Have virtual meetings helped reduce PR related costs?

virtual meetings

Applications developed thus far have made it possible to conduct virtual meetings in any location and at any time.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Technology has eased communication.

The landing of the undersea cables at East Africa’s coast has helped reduce the coast of broadband and as a result, numerous possibilities have been presented.

Applications developed thus far have made it possible to conduct virtual meetings in any location and at any time. Back in February 2011, CISCO in partnership with Tata Communications and Safaricom launched TelePresence facilities at the Kampala and Nairobi Serena Hotels. The facility aimed to minimize people’s travel time and expenses by delivering a live, immersive, face-to-face experience from the Nairobi Serena Hotel, Kampala Serena Hotel, or the Safaricom offices in Nairobi via the network.

A TelePresence meeting is as simple as making a phone call. Participants sit down at the conference table in one of the TelePresence rooms and connect to the other participants with a simple answer to a phone call. Individuals automatically appear on the screen, irrespective of where in the world they may be sitting. The setup of the rooms allows for participants to feel as if they are sitting across a table, in a life-size, meeting room.

The rooms are installed with a Cisco TelePresence System 3010, which allows up to six people to connect simultaneously with up to 48 locations. It comprises three 65-inch plasma screens and a specially designed physical table that seats six participants on each side of the virtual table. It also features an additional LCD for sharing rich media content and other data using simple auto-collaborate functionality as well as integrated cameras, lights, and microphones so that speakers use less power.

At the time of the launch, Safaricom’s CEO, Bobby Collymore enthusiastically said, “In today’s climate, people across East Africa are looking at better ways to conduct business, keep firm control on costs, and get more productivity. The fast pace of development in the business environment and the rapid growth of companies and associations today have created a necessity to develop new applications that can serve the communication needs of this fast-paced business growth.”

Fast forward…have companies actually reduced expenditure on meetings? Are the facilities being optimally utilized? Are the rates favorable?

Companies and individuals still prefer face to face meetings as opposed to virtual meetings. Top executives prefer to fly to a particular country for a meeting instead of online meetings. Our Ugandan representatives, in particular, have managed to carve out an infamous niche for themselves as people who prefer to travel for ‘benchmarking.’ Some argue that they need to see for themselves what actually takes place on the ground as opposed to being told through presentations on screens.

So are companies really utilizing these facilities?

Some of the staff at the Kampala Serena Hotel who agreed to speak to this reporter on condition of anonymity were adamant that there were any clients using the TelePresence facility at the hotel.

With the various applications, today; Facebook (calls), Microsoft Lync, Whatsapp among others, connecting with a person in a distant country is as simple as owning a Smartphone. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to master how to use these apps that are available on various Smartphones.

So, what needs to happen? How do companies blend various technologies so as to generate maximum benefit? Are some of these technologies getting obsolete?

Recently, Kramer Electronics, a company that designs, manufactures, and distributes signal management products for analog and digital video signals, introduced a product line that the company says will enable businesses to meet effectively in an interactive manner.

Why do they think they will succeed?

“During meetings, so much time is wasted on connecting various devices as well as getting the right cables to go to the right devices. VIA, on the other hand, is a wireless technology that allows persons to have a shared workspace that makes steam collaboration in real-time seamless and simple,” NirElizov, Pre-sales Manager at Kramer explains.

He says that the wireless device solves the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) challenges and allows for the effective integration of PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, allowing users to wirelessly collaborate in any meeting. Files can also be shared quickly and easily between participants or with all participants at once.

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Up to six presenters’ screens can be dynamically displayed on a single display device and up to 12 can be shown simultaneously when two display devices are used on virtual meetings

It also supports third-party applications such as Skype, Go To Meeting, Microsoft Lync, WebEx, Microsoft PowerPoint, among others.

“The digital canvas created by the VIA Collage allows meeting participants to all work on the same document in real-time and save the results to their device. Everyone in the room can help create and edit a common document through their individual devices; share it with others and save it for future purposes. The system automatically recognizes attendees and makes connections and collaboration easy,” Elizov added.

With the onset of such devices, the bulky projectors could soon become obsolete as people resort to more efficient methods of displaying their presentations.

Basically, the device eliminates the need for cables in the boardroom and can connect up to 250 people remotely from all over the world. Up to 1 GB of data can be shared on the device.

In the end, the inventions, both TelePresence and the VIA are meant to help businesses reduce costs involved in the hiring of venues, transportation of guests as well as time wasted in traveling hundreds, at times thousands of mile.

But whether businesses will embrace these technologies at the expense of executives’ per diems remains to be seen. As of now, both technologies are in the Ugandan market.

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