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Will video conferencing displace business travel post Covid-19?

By Ken Wong - 24 May 2020

Has video conferencing taken hold?

Do you really need to pay for Video?

Image courtesy of Avaya

The problem with voice Bryan Lee said was that it often failed to engage as it lacked visual cues. This often led to attendees to do something else rather than concentrate on the person taking, When one is on video, there is a higher tendency for them to focus on the meeting, instead of multitasking.

But, Lee said, many companies are not equipped with video conferencing solutions that allow them to seamlessly communicate within, and outside of their organisation. Solutions like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet are some examples which allow internal and external communication.

When moving from a free to a paid video conferencing solution, Sami Ammous, Managing Director ASEAN at Avaya said that the suitability of meetings for a video conference is driven more by the nature of the meeting than the number of people attending. “For instance, if you are providing training or a technical update, a session where only one or two people are speaking, then you can have a large audience attend the video conference.”

Free solutions may work reasonably well for very small businesses, Charlie Chan, Chief of Enterprise Business Group, StarHub  said, but mid-sized businesses tend to use more sophisticated enterprise solutions. A key differentiator of paid services is the ability to offer a direct call option for the audio connection, he explained. “While a web conference can be supported even over a poor network connection, a poor voice connection will result in ineffective and frustrating conversations,” Chan said.

Chan also cautioned businesses not to try to have too many attendees in a single call. “The practical limit is generally 15-30 users. Above that range, the effectiveness of the meeting drops significantly. Video conferencing platforms generally will show only the speaker or up to about 6 parties. It is noted that the quality of video streaming is dependent on the connectivity that the users subscribe to as the data consumption is more intensive. More often than not, users will disable the video for a better quality voice and/or document sharing experience,” he said.


Will you need to worry about security?

But being a business means that security is always a business concern. Having a third party listening in on calls, the integrity of data as it is being shared or even where the data is stored are all common concerns. The apps themselves need to be secure as Zoom found out

However, enterprise-grade video conferencing solutions provide better security than those used by consumers. The moderator will have more visibility to which parties are on a call and some solutions also allow the moderator to kick out unrecognized individuals and lock a conference so that no one else can join. Some organisations have concerns about data sovereignty, as data on most cloud services are not retained in Singapore. For those customers, on-premise video conferencing solutions can be obtained, allowing companies to retain full control of the conferencing environment.

For Cisco’s Ravichandran, team collaboration tools aren’t just the way you share documents. “AI and machine learning turn these tools into virtual assistants that create real-time transcripts, take notes, capture decisions and action items, even automatically update records in other tools the team uses,” he said.  As AI and ML perform more of the organizational work, workers are freed up to take on higher-level tasks. Using smartboards, brainstorming sessions can be saved and then picked up in the next collaborative session between employees across geographies.


Is it here for good?

Image courtesy of Poly

Curbs on travel being issued by governments are increasingly suggesting video conferencing as a replacement tool. A report by New Centre from Korea, The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, or KOTRA is helping Korean businesses keeping communication going with video conferencing and KOTRA itself is planning to expand its video counselling software so it can hold up to 50 meetings at the same time. The US Centre for Disease Control reminded businesses to ensure they have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.      

Right now, many of us are working from home as governments impose movement restriction orders. Even students and schools have had to resort to home-based learning with video conferencing tools like Zoom. Although that had some initial teething issues, it is slowly making its way back into use.

At the end of SARS, all the talk was around the benefits video conferencing had brought to businesses and how it had kept everyone in touch and working together. 

Ammous from Avaya said that COVID-19 and SARS are similar in the way they impacted business travel as both saw companies lean on video-conferencing to handle disruptions to physical meetings. But he added that videoconferencing has come a very long way since 2003. It is lower cost, higher quality and easier to use on multiple devices. The combination of the broader impact on travel and the ubiquity of conferencing solutions will lead companies to rethink their need for travel in general, and whether technology can be the preferred method of collaboration.

But will businesses forego travel in the long run or only in times like these?

Samir Sayed, Managing Director, ASEAN & Korea at Poly. Image courtesy of Poly

Has business travel gone the way of the dodo?

Foregoing travel in these situations is the sensible thing to do, said Poly’s Sayed. “But they do need to make sure that for businesses to continue operating productively, employers need to be more aware of the tools and technologies that are available today that can help them spend more time on growing the business, instead of recruiting IT experts to help figure out how to make things work.”

But is video conferencing entrenched enough to displace business travels?

While there are signs that the technology is increasing its foothold in businesses, mankind, unfortunately, has a very short memory.

Looking back at the SARS period, for example, while business travel was curtailed during the period the virus was active, it soon returned to normal levels once fears had died. Things could be different this time around. Let’s hope things change for the better.


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