expedite these matters and ensure that everyone is on the same page in efforts to reach business goals.

Videoconferencing can contribute to quality-of-life issues as well. Many people do not like to participate in work-related travel. Some may have a genuine fear of travel, or wonder about current security issues. Others just prefer to be able to go home every night to their families and loved ones. Business video conferencing can help improve an employee's work situation and allow room for having more time for family and friends. Additionally, just the amount of stress this technology eliminates makes for a happier employee.

Relationships between a businessman and customers who are located at some distance may be strengthened by this type of technology. "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly..." says the writer of Proverbs 18:24, and what better way to do so than a quick video conference to check in with an established contact? Whether by Internet phone conferencing or videoconferencing, the businessman can keep in touch with contacts in order to keep abreast of current needs or levels of satisfaction with the product or service. Relationships with vendors or mentors can also be maintained. Although this type of interaction can not fully replace face-to-face meetings, video conferencing can be a great way to stay connected in a more personalized way in the time between on-site gatherings. Speaking of on-site, videoconferencing seems particularly helpful for businesses which have workers at some distance, yet need to keep in contact for decision-making or supervisory purposes. For example, construction companies might find it useful to receive visual updates of progress made at remote sites, and workers could receive direction at crucial points in the construction process without taking precious time away from the construction schedule.

Some issues need to be addressed regarding the use of videoconferencing. One is the fact that because of parallax (the apparent difference in position/direction of an object when the observer's position changes), a person may appear to be avoiding eye contact with the person to whom he or she is speaking. This can be unsettling to the observer, especially in a business context, where such behavior can be perceived as an indication of being inattentive or dishonest. Some systems have sought to overcome these misperceptions by using cameras mounted in the screen for more natural interaction. Another problem is that participants may become self-conscious because they know that a camera is focused upon them and every word is being recorded. This problem can be overcome simply by more exposure to this technology. As it is used on a regular basis, most people will be able to eventually consider it a tool to be used, just as any other technology. A manager can lead the way in establishing this type of climate. Make Internet phone conferencing part of the daily workflow. Since unlimited videoconferencing services are often available for a specific monthly fee, there would be no problem with using the technology for ordinary office interaction in order to establish the use of business video conferencing as a vital part of the workday process.

Video Conferencing Equipment

Running a global business is made easier with video conferencing equipment. Now offices in New Jersey, California and Japan can not only all collaborate verbally, but they can all view the same white board recording their brainstorming session located in the New Jersey plant. The ability to simultaneously watch a demonstration of a product or view a chalk board is very beneficial in today's world. There are certain situations that email communications and an endless trail of attachments will not help. Video conferencing software allows communication in those places where a mere telephone call or email is insufficient.

A video conference is a meeting between multiple people in various locations using two way video and audio technologies. This type of meeting could be between just two people, each at different sites. A conference between two people is called a point-to-point conference. If the meeting involves more than two people at more than two sites it is referred to as a multi-point conference. This type of technology is not new. As long as there have been televisions, there was the capability to visually have a conference. In the early stages, those wanted to have visual remote meetings would hook two closed circuit televisions together by a cable. This technology utilizes analog signals. In fact, the first manned space shuttle flights communicated to NASA using UHF and VHF radio frequencies. One was pointed toward Earth; the other toward the shuttle. Television channels, until recently, used this sort of makeshift video conferencing software to transmit news at remote locations. Now, however, they receive almost all visual and audio information via satellite.

Transmission in this matter soon fell out of favor due to slow speed and amount of expensive equipment necessary. It was not sufficient for distance learning, business meetings and other similar applications. Next on the scene were the telephone companies. Many telephone companies wanted to try their hands at sending visual data over telephone lines. This was called telephony. These held some promise of improvement, but failed to gain in popularity due to a poor picture quality and lack of visual data compression abilities. What this meant for the user was that the memory and bandwidth necessary to transmit the picture made it too slow to be practical. Until the ability to compress the image, thus making it a smaller file and able to be sent quicker, the telephony technology was simply unable to compete in the world of video conferencing equipment.

All was not lost. By the 1990s digital telephony made the bit rate quite a bit quicker, and video and audio compression was the norm. Now the file sizes were small enough to travel over the wires quickly, and digital media no longer was the sluggish medium that analog once was. From here, visual conference software was no longer expensive, proprietary technology, but was available to the general public for a fairly reasonable amount. As the 1990s progressed, IP (Internet Protocol) was the basis for the next wave of video conferencing equipment development. With IP signal and continual improvements being made to visual data compression technology, video conferencing software was eventually available for personal computers and desktop processors in offices across the United States. The advancements are as such that now internet providers offer plug-ins that make video conferencing possible to anyone with a computer camera and internet capabilities. Though, in these mass produced plug-in, free-ware types of audio and visual sharing programs the picture quality is notably worse than that found in the stand alone video conferencing equipment.

At the heart of visual conference technology is compression of visual and audio information to display them accurately in real time. This compression is made possible by a piece of hardware called a codec. Codec stands for code and decode. Besides a codec, there are a few other necessary components that make up the video conferencing software and hardware used in many remote meetings. Some sort of visual input device, like a recording camera is necessary to form the original image. To receive a picture; a visual output device is necessary. Visual output devices include: computer monitors, television screens or projectors. Audio receiving devices, such as a microphone are needed to record the voice of the speaker. On the receiving end, microphones are needed to hear the sound recorded by the speaker. All of these devices need a path to transmit the data on. This path can be either analog or digital telephone lines, LAN lines or broadband internet.

There are two main categories of visual meeting systems. There are the dedicated systems. Dedicated systems have all the necessary components all packaged into one piece of technology. It is usually a console and a high-end video camera. These dedicated systems can range from the elaborate and expensive with large projectors appropriate for large global corporations to small packages ideal for individuals. The other type of video conferencing software is that loaded onto personal desktop computers. Most desktop computers are video compatible, so purchasing a camera and software makes impromptu virtual meetings a reality, even for the individual.

Even as easy as remote visual meetings are becoming, not everyone is comfortable with them. One main drawback is lack of eye contact. Because the speaker is not really looking at the recipient, they appear to be avoiding eye contact. Thought the recipient knows it is the fault of the technology, it is still hard to feel the personal affection of the speaker. A second drawback is that many people are leery about being video-taped. Most people are comfortable making phone calls or sending emails, but would think twice about being taped for a virtual meeting. "Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee." (Proverbs 7:15)

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