Accenture always had an interest in video conferencing.\n Employees debate about the exact date when the first camera and\n monitor landed in a meeting room, but by most accounts,\n Accenture has tried to add video conferencing to its arsenal of\n collaborative technologies since the early 1990s. However, due\n to lagging technology, video conferencing never resonated as\n the world\u2019s largest consulting firm might have hoped.\n MORE ON CIO.com\n \n Seven Tips for Video Conferencing Beginners\n \n Review: LifeSize Brings High-Definition Enterprise Videoconferencing to a Meeting Room Near You\n \n Telepresence, the Ferrari of Video Conferecing\n \n Review: Viewsonic Monitor with Webcam\u2014Not Ready for Its Close-Up\n \n Cisco TelePresence 3000: First Impressions\n Television monitors, with bad pictures and big cameras\n mounted on top of them, didn\u2019t cut it. When conversing,\n meeting participants often had to look straight into a camera,\n rather than at a person; the camera\u2019s presence would\n dominate the experience and cause the person to forget what it\n took to run a good meeting, to collaborate on work projects.\n \u201cThe technology, historically, had great promise,\u201d\n says Frank Modruson, CIO at Accenture. \u201cBut the delivery\n didn\u2019t live up to expectations.\u201dAnalysts and researchers say Accenture\u2019s experience\n mirrors that of most companies that have explored the\n technology in the past. As it turned out, perfect, crystal\n clear video conferencing happened only in Hollywood\n productions. The most celebrated example is Star Trek,\n in which the captain frequently asked his lieutenants to put an\n alien life-form traveling in another spaceship \u201con\n screen.\u201d But on the planet Earth, amidst the sobering\n halls of the corporation where the demands of technology\n can\u2019t be faked, video conferencing just couldn\u2019t\n cut it. Slow connection speeds and old clunky setups proved\n unreliable and, in many cases, required hours of IT support for\n a one-hour meeting.After many years of promises, experts on collaborative\n technologies believe video conferencing has finally grown up.\n The advances could have a huge effect on international\n businesses looking to minimize travel costs\u2014and the human\n wear and tear that comes with travel. Better connection speeds,\n coupled with the use of high-definition monitors like the kind\n people drool over on a trip to their neighborhood Best Buy,\n have upgraded the experience. The result: While very expensive\n (some video conference rooms are priced as high as $300,000),\n the technology could reduce travel budgets and boost\n productivity by letting people collaborate with one another\n from the comfort of their home offices.Remember Out-of-Sync Pictures and Sound?Video conferencing has been around for a while now.\n Television stations and the military have used it for decades\n because they had the huge budgets and technical expertise\n required to install and run it. Commercial video conferencing\n dates back to the mid-1980s, according to Claire Schooley, an\n analyst at Forrester Research. Throughout most of the 1990s, video conferences connected over Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) lines. Since ISDN lines were expensive, IT departments would often devote only 25 percent or 50 percent of the line to a single video conference. Because of this, users of video conferences would sometimes experience "packet drops," which occur when packets of data traveling over the wire fail, or take entirely too long, to reach their destination. It caused a disparity between the sound coming through the speaker and the person's lips moving onscreen. (This reflects a correction to the originally posted version of this story. See the corrections page for details.)\u201cIt was all out of sync,\u201d says Accenture\u2019s\n Modruson. \u201cThere just wasn\u2019t enough bandwidth, so\n you\u2019d have artifacts, and the voices would come from all\n different directions.\u201d In some cases, Modruson says, it\n required hours of IT support. As a result, users, frustrated by\n the cumbersome process, often wouldn\u2019t use it again,\n resulting in lower adoption rates (the killer of any corporate\n technology).Video conferences also donned very unattractive apparatuses.\n \u201cThe old video conference was a camera on top of a TV set\n on top of a dessert cart,\u201d says Howard S. Lichtman,\n president and founder of the Human Productivity Lab. When people have\n a meeting in person, they sit at desks or meeting tables,\n not dessert tables, Lichtman adds.Lichtman also says companies paid very little attention to how they set up their meeting rooms, which resulted in very poor audio quality. The\n echoes of linoleum floors of old office buildings, for\n instance, sent feedback into the microphone. The televisions\n were too small for the subjects to feel engaged with their\n remote colleague. Add in large, obtrusive cameras and Lichtman\n says the typical video conferencing user became overloaded with\n stimuli.\u201cThe human brain was having a fight between the\n distracting medium and the meeting at hand,\u201d Lichtman\n says.Video Conferencing Gets a Face-LiftBut a few years ago, video conferencing received a boost.\n Vendors like Cisco and HP, along with a bunch of pure plays,\n gave the technology a face-lift. They changed its name from the\n stodgy "video conference" to the more exotic\n \u201ctelepresence,\u201d hoping to reflect an experience\n delivered in HD where the boundaries between two locations\n became blurred. They sped things up by using the Internet\n Protocol (IP) for voice and audio rather than ISDN as a primary\n means of connection. Bandwidth increased. They used large flat\n panel screens in high definition, allowing people to see each\n other clearly and in life size.\u201cThe quality is now there,\u201d says\n Forrester\u2019s Schooley. \u201cSometimes there can be a\n [slight] delay, but it\u2019s not something the human eye\n picks up.