Telepresence catching on, but hold onto your wallet

Be prepared to fork over at least $100,000 for that in-the-same-room feeling

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Telepresence allows him to have face-to face-contact with a broader group "so it allows me to get to know people better," Nugent says. He runs an organization with people based all around the country and used to require that his direct reports come to New York for quarterly reviews. Now they can stay in their offices and he can discuss business with a wider range of employees.

"Using telepresence allows me to see and virtually interact with more people on my team instead of just my direct reports,'' says Nugent. "When we use telepresence for meetings, people who wouldn't normally be asked to travel to New York have the opportunity to make presentations and get valuable exposure to executive management. It really facilitates face-to-face interaction with a broader cross-section of employees on an economically efficient basis."

MetLife is considering putting a telepresence system at a business processing plant in India to avoid having employees fly over to see it. The company is also looking at ways to utilize telepresence with salespeople across the country. The idea is to have as many people using the system as possible, Nugent says.

"Flying out of Boston for a meeting when I was 20 sounded great, but the sales pitch I always give is we're respecting the time of the employee," he says. "So if we can give a person the effectiveness of being there and then be home with his family, it's two wins."

Almost like being there

The law firm of Lathrop & Gage, LLP, is using both high-definition videoconferencing and telepresence. Employees conduct more than 300 meetings every month at the firm's Kansas City, Mo. headquarters. The 600-person firm is using the HDX 7000 and HDX 9004 systems from Polycom, and a WAN optimization device from Riverbed Technology in six dedicated rooms in Kansas City. There's also at least one system at each of its 10 other national offices.

HP's Collaboration Studio
Using HP's Halo Multipoint feature, meeting participants can connect multiple locations around the world at the same time.

"It's a more meaningful way to conduct [meetings] than over the phone," says CEO Joel Voran, who uses the system about three times a week. While he still tries to make it to all of the firm's offices twice a year, Voran says use of the Polycom systems has significantly reduced the need for lawyers to fly to Kansas City. Steelhead, the WAN optimization device, identifies network traffic and gives priority to videoconferencing packets to provide adequate bandwidth and ensure high-quality picture and sound.

"The clarity has been impressive," Voran says. "At one of our very first meetings at one of our offices I could see the brand of the beverage someone was drinking and that made the partner sit up and take notice."

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