The other day I was sitting at one half of a circular boardroom table in Manhattan; the other half of the table was projected onto three panel screens. I was sitting next to Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chairman, Cisco, who leads the charge on collaboration and innovation.
He was demonstrating Cisco’s TelePresence technology. I noted in a previous blog post that Cisco’s TelePresence delivers “a unique ‘in-person’ experience with remote participants—you can interact and collaborate with others like never before, moving faster and more effectively.
Carlos dialed in one of his associates in Silicon Valley. In short order, she appeared and took her place at the table; that is, at one of the chairs across the table that was projected onto one of the flat screen panels.
The experience is unique as it provides much more of a real life meeting experience. You can hear their voices and movements of individuals from other locations quite clearly. Whenever someone was demonstrating something on their computer it was displayed on a screen for all to see.
The intent is to facilitate communication and meetings. We have all heard the general rule that much of communication is beyond content and voice, but also body language—in other words, ways to help you read between the lines.
With TelePresence technology you are able to simulate more of a real life meeting and derive similar benefits. What are the benefits of this type of technology?
First, the most practical benefit is that TelePresence eliminates some of the need for travel. If TelePresence can be used effectively to communicate in their manner, then why bother traveling to meet people? For upper level executives, any means of reducing travel time is welcome and improves the work/life balance equation.
Second, there is, related to the above, a social responsibility component to using this type of technology. Of course, if executives can communicate in this way rather than using transportation, then it is a positive benefit for society. Dominguez points out that it is easy to do this calculation in terms of positive environmental impact.
Third, the technology can facilitate decision making. Dominquez gives the example of working on a potential acquisition. He was able to have a series of TelePresence meetings with executives from throughout the world in rapid succession. He was also able to reach a conclusion that benefited from reading the body language of the people he was conferring with.
Fourthly, another significant benefit is also more of a challenge and it may necessitate a change to company culture. In Dominguez’s experience, TelePresence can facilitate collaboration, which is a forerunner to innovation. By having the means to get people talking to each other more cost-effectively it opens the way for more collaboration.
Dominguez explained to me that Cisco has experienced tremendous benefits from this type of collaboration. Individuals in one geographical region can easily tap into expertise from any other part of the Cisco network.
But not all companies will have an organizational infrastructure or budget that will permit this type of collaboration to occur. For example, there are companies that have a more traditional top-down reporting system or they may have a department that is responsible for R & D.
Today’s technological environment facilitates innovation by understanding it to be an open process that should draw in as many people as possible. No longer is innovation the domain of the few; instead companies must tap into the power of the crowd. However, the company must be able and willing to do so.
These four benefits of tele-collaboration are available now. Large companies, such as Cisco, are taking advantage of this technology. Their clients represent the Fortune 500 and they are seizing the opportunity. At present it is mainly the tangible benefits—such as reduced travel and, to a lesser degree, environmental impact, that are the draw. However, this type of technology is changing the very nature of collaboration.