\u201dIn addition, the Human Productivity Lab\u2019s Lichtman\n says vendors paid more attention to designing floor plans and\n specifications for the meeting rooms in which a telepresence\n session takes place. They first improved acoustics and lighting\n to ensure good audio quality. Perhaps most significantly, they\n tried to replicate what a regular meeting room in the Western\n world looks like.A typical room equipped for telepresence looks like this:\n There are three two-person desks, slightly curved and linked\n together into a semicircle. Like any corporate meeting room,\n they have comfy (and preferably adjustable) office chairs so\n the six participants can sit at an equal level. This represents\n half of your conference table. Across from the physical desks\n are three giant flat screens. They are linked together just\n like the desks, forming another semicircle. The cameras are\n generally mounted discreetly on top of or sometimes below the\n screen, but they\u2019re barely noticeable. Microphones are\n similarly out of the way. Once a video conference starts and\n the screens turn on, the six participants in the room see six\n other participants, sitting two abreast at their three desks,\n in another office with the same arrangement.When meeting participants arrive, they dial the number on a\n touch screen phone (often run over VoIP) and the conference is\n up and running.At Accenture, Modruson initially installed telepresence\n locations in Chicago (where Modruson and some of his IT team\n reside) with another branch office in Frankfurt, Germany. In\n June of this year, Accenture\u2019s CEO, Bill Green, wanted\n Modruson to present to him and his executive reports who were\n meeting in Frankfurt about his latest IT initiatives and what\n Modruson calls Accenture\u2019s Collaboration 2.0\u2014using\n the latest collaborative technologies for his globally\n dispersed workforce. \u201cNormally, when you have the\n opportunity to present to the senior leadership of the company,\n you jump on a plane and go,\u201d says Modruson. \u201cBut\n they were in Frankfurt and I was in Chicago. So I would have to\n leave Wednesday, fly all night and do the meeting in Frankfurt\n on Thursday, and come back Friday morning just\n exhausted.\u201dSo Modruson decided to put his telepresence implementation\n to the test in front of the most powerful users in the company.\n \u201cThe meeting took me one and a half hours rather than\n three days,\u201d he explains. \u201cDid I save money on a\n plane? Of course. But I would have been jet-lagged both ways,\n and in many ways that\u2019s more significant.\u201dThe Cost: Money and PeopleModruson says he saved about $5,000 to $7,000 on that trip,\n if he wants to play the numbers game. But he says the\n productivity gains from unnecessary travel, coupled with\n cutting down on the wear and tear that comes with it, really\n made the modern video conference an attractive option. In\n November, he says 10 to 12 staff members held a video\n conference that saved an overseas trip for all of them (and\n saved tens of thousands of dollars). \u201cWe feel a reduction in\n international travel between cities will more than recoup our\n investment,\u201d Modruson explains, before adding, \u201cnot\n to mention the qualitative benefits of reduced wear and tear on\n our people and improved productivity by avoiding long overseas\n flights.\u201dThat makes sense to Forrester\u2019s Schooley, who says\n cutting the cost of travel will be the low-hanging fruit for IT\n departments looking to justify telepresence implementations.\n While companies can do ROI studies showing the money saved, the\n real gain will come in the form of increased productivity; if\n workers no longer need to travel as much, they won\u2019t\n waste their time in security lines and won\u2019t come back\n after a red-eye from California or New York bleary-eyed and\n exhausted.\u201cEven if you have the iris and the fingerprint to get\n through the security line, you still might have to wait four\n hours for your delayed plane,\u201d Schooley says.\n MORE ON CIO.com\n \n Seven Tips for Video Conferencing Beginners\n \n Review: LifeSize Brings High-Definition Enterprise Videoconferencing to a Meeting Room Near You\n \n Telepresence, the Ferrari of Video Conferecing\n \n Review: Viewsonic Monitor with Webcam\u2014Not Ready for Its Close-Up\n \n Cisco TelePresence 3000: First Impressions\n Indeed, the nation\u2019s air carriers still struggle with\n massive delays. According to reports by the U.S. Transportation\n Department, carriers this summer averaged a 70 percent on-time\n rate. To a frequent traveler trying to schedule meetings, those\n aren\u2019t the most comforting odds. Schooley says the\n younger generation of workers don\u2019t see the same allure\n for business travel that many experienced in past decades\n because traveling by plane has become more accessible than\n ever. As such, they\u2019d prefer to travel for pleasure\n rather than business.\u201cThis generation likes a work-life balance, and they\n just won\u2019t stand for standing in four-hour lines if they\n don\u2019t have to,\u201d she says.The success Modruson enjoyed using telepresence to present\n to his executive committee seems to have bought him some\n leeway. During the next six months, Accenture plans to install\n high-end video conferencing systems in 11 more locations,\n including cities such as New York, London, Madrid and\n Bangalore. While Modruson won\u2019t say what vendor he uses,\n the installation hasn\u2019t been cheap.Telepresence offerings from vendors like Cisco range around\n $300,000 per location depending on the options and quality\n of the monitors. Other video conference vendors, some of which also have telepresence offerings, include Telanetix, Teliris, Digital Video Enterprises, Telepresence Tech, Tandberg, Sony, Codian, LifeSize, Polycom and Emblaze-VCON.\u201cThey\u2019re not cheap,\u201d says\n Accenture\u2019s Modruson. \u201cBut vendors have thought\n about entire experience so it\u2019s very immersive for the\n participants. When you compare that against the high cost of\n travel and the wear and tear that goes with it, the business\n case is clear.\u201dAs is your coworker's picture, just across the room\u2014or\n state, country or continent\u2014depending on your point of\n view.