Cos. Pioneering Implementation Of Remote Conf. Policies
Though remote conferencing tools—spurred by spending cuts and one international crisis after another—continue to weave their way into the fabric of corporate travel philosophies, the number of corporations that have developed formal procurement strategies and policy language for the selection and use of conferencing technology remains low. Still, as the technology grows in prominence, some companies have begun to take those steps.
While several corporations have mandated a single videoconferencing solution, partly due to network capacity concerns, far fewer have created policies governing the use and purchase of Webconferencing technology or enveloped language concerning the use of conference tools into corporate travel policy.
On the whole, conferencing technology remains decentralized, with individual corporate departments finding and using solutions tailored to those departments' specific needs.
"It depends on the organization, but some companies have said there can be only one videoconferencing solution companywide," said S. Ann Earon, president of Skillman, N.J.-based remote conferencing consultancy Telemanagement Resources International. "Webconferencing is more departmental, though some companies have tried it, liked it and rolled it out companywide and don't want multiple systems. It all depends on how key the technology is to the organization, whether a company is dependent on it, or it's just a nicety."
An important factor in remote conferencing procurement, Earon said, is the network requirements of the technology. Some corporations that recently have upgraded their networks have done so with conferencing in mind, ensuring that the new network will have the capacity to service conference technology.
"Some companies upgrading their networks are taking into account the fact that videoconferencing is a hog," Earon said. "Otherwise, see what happens the first time someone tries to videoconference and has the system crash."
Given the comparatively low technological demands of Webconferencing, as well as its generally low cost, Earon said, not many corporations have mandated a single product.
"That question is one of the big issues right now," said Nathan Cocozza, vice president of worldwide sales for Tempe, Ariz.-based videoconferencer Viack Corp. "Right now, it's still department by department. Some organizations have tried to standardize, but different departments need different things. Human resources departments want multipoint videoconferencing, while a sales department might want just a Webconferencing solution."
Cocozza said companywide implementation of a single conferencing solution likely would require a single tool that could meet every need of every department, a development that has not yet occurred.
"I wouldn't want to put my finger on when a solution that fit every single person would happen, because there are a lot of little niches that are unique," Viack Corp.'s Cocozza said. "Top-down moves require standardized solutions that you know can solve all your company's issues."
Yet, directives from senior management to find and install conferencing solutions do occur, said Stacy Saxon, director of product marketing for Pleasanton, Calif.-based remote conferencing firm Polycom Inc.
"Typically, it comes from a senior executive who determines efficiencies and directs the company to implement measures," Saxon said. "The corporate information technology group evaluates videoconferencing options and usually desires a single-vendor solution. Some even include videoconferencing on approved vendor lists. Often, this is part of a larger enterprise beyond selecting a videoconferencing system, as it could be part of a whole communication solution, including videoconferencing, Webconferencing and teleconferencing, and they need assurance that all these solutions will work together."
Larger companies typically have more formal processes for conferencing solution selection and use, although the methods they use to establish them are different, Saxon said. "It varies among multinational corporations," she said. "The majority of those companies have a group responsible for evaluating these tools and recommending global implementation. Some mandate that use, and some allow their divisions some discretion. A lot of it depends on corporate culture."
Though remote conferencing has affected corporate travel expenditures at many companies, the number of corporations that have required the use of conferencing instead of travel in specific situations is not particularly widespread.
"From our perspective, it's not yet that advanced," Cocozza said. "There is an impact of mandates on corporate travel to save money, but we haven't found specific language that says you have to conference or you have to get on a plane."
"One of our customers' corporate travel departments has a travel authorization form with a line item that asks the user why videoconferencing would not work instead of travel," Saxon said. "There are a lot of customers trying to promote it as a direct alternative to travel, but there is still room for more direction in that area."
In general, though, conferencing technology continues to pose an alternative for companies focused on blunting travel expenditures.
"Because of the war and severe acute respiratory syndrome, we are now finding the travel department starting to see conferencing as an alternative," Telemanagement Resources International's Earon said. "They have to offer savings and cut budgets, and they have done so. There's not a lot of policy language requiring the use of conferencing, but budgets have been cut and people have higher workloads, so its use is increasing."