Telepresence: Almost as Good as Being There
Telepresence systems reduce carbon emissions, save money, and help forge closer ties with customers.
Globalization, virtualization, the rise of millennials and cloud technology mean workers across multiple geographies must collaborate more closely than ever. Early videoconferencing technology suffered from poor audio quality and reliability. But telepresence -- the use of high definition video and audio among remote sites – provides a much higher quality experience.
Since becoming an independent organization in 1996, Cognizant has delivered IT, business and knowledge process outsourcing and consulting around the world. This global footprint means hundreds of meetings every week among associates at widely dispersed locations. The clients themselves, as well as the executives who manage engagements with them, may also be in different locations or time zones.
This requires associates at all levels to travel extensively to work at client and company facilities. In late 2009, spurred by technology advances, Cognizant began deploying telepresence to our senior leadership team. We then rolled it out to clients, who were skeptical at first due to poor past experiences but have now fully embraced telepresence. Since then, we have extended it to meetings with external analysts, as well as for internal knowledge and project management.
We chose Cisco's Tandberg platform because it allows a broad array of endpoints ranging from “full-immersion” (with large image reproduction and high video quality to make participants feel they are in the same room), to high-definition webcams for laptops. Usage has risen rapidly to over 10,000 hours per month.
Telepresence by Device
Telepresence at Work
The first two settings in which we used it were knowledge transition and training. When we bring a client's process in-house, we often need to conduct extensive training. This typically requires a trainer to travel, which involves visa and logistics issues as well as expense. With telepresence, we can train people with less delay and at lower cost than before.
Other examples in which telepresence helps us include:
- Beginning projects more quickly and allowing more key staff to attend meetings, achieving responsiveness to clients and lower costs, especially for travel.
- Conducting analyst workshops with people in multiple locations without requiring anyone to travel, and including staff from India who otherwise would have been unable to attend.
- Interviewing candidates using telepresence makes it easier to ensure the candidate sees everyone they should, and makes a favorable impression on candidate with leading-edge technology.
- Use of telepresence systems during budgeting shortened the budget cycle by almost 25%.
- Smoother internal meetings with better mutual understanding and improved decision-making.
- More effective and productive client meetings, including our experts anywhere in the world at short notice.
- Substantial reductions in travel costs and carbon footprint
- Greater productivity through reduced travel, as well as a better work/life balance for our associates.
Finally, we find that adding a high-quality visual dimension to meetings leads to stronger bonds, which whether on a project team or executive team leads to greater effectiveness and focus.
We originally planned to equip 20 offices with full-immersion, three-screen systems but found these were used less frequently than a single-screen setup in a conference room or on a desktop. This is because the full-immersion rooms still require people to travel to them, and limits the format to six people at each location. We therefore shifted to scaling telepresence with smaller devices.
We found the benefits of telepresence were greater and more quickly realized than we expected. We also found those benefits rise with the complexity of the discussion and the importance of a relationship between the participants. If the subject matter is simple and the exchange is transactional, telepresence offers little benefit over a telephone or conference call. If the content is complex, such as in a budget meeting with spreadsheets and other data, telepresence is much better than a conference call. It is also better for a routine meeting where the relationship is important, such as a candidate interview or a personal call home.
Another important lesson is that moving at a moderate pace allowed us to learn and make corrections on the fly. By beginning with senior executives, we were able to start with a small group, gain quick benefits and drive top-down adoption while learning. We also found that users' early experiences shape future use, and provided a dedicated 24-hour help desk from the start to help assure early satisfaction.
As our use of telepresence grows, we plan to use it for task-oriented meetings where it is not yet feasible because it is hard to accommodate paper, flipcharts and a fluid work setting (although the ability to integrate WebEx presentations is making this less of an issue.) We are also implementing telepresence at some client locations.
As we do so, the biggest benefits revolve around customer intimacy, our “global” DNA and the future of work. Telepresence lets us meet with our clients more often and more effectively, and to better understand and respond to their needs. Learn more about our experience with telepresence.