Technology has grown to possess endless opportunities, but if a CIO is unable to specifically break down exactly how and where a particular implementation is going to provide benefits to the bottom line, it is not going to fly.
That is ultimately why trends like cloud and big data – whilst demanding the most hype and column inches – are still lagging in adoption. Because if they are so early in maturity that CIOs have barely fully understood how to precisely measure the ROI themselves, they cannot present the investment convincingly to management.
Fortunately for telepresence technologies, things are different. ROI is a lot simpler to measure, the benefits are crystal clear to see and that is why adoption continues to vastly gain traction.
Furthermore, with travel costs continuing to rocket and more enterprises experiencing globalisation, this collaboration through technology is becoming less a luxury and more a necessity.
One organisation that recognised this in the Middle East is General Electric (GE). With 300,000 employees worldwide – 4,500 in MENA and Turkey alone – collaboration was naturally at the top of its IT priorities.
“GE is very big on collaboration at the moment. It’s a big theme – connecting our employers, customers and suppliers,” says Fady Sleiman, CIO, GE MEA.
As such, the company implemented a Cisco 3012, a large unit made up of three 62-inch screens that provide a realistic face-to-face experience. With GE already boasting between 500 and 600 of these units globally, the Dubai headquarters can now interact with any of these around the world.
“This type of technology is so sophisticated that they don’t even have to press a button. They walk into a room and as soon as the meeting is scheduled to start, it will just prop up on a screen and get going,” Sleiman says.
As long as GE keeps utilising between 60 and 70 percent – any higher and it becomes too busy – it is reducing travel considerably, Sleiman adds.
“I’m talking about the long-haul travel and even with shorter travel, we’re only keeping it to must-meetings that they have to attend and that’s why now the regional CFO has supported the initiative of rolling out the TP strategy across the region.”
An evolving technology
The two leading operators in the UAE, Etisalat and du, are of course very familiar with telepresence technologies.
“There is a high level of demand in the UAE market as customers’ needs go beyond audio services and prefer collaboration through video communications. We are now in the era of video communications,” says Raied Ariqat, Manager, ICT Product House, Etisalat.
Farid Faraidooni, CCO, du, adds, “Telepresence technologies help with productivity, in terms of increased communication and collaboration; provide access to remote locations; and offer time savings and costs in terms of travel, especially for our executive teams. The ROI can come within nine to 12 months, depending on the organisation.”
As well as vastly reducing travel costs, other benefits include increases in productivity and efficiency, better communications, faster decision making, and improved employee quality of life, according to Daniel Schmierer, Area Sales VP for MEA and Turkey, Polycom, which, along with Cisco and LifeSize, is a leading provider of video conferencing solutions in the region.
“From a quality perspective, one of the things that a lot of people get caught up with when talking about video collaboration is the bandwidth requirement and infrastructure. Yet the reality is, if all those things do not work to deliver great quality, people do not use the technology.
“This then leads to low adoption and utilisation of your own solution. So what businesses should do is pick the solutions that can deliver and guarantee levels of quality so to encourage high adoption and utilisation. When utilisation goes up, you monetise faster.”
According to Pradeep Angeveetil, Regional Manager MEA, LifeSize Communications, the ROI can actually be quantified even before the implementation.
“A lot of enterprises do this exercise prior to initiating a video conferencing proposal,” he says. “Things like travel costs and efficiency can be jotted down, and gestation will depend on the frequency of travel. Telepresence would be deemed luxury if a client chooses to overlook ROI. Of late, million dollar telepresence rooms are diminishing and enterprises see video conferencing as more of a necessity.”
Wael El Kabbany, Managing Director, BT MENA, believes enterprises will start recuperating the investment from the moment the service becomes operational.
“Total ROI is dependent on the level of savings in travel budget versus the utilisation of the telepresence solution, and also motivation of employees to use the service,” he says.
Schmierer adds that ROI is heavily reliant on adoption and therefore the more employees who utilise the telepresence solutions, the quicker and greater the ROI.
“Basically, the faster and broader the adoption, the lower the TCO and the higher the ROI driven by a combination of lower costs, higher productivity and the unleashed creative power of unimpeded global collaboration,” he says.
He refers to Polycom’s video collaboration customer IFFCO as a key example. The leading player in India’s fertiliser industry saved $200,000 in travel costs and achieved a 200 percent ROI in less than six months.
Another example, provided by El Kabbany, is BT customer Tommy Hilfiger, which implemented a made-to-measure HD video conferencing facility – called the Virtual Fitting Room – to connect locations in Amsterdam, New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
“People simply step into virtual meeting rooms and effortlessly work with colleagues on the other side of the world,” El Kabbany says.
“They can even call in from home with a laptop and webcam, enabling the design teams in Amsterdam and New York to collaborate faster and more effectively with each other and with the manufacturing team in Hong Kong, meaning they hardly ever have to take a flight.”
However, whilst many people think that video solutions are only used for business video collaboration, vertical sectors are also using them for more innovative ways outside the meeting room.
A case in point in this region is the American University of Kuwait, which provides its faculty and students with the audio and video conferencing tools that are necessary to facilitate learning with universities abroad.
This enables them to hold classes in more than one classroom simultaneously, and have speakers, guest lecturers and authors speak to classes from anywhere in the world.
However, whilst many organisations in the Middle East are embracing the solutions, El Kabbany believes there are both technological and cultural factors that need to be taken into account when measuring deployment of telepresence, as well as wider Unified Communications and Collaborations (UCC) technology.
He alludes to a recent mini-survey of executives attending a seminar on UCC in the UAE, which found that instant messaging and audio conferencing are amongst the most popular tools, whilst immersive video solutions, desktop sharing and cloud-based services are still in early adoption stages compared to the rest of the world.
“Local executives consider better team work and time saving amongst the most important benefits gained from UCC adoption, whilst for executives in other countries, getting faster decisions is the major driver,” El Kabbany says.
“Another key reason for using [desktop] video conferencing services is the ability to communicate across countries and cultures, whilst the main reason for non-adoption of UCC services is the preferences of local executives to speak face-to-face with their counterparts.”
According to Faraidooni, the awareness is definitely increasing and du is working aggressively to increase awareness amongst its customers in UAE market. “We are working on new initiatives and are very positive about a higher uptake in 2013,” he says.
As companies from the region become increasingly international in their approach, there will be more investment into video conferencing technology, El Kabbany adds.
“The ongoing global economic downturn will also mean that more companies will be forced to examine their costs and will potentially see telepresence as a solution to reduce travel costs and thus lower the cost of doing business globally.”
To support this, a recent survey of over 400 business decision-makers across EMEA found that 70 percent of companies said that they felt video was critical to a flexible working environment to achieve high levels of productivity.
“What’s great about video is that, like in the health industry, it not only drives down costs, it also drives better services,” Schmierer says. “When you allow people a flexible working environment, you actually reduce the requirement that you have for your physical facilities. Not only do you increase your productivity, giving access to employees and expertise around the world and in a highly collaborative way, but you also significantly cut down on your infrastructural company requirements.”