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Videoconferences on the rise since Sept. 11 attack

Videoconferencing a better option than flying for many firms

Videoconferencing, once a luxury service for high-powered business execs, today is the way many people get their day-to-day business done.

And while videoconferencing has been popular for some time, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon have made it all the more appealing for people reluctant to fly cross country.

Chris Keller, Wire One’s senior account manager for Alabama and Mississippi, said he has seen a 30% to 40% increase in interest in videoconferencing since Sept. 11. His videoconferencing company is the largest one in the U.S., and does about $21 million in business per quarter.

Kelly Harman, vice president of marketing for Wire One, said the events of Sept. 11 have brought a heightened awareness for videoconferencing as an alternative of means of communications. She said many account executives have told her they are putting videoconferencing in their budgets for next year instead of waiting a bit longer to do so.

“Because corporate travel has fundamentally changed and will remain changed for a long time to come, organizations who were not looking at videoconferencing in the past are looking at it now,” Harman said.

Ron Evans, network services marketing manager at Mississippi Educational Television (ETV), said the number of people interested in videoconferencing has increased dramatically since the attacks.

Mississippi ETV has offered the use of its videoconferencing equipment to outside business firms as well as other state agencies for about 10 years.

“Insurance firms and law firms want to speak to clients face to face but don’t want to get on a plane,” Evans said. “That’s come up recently. In some cases there are no other places they can go to get the kind of services we provide.”

At least for ETV, videoconferencing has grown to be a more inclusive technology, but since Sept. 11, Evans said he has received many calls from different kinds of people, in part because it is difficult for them to get flights across the country.

“In some cases that has brought about an increased awareness of the technology because they didn’t have any other means besides a phone conference call to get people together,” Evans said.

Videoconferencing has changed gradually as people have become more aware of technology and the capability of sending and receiving pictures and sound. Prices are starting to come down on videoconferencing equipment, and the equipment itself is becoming more robust, offering more functions and capability — inviting people to take a harder look at what videoconferencing has to offer.

For some companies, Evans said, it will be business as usual, but he expects more people to start considering videoconferencing as a viable option.

“Over the past few years they’ve gotten used to exchanging emails and documents over the Internet,” Evans said. “This is just one more step of doing business.

“The events of Sept. 11 have forced people to take a look at alternate ways of doing business they would never have seen or noticed before.”

Still, Evans doubts that videoconferencing will ever take the place of a handshake.

“Some products or services really need face-to-face contact and sitting down at a table and getting to know people in a more intimate way than is possible with electronic media,” Evans said. “But I think it will continue to grow. I think it’s going to be a more day to day routine in the near future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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