May 18, 2011

Telepresence Options Series


I'm really excited to let our membership know that we're working with Howard Lichtman of the Human Productivity Lab to bring you highlights from their new publication.

We'll be bringing you these articles as a part of your Webtorials membership. All are really high-quality, focused, and independent editorial products.

I'm sure that you'll find this to be an excellent and unique resource.

I have a first question for Howard...

Telepresence is definitely a cool term. But how would you define the key difference(s) between "telepresence" and "video conferencing," especially high-definition video conferencing?

Telepresence is a visual collaboration solution that addresses human factors to better improve end-user acceptance over and above what can be achieved with traditional videoconferencing. The goal is to create an environment that closely replicates an in-person meeting experience.

Generally, telepresence solutions will also have some combination of the following features: life-sized or near life-sized images, eye contact or the approximation of eye contact, studio-quality sound, acoustics, directional audio, lighting, and engineered environments that achieve a consistency of quality.

With traditional videoconferencing, you can walk into 50 videoconferencing rooms and they're all different. By consistency of quality, we mean that telepresence should be an engineered environment where both sides precisely place the participants in a culturally correct format.

You can deploy traditional videoconferencing systems in a telepresence format and in the last article in this series: Designing Telepresence Spaces, we discuss strategies for doing that effectively.

The ROI of deploying telepresence solutions is that usage goes up 100%, 200%, or even higher over traditional videoconferencing. Participants are able to stay in the environments longer, fatigue is less, and both retention and comprehension are improved. Because the end-user acceptance and usage are improved companies will receive more of an ROI in reduced travel, improved productivity, time-to-market advantage, etc.

Finally, because somewhat of a standard has developed among the three screen group system there is a consistency-of-quality developing between business partners that is developing. We are seeing the dawn of "inter-company business" where firms are connecting with partners, vendors, and customers and reducing the cost of those interactions and improving productivity up and down the supply and demand chain. These are HUGE benefits and the dynamic is only accelerating.

Thanks, Howard.

This does lead me to another question. It would seem to me that your definition would exclude the use of devices such as the iPad2, Android-based tablets (such as the Motorola Xoom) and similar devices with relatively high definition (albeit small) screens and front-facing cameras from being considered a part of a "telepresence" solution.

That said, how do you see the trade-off between the superb human experience of "real" telepresence versus the convenience (and relatively low cost) of handheld conferencing devices?

Mobile devices fall into the category of videoconferencing or visual collaboration. They can still be deployed in ways that address the human factors of participants (See our upcoming Webtorial's article: Designing Telepresence Spaces) but in and of themselves they are not telepresence.

Videoconferencing and mobile video both compliment and enhance a telepresence deployment and are key components of an effective visual collaboration capability. They improve comprehension and retention of important information especially among "visual learners", they provide a mobile video platform for employees working in the field, working with equipment that requires remote visual inspection, they provide lower cost end-points for remote team members but you definitely aren't going to get the same end-user acceptance and usage as you will with a life-size telepresence environment.

Care must be take in attempting to use the mobile video solutions in conjunction with true telepresence solutions. The telepresences solutions operate over, high bandwidth/QOS enabled networks typically dedicated to video. Mobile video is either wifi/3g/4g at best - lacking a result the experience of high qualith video could be lost to the mobile user and depending on who they are could be negative feedback to the other Telepresence users. (e.g. don't put C-level execs on mobile video and try to join them in a telepresence session using off-net devices/technologies) Frankly mobile vc is NOT telepresence as Howard points out. Care should be taken to ensure both user camps know what the Video experience is likely to be - if/when they are joined in a video conf.

The second installment in this series, "Understanding the Telepresence Marketplace: Endpoints & Environments," does a great job of defining the wide range of options of telepresence.

As with all cool new emerging technologies, the range of option sis limited only by your imagination!

Here's a quick intro to the second part...

"What’s just as mind-blowing as the technology behind telepresence? The width and breadth of the marketplace! Telepresence technologies extend
beyond the familiar three-screen group systems. You can find them in retail kiosks, podiums, auditoriums and even on-stage experiences. Here’s a tour
through the major segments of the market, with a couple of specialty applications thrown in for good measure.

In this fifth and final segment of the "Telepresence Options" series, the factors concerning the physical environment for telepresence is discussed. In particular, it's not a safe assumption that every environment is appropriate for an optimal telepresence experience.

This paper does a fantastic job of addressing technical issues (such as the type of lighting) and also ancillary but critical issues like the physical setup of the room.

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