From the CIO's or CFO's perspective, the scenario for an upcoming six-person video conference looks like this: The company will save significantly on travel costs, and employees can stay home rather than being on the road for three days to conduct a meeting on the latest marketing strategy.
But the employees sigh and roll their eyes at the idea of holding an important meeting over video conferencing -- the technology they used a few times years ago that sometimes worked, usually required IT support for the first 15 minutes of the call, and annoyed the participants by its choppy audio and visual quality. They would rather sacrifice their time home with the family in order to conduct a productive meeting.
As companies re-evaluate their video conferencing strategies and enter the "Take 2" era of the technology, many IT staffs must figure out how to re-engage an otherwise skeptical audience of users who were burned one too many times by the technology. In fact, several companies say they have full-fledged internal marketing campaigns designed to re-educate and re-interest employees in the technology.
Video conferencing has re-emerged as a key collaborative technology. As companies face travel freezes or slowdowns, IT staffs find a unique opportunity to showcase the technology as a way to vastly improve voice-only conference calls, or as a way to reduce travel budgets during a recession.
They are able to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) primarily through travel-cost reduction, but they also point to improved meeting productivity (because of the visual component) and quality of life (because of reduced travel) as benefits. They are winning budgets to roll out the technology, but the key inhibitor is end-user adoption.
"We're spending a lot of money on this rollout, and if employees don't use it, we'll be responsible for a failed project," says the IT director for an energy company, which is rolling out desktop, room-based, and telepresence video conferencing systems.
How should IT staffs make sure employees keep an open mind and ultimately use the technology? Nemertes recommends the following approach:
- Conduct meetings with end users long before the rollout starts. Ask them for their opinions on, and experiences with, video conferencing. If they don't have experiences, are they willing to try? Why or why not? If they did have experiences, were they positive or negative? In what ways?
- If they have had bad experiences, acknowledge and accept that they had problems, rather than trying to justify why the problems existed. For example, don't explain that the IT staff at the time must not have had the network properly configured or the codec sized correctly. Simply acknowledge the experience, and make sure you understand why it was bad. Was it difficult to establish the video conferencing session? Was the quality poor? Was it challenging to conference in multiple locations?
- Solicit help from the company's marketing team members. Share with them the benefits of video conferencing, and explain why it will be better this time. Specifically, point out the problem categories employees mentioned during the initial interviews, and describe the improvements. For example, if the video quality was inconsistent, explain that the new MPLS network will enable quality settings (i.e., class of service) to give video priority treatment. If they had problems establishing video sessions, explain how the new managed service will use a one-touch system to get the call established, with an on-call support representative available 24/7.
- Armed with that information, have marketing start an internal campaign to promote the benefits of the technology. Be clear about which types of video conferencing will be available, where, and the process for using each type of video conferencing. For example, is telepresence available only for executives? Is it available for certain types of meetings? Can anyone get desktop video conferencing? Engage business managers by demonstrating the ability to reduce travel costs and improve collaboration among distributed workers.
- Start slowly. Bring in small groups of people to trial the system with colleagues in other offices. Show them that the technology does work, is easy to set up, and will improve meeting productivity while helping to keep them off airplanes and out of hotels.
- Use a grassroots approach. Within these small groups, win people's support first. Listen to any complaints they have and resolve them, and make sure they are advocates of the technology. Then, let them spread the word.
- Solicit help from Human Resources. Already, 39% of companies have policies around video conferencing, including the mandatory use of the technology for various types of meetings -- and executive override before any employees can book travel.
- Build a business case. Make sure you benchmark current metrics for things like travel costs, days away from home for various subsets of employees, and number and length of audio conference calls. Then, in order to document success, compare those figures for the next several quarters once video conferencing is in place.
Using these steps will help ensure a smoother rollout of video conferencing by engaging the most important piece of the technology -- the customers who adopt it.