Video conferencing gains popularity as corporate travel budgets shrink

As companies look to slash costs, many are cutting back on their corporate travel budgets.

That trend is paying dividends for local video conference technology providers, which can help companies in the Milwaukee area link up with their firms’ multiple locations around the globe or with other companies.

“It is really what I call a lean green approach. The return on investment with technology like this really lies in the development of leaner processes, and the savings reaped from scale backs in terms of travel costs, time wasted, and emissions released,” said Paul German, systems sales specialist for New Berlin-based AVI Systems. “We have seen a lot of companies taking a second look at video conferencing systems as the technology associated with them gets better and more efficient over time. Many companies trying to scale back in travel costs both flying and driving can benefit from installing a (video conferencing) system in an existing or even a new location.”

Cheryl Snyder, IT director, and Linda Pawlak, business manager, for Waukesha-based Construction Resources Management Inc. (CRM), recently installed video conferencing technology equipment in six of its locations.

“We had considered it in the past, but opted against it mostly because of the expense. We decided to look at it again, when we needed to cut costs and save time,” Snyder said.

CRM has multiple locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

“For any given meeting, if it was important for us all to be together talking face-to-face, some people would have to drive upwards of eight hours, or we had to settle for a traditional phone conference call,” Pawlak said. “Now we have made the investment at six of our locations and integrated the others with audio conference technology. I am very certain that it has already paid for itself because of the travel time that we haven’t done and the benefits we have gotten from face to face conversations.”

In the past, according to German, video conferencing technology had been unreliable and complicated, the audio systems and the video systems would cut in and out and make conducting a meeting very frustrating, he said.

Better in HD

“The introduction of high-definition video conferencing has really shifted that paradigm now, since the economy has worsened people are looking at this HD technology and going, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how good of quality this conferencing can actually be,'” German said. “It is almost like they are in the exact same room in some cases.”

“Ten years ago, the systems were really expensive, and extremely bulky from a technology perspective,” said Chad Burrow, regional sales director for corporate markets for Milwaukee-based InfoCor.

According to Burrow, even small companies can install systems in their offices for around $5,000, compared with a minimum of $30,000 as recently as 10 years ago.

“So many companies, both large and small, are looking for ways to cut back. Even if its just on a local level, if companies are constantly going back and forth or looking for ways to exchange documents or extra resources, they can do that through video conferencing,” Burrow said. “With the reduction in travel expenses and the collaboration capabilities, the technology is able to increase the work flow efficiency and speed up the process.”

Practical applications

Legal offices have integrated video conferencing into mock trial rooms, and hospitals have begun using video conferencing to share data and resources with other doctors across the globe.

Manpower Inc. began scaling back on its travel budgets early in 2008, said Victor Nightingale, director of global technology and engineering.

“Our first requirement for needing the technology was when we started managing teams of people that weren’t located in the same area,” Nightingale said. “We had a global technology team of managers that would have to manage those people remotely.”

As those teams continued to use video conferencing, it became more and more a part of the company’s culture, which made it easier when travel budgets were cut even more, Nightingale said.

“We have very few problems with it,” Nightingale said. “We gain more of a personal feeling when compared to a standard conference call. We are able to actually see the other person’s facial expressions and know how to engage in a conversation with them body language and everything. It has really been great for us.”

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display