Global banking giant HSBC is to pilot virtual boardrooms in its major global offices from June.
The high-quality teleconferencing facilities in London, Paris