Tens of thousands of flights have been cancelled as a result of ash spewing from the Icelandic volcano that erupted Apr. 14. That was at best a massive inconvenience for the millions of passengers affected and, of course, a major setback for the already deeply troubled airline industry.
Just about the only group to benefit from the delays and cancellations has been the video conferencing, or telepresence business, as Cisco Systems dubbed it several years ago. "We have seen a huge spike in usage," Fredrik Halvorsen, the former CEO of Tandberg who will now head Cisco Systems' telepresence technology group, told Reuters. "The only evidence is anecdotal, but you will not get a demo room in any of the Cisco facilities."
Ironically, the European Commission gave its final approval to Cisco's $3.41 billion purchase of Tandberg, the world's largest developer of videoconferencing solutions, just as flight delays were commencing -- and interest in high-end, high-definition video conferencing began to pick up. (Watch an exclusive interview with Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby about telepresence here.)
There's far more, however, that's driving enthusiasm for telepresence today than a sky full of volcanic ash. The economic downturn has made telepresence and visual collaboration increasingly appealing for organizations that are trying to cut back on costs while bolstering productivity, notes Howard Lichtman president of telepresence consultancy Human Productivity Lab.
At the same time the technology has come a long way from a few years ago when videoconferencing was primitive, the audio often didn't match up with the visuals, the picture was out of focus, graphics were crude and by the end of a conference, attendees often didn't have any idea what had gone on. "They were so distracted by the media, they didn't get the message," says Lichtman.
No longer, though. Today there are myriad reasons that videoconferencing/telepresencing presents a viable, cost-effective alternative to the traditional face-to-face meeting. Here are four of the factors driving what is estimated to be a $3 billion market today.