Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Improved technology is bringing the power of video to small and medium businesses, and as Stuart Corner explains, not only is it easy to set up, it’s become remarkably affordable.

A few years ago video meetings were expensive. They had to be held in dedicated video-conferencing rooms (either your own or rented offsite), with events rigidly scheduled and pre-booked. But today, faster networks and improved video and mobile technology are bringing the power of video within reach of small businesses. And increasingly, businesses are using video on the fly, setting up ad hoc meetings to deal with urgent issues, or simply making a one-to-one video call to a colleague.

men wearing protective gear in factory
For a small business, video is a very valuable weapon to have in their arsenal. Now it is pervasive and reasonably priced, a small or medium business has exactly the same capabilities at their fingertips as the biggest corporations.

- VAUGHAN KLEIN, CISCO

Solutions via video

While most video meetings are still pre-booked, “We are seeing an increase in ad hoc meetings, because if you want to resolve a business issue, sometimes you need to see the person and deal with it so you can move on,” says Klein.

Smaller businesses are mostly attracted to video-conferencing because it takes less time and is less costly than staff travel, though they’re also discovering that video makes for better collaboration and better decision-making. 

Rodney Gedda, senior analyst with Australian market research firm Telsyte, says about 50 per cent of large enterprises [in Australia] are using video-conferencing. “In smaller businesses it is about 40 per cent and for those with less than 25 staff it’s down to about 30 per cent.”

The many benefits of video conferencing

But return on investment (ROI) can be rapid, he says. “Of the companies that we surveyed for our Australian Enterprise Communications Market Study 2012, about 45 per cent measure ROI and they are getting a return in six months to a year – mostly from reduced travel costs.” However the benefits to be gained extend well beyond travel costs. A survey by the US-based Carbon Disclosure Project in 2010 found video-conferencing also improved staff productivity and promoted faster decision-making, stronger relationships with customers, partners and suppliers, and reduced greenhouse emissions.

In a white paper published in December 2012, Wainhouse Research analyst Ira Weinstein argued that widespread video-conferencing was also a potent tool for organisational transformation. “Pervasive video removes the element of location from any business situation by allowing the involved parties (staff, clients, partners, peers, consumers, etc) to be virtually present on a moment’s notice,” he stated. 

Case study: A pay deal completed in hours, not days

Australian Aluminium Finishing (AAF) has won some high-profile projects in its 30-plus years, such as the Shanghai World Financial Centre and Melbourne’s Federation Square. But as Bruce Graham, CFO and company secretary explains, AAF’s growth is also due to bespoke work in the local market (4 million square metres in a year), which has driven further innovation in its management systems. 

AAF is an industry pioneer in using real-time computer control of production processes. It recently upgraded inks between sites on a private network to support a lot more data transfer: “I went to the extra expense of linking our branches by optic fibre because it means we have scalability. And we have mobile broadband back-up at each site,” says Graham.

Every step of an order is monitored through the firm’s 24/7 online reporting systems, so customers can track their orders from the booking to production and delivery.

Last year, Graham asked Telstra to upgrade all four sites with IP communications on the optic fibre links, including a video-conferencing meeting room at each site and 16 video deskphones. With office phones, mobiles and PCs all linked via the private IP network, communication costs immediately dropped and meetings became easier to organise.

We’ve got the best equipment, a reliable provider and on top of that, I don’t have to put up any capital. It’s all been done by the technology fund they [Telstra] allocated based on my plan — it’s a nice steady monthly payment, which helps your cash flow.

- BRUCE GRAHAM, AAF

Saving time and money

AAF regularly puts its new video technologies to good use, helping people in different locations quickly get together to collaborate on business and workforce decisions. Face-to-face meetings via video also help strengthen relationships. 

“We still do a fair amount of travel, but we’re finding it’s easier to sit down and meet via video. We were recently in the middle of some union negotiations, which would normally require two or three trips. We had the manager in the other plant, we sat here [in the video meeting room] and the union rep joined the session — he was delighted that he could negotiate with us, then walk back down to the members and hold a vote or chat and then come back again. 

“In the past it could have taken two or three days of our time and the expense of travel. We’ve got that whole negotiation over and done within two hours.” 

Graham estimates AAF has already saved between 25 and 30 per cent on travel and associated time and labour costs by switching more meetings to video-conferences. 

“We used to fly for meetings every two months, now we can get together anytime we like. You’re saving half a dozen people, and probably two to three days a month in costs associated with that.”

Cloud makes video more accessible

Telsyte’s Gedda believes video-conferencing use is about to surge thanks to cloud computing, and this should make it easier to make video pervasive with an organisation. 

Previously, if a business wanted to set up a video-conference between different technologies in multiple locations over different networks – private networks, the internet, mobile networks, ISDN – you needed costly bridging technology with connections to the multiple networks. Putting this technology ‘into the cloud’ lets a company pay only by usage and avoid the need for expensive physical infrastructure. 

Audrey William, head of ICT Research for Australia and New Zealand at Frost & Sullivan, expects access from smartphones and tablets over a mobile broadband network to be another factor in smaller businesses taking up video. “I think video-conferencing on mobile devices will change video-conferencing completely for the SMB market,” she says. 

Cisco’s Klein advises smaller businesses to extend video to the consumer. “If SMBs focus on ubiquitous connectivity and the ability to do video communication to their consumers, they will get a very clear advantage in terms of goodwill and demand for their services,” he says. 

But there’s one barrier that might prove difficult to overcome. “There are individuals in every organisation who do not want to be on video as a default,” Klein says. “That’s why every camera that Cisco supplies comes with a shutter.”

Video tech explained

Next IP: Ready for video 

The Telstra Next IP Network can deliver high-performance data access to more than 95 per cent of Australian businesses. “Telstra’s national Next IP Network offers seamless integration with our wireless Next G network, making it easier for your staff and offices around Australia to work together,” says Brendan Donohoe from Telstra Business. 

“Whether you need to securely connect your sites, or launch a business-wide application, you’ll find it’s scalable at every level, setting you up for future expansion.” 

Find out more about Next IP

Telstra iVision: Tailor-made 

Telstra iVision develops tailor-made business video solutions for enterprises across multiple sites. Services offered include carrier-grade hosted video collaboration and conferencing services, managed video-conferencing, digital signage and consultancy, design and implementation services. 

“We’ve developed successful methodologies for taking projects from conception to implementation, customer hand-over and ongoing management and support, says David Snapp, director of Telstra iVision. 

“We manage the project through all these phases and ensure that best practice is followed. Indeed, we don’t just follow best practice — we help set it,” 

Find out more about iVision

Telstra iVision: Room booking 

Telstra iVision also offers small to medium businesses a simple pay-as-you-go booking, scheduling and connection service for hiring global public video and telepresence facilities. It can provide access to a network of more than 4000 video-conferencing facilities. 
“The booking coordination team works with our customers to manage the complete conference process, from first point of contact through all relevant scheduling, documentation and support activities,” explains Christian Roach 

from Telstra iVision. “Our service enables any business, no matter how small, to use the efficiencies and improved communications abilities that video-conferencing provides.” 

Business video connect: 

This complete video-conferencing system uses one or two screens and a camera on a trolley, so can be moved easily from room to room. It’s available for purchase outright or on a 36-month rental contract. 

A key component is the optional hosted conference bridge, which lets you set up conferences between several sites, or with people on smartphones and tablets. 

“Business Video Connect is all about enabling small businesses to start the video-conferencing journey in a cost-effective way via a low rental cost model,” explains Adam Hislop, from Telstra’s Unified Communications section. “Previously a physical bridge with the functionality of Telstra’s hosted bridge would cost you upwards of $50,000.”

Find out more

Ready to make video conferencing work for you? aboutTelstra's Business Video Connect here.

Find Out More

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