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Bringing Down the Conference Walls: Telepresence Q&A with Bob McCandless, CEO of BrightCom


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July 01, 2009

Bringing Down the Conference Walls: Telepresence Q&A with Bob McCandless, CEO of BrightCom

By Amy Tierney, TMCnet Web Editor

Telepresence (News - Alert) is quickly becoming a "must-have" IP technology for companies looking to lower travel costs and improve business operations. Beyond that, participants favor the solution for its ability to create “face-to-face” meetings across the globe, far beyond the confines of a conference room setting. 

It’s no surprise that demand for the technology is growing. Market research firm Frost & Sullivan (News - Alert) predicts that the industry will increase a whopping 850 percent worldwide reaching $1.4 billion in 2013.

To learn more about telepresence, its applications and the future of the market, TMCnet spoke with Bob McCandless, chief executive officer of BrightCom, pictured below, about the topic.
How do you define telepresence? What makes it stand apart from video conferencing?
For me, the difference is a simple one. Telepresence is the created illusion that all the participants are in the same room or environment. Video conferencing is one or more participants being broadcast into the receiver's environment. That is the basic difference. The “shared illusion” of telepresence makes communication much more natural. It removes the emotional separation that is part of the video conference experience. So, in any situation where person to person communication is important, telepresence is going to provide a much more enjoyable and productive experience.
How much has video conferencing and telepresence grown in popularity?
The market for both video conferencing and telepresence is growing at a phenomenal rate. Ira Weinstein at Wainhouse (News - Alert) Research is forecasting 50 percent year-over-year growth for the next five years for video conferencing and 100 percent year-over-year growth for Telepresence Systems. This kind of growth is simply amazing considering the current global economic slowdown. At BrightCom, we are currently seeing growth rates that are significantly exceeding these industry predictions for both our video conferencing and telepresence solutions.
What seems to be fueling the growth?
A major issue driving this growth is a need for corporations to reduce their expense budgets, and an obvious way to do that is to deploy video conferencing or telepresence systems. This also has the additional benefit of significantly reducing the carbon emissions associated with air travel. This is a great benefit for firms who are interested in lowering their carbon footprint.
Telepresence has a bigger benefit here though. Once a firm deploys a Telepresence solution, the ease of use, frequency of use, and quality of the experience can help a firm make key decisions faster and more accurate. This can help a company to be more competitive in today's challenging business landscape.
What potential exists for telepresence applications?
We are just starting to scratch the surface of how this technology can transform the world. The largest opportunity currently is to help business people communicate more quickly and accurately without traveling. This will have a major impact as more and more firms deploy telepresence solutions. Already, customers are coming to us constantly looking for telepresence and video conferencing because a firm they do business with has it and wants them to join their conferences.
Future potential includes technology advances that can make the Telepresence experience more and more real are on the horizon. The ability to bridge mobile devices such as the Apple (News - Alert) iPhone and desktop computer users into Telepresence meetings will make it simple to bring in a subject matter expert, in real time, regardless of their physical location. We have seen in the past how technologies that can drive the speed and value of communication garnered high adoption rates such as e-mail, instant-messaging, Twitter, etc. Telepresence is the ultimate expression of the human need to communicate with another person.
In what applications is video conferencing most used?
The most common use we see for video conferencing and telepresence is to reduce the costs and time loss associated with business travel. Another factor is the need to communicate in real time with video and data information.  For instance, one of our customers is a large municipal police force that needed to have a method of linking all of their police chiefs across a large county with real time video communications. They also wanted to link their conference rooms with the police chiefs and to allow for the broadcast of all types of data from across the county, whether it was screen sharing, live or recorded video feeds, documents, etc. The BrightCom solutions were a perfect fit for this with our advanced data conferencing capabilities.
How does BrightCom stand apart from its competitors?
BrightCom is keenly focused on the “in conference room” experience. This means that anytime you step into a BrightCom enabled conference room, you will experience the simplest to use, and most advanced technology available. For most business people today, if they want to hold a meeting with conference room attendees and external participants, you would first start with the speaker phone; dialing into a conference call that was previously set up. Inevitably, one or more participants may not have received the dial in information. This can cause delays while “side calls” are made to get everyone on the audio call. Once that is accomplished, the Web conference fun begins; e-mail invites, pass codes, log-ins, downloads and a whole host of challenges that ultimately result in these dreaded words on the audio call: “do you see my screen? What do you see?” By now, you may be nearly 15 minutes or more into the allotted conference time. It is unlikely that the participants will now endure the additional hardship of turning on the video conference system in the room to allow attendees to see each other. his is why traditional video conference systems have such low utilization. Tragically for the company, the video conferencing system was the most expensive of the tools to purchase and gets almost no utilization compared with the speaker phone and Web conference tools.
At BrightCom, we approach things a little differently. When you enter one of our conference rooms, you simply push what we call the “big green button” on our remote. This starts a meeting which all users can join from their personal laptops by opening a web page. Audio calls can use the same speakers and microphones as the video conference so there is no additional conference call set up. Users love this experience as they can now share content in the room more easily even if there are no external participants. If an external participant wants to join in, they can join instantly with no additional steps. All conference tools are already on, including video conferencing, audio conferencing, screen sharing, document sharing, white boards, and many other features.
You recently launched a community forum for video conferencing and telepresence products, solutions and services. What is the forum’s goal, and what do you want users to take away from it?
The forum is a place where people can share what they love and what they can't stand about the conferencing experience, whether it's Web or data conferencing, video conferencing, or Telepresence. Our team can answer questions and provide information while learning from our customers new and creative ideas to make our products more powerful and easier to use. We are a very customer centric organization. We listen intently to what our customers tell us and strive to incorporate their ideas into our product vision. The forum is another extension of that desire to listen.
Where do you see the future of telepresence solutions headed, and where does BrightCom fit in?
I firmly believe that Telepresence will more and more become part of our daily lives. We will all grow to expect that there is a room at our place of business where we go to be with other business associates that may be a world away. We will expect to be able to join into Telepresence meetings no matter where we are, if we so choose. BrightCom's vision also includes amazing ways to bring data and information into this meeting experience. Sharing documents, presentations, engineering diagrams, and other data at the same level of experience that Telepresence brings to video conferencing. The bottom line is making you feel that the other people are right there with you, in the same room, seeing the information you are sharing… a world where your conference room has no walls.

Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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