Few innovations illustrate the green potential of IT better than online and video conferencing. The recent boom in adoption of these next generation communication technologies has indisputably helped slow the still rapid growth in corporate travel and there is reason to hope that as these collaboration systems continue their march into the mainstream they could even lead to an overall reduction in carbon intensive business trips.
But, if my recent experiences are anything to go by, there is a danger that the environmental benefits of online meeting tools could be being undermined by some firms' failure to utilise the technology fully.
Over the past few months I have enjoyed/endured several product briefings with US IT companies, where instead of either a simple phone conversation I have been invited to sign into a popular online meeting site.
Once there all the great funtionality found in such collaboration suites has been instantly available - and yet all the portal has been used for is to walk me through a PowerPoint presentation detailing all the bells and whistles of whichever new product the person on the other end of the phone is trying to promote.
The only collaboration involved has been in the form of the phone conversation and the only reason I can see for using an online meeting to go through the presentation rather than just sending over the PowerPoint via email is that it means the other people in the meeting can be sure I am on the right slide and not idly surfing the web when I should be learning about their latest exciting acronym strategy.
Basically, vendors using online conferencing suites in this way are shelling out for next to no real benefit.
Of course, the only damage being done it to their marketing budget and from an environmental perspective it is great that the US execs I talk to are not being flown over to the UK when in most cases the briefing works pretty much as well over the phone - particularly if you have met the person you are talking to at least once in the past.
But my concern is that this failure to make full use of online conferencing capabilities is not confined to press briefings. If, as I suspect must be the case at some firms, this technology is being used to simply force PowerPoint presentations upon people rather than provide a genuinely collaborative forum for work and discussion then users will not only fail to maximise their return on investment but will ultimately alienate users of the technology.
Using conferencing technologies in this limited way also means that as soon as you have to undertake a task more complicated than simply passing on information - something you can do just as easily and at a lower cost using the phone or email - you are likely to think online conferencing can't help and will instead resort to getting in the car and travelling to meet your colleagues to work on the issue in hand.
Web conferencing is indisputably a Good Thing, cutting costs, driving productivity and reducing carbon emissions. But firms must be careful that in the rush to implement such systems they ensure that users are aware of the full functionality and that online conferencing portals are being used to genuinely replace unnecessary face-to-face meetings and not as a costly and at times intrusive addition to meetings that were going to be held over the phone anyway.
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