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Telepresence: costly but worth it

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Despite its price, telepresence is proving its ability to serve companies' more demanding communications needs.

In addition to replacing executive business meetings for which travel was long regarded as essential, telepresence is now also facilitating project meetings and helping to foster a closer team spirit between workers in different locations.
Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the worldwide telepresence markets generated revenues of $165,3-million in 2007 and estimates that this will grow exponentially to reach $1,44-billion in 2013.
"While telepresence has been around for a number of years, it is only in the last two years that it has made a major impact," comments Frost & Sullivan principal analyst Dominic Dodd. "It has re-wakened C-level executives to the massive potential of visual communications to provide real answers to several key issues facing organisations today."
Telepresence is not a technology, but rather a tightly linked solution of systems and services, which, when delivered properly, can provide companies with a highly reliable, consistent and usable communications capability.
Since 2003, specialist companies have created a niche market at the top end of the visual communications spectrum by delivering telepresence rooms and supporting services on a global basis. However, only since the market debuts of Cisco Systems and HP in 2006 has telepresence burst into the mainstream. Many corporations now view it as a very realistic alternative to business travel, with ROI values that justify the high price tag.
"Faced with spiralling travel costs and demands from stakeholders to reduce the environmental impact of their business operations, organisations are re-evaluating telepresence and video conferencing as viable and cost-effective solutions," remarks Dodd.
However, telepresence is a complex solution, consisting of critical technology systems and service components that require vendors to work closely with network services providers and systems integrators to deliver consistently.
While a number of vendors are capable of providing customers with a "one-stop shop", others are building key alliances to create the complete solution. The ability of the telepresence market to grow will depend on the quality of these partnerships, and the consistency with which solutions are delivered.
While telepresence has successfully established a reputation for delivering a high quality, highly productive user experience there is a real danger that over-use or possible misuse of the telepresence "brand" will lead to its devaluation.
"Telepresence is now firmly part of the visual communications portfolio, with an increasing number of customers able to testify to the solution's ability to resolve a number of key organisational communications issues," says Dodd. "Vendors and service providers operating in this segment of the market will need to keep a careful eye on the values that customers associate with telepresence, and ensure these do not become diluted."
It is possible that a global economic downturn will severely impact the potential for telepresence to continue growing at its present strong rate.
Customers faced with having to make capital spending cuts may simply defer these, or opt for the cheaper HD video conferencing products now coming into the market.
Equally, companies may see in telepresence an opportunity to create additional agility within their organisations, reducing travel costs, and re-engineering productivity to position themselves for the upturn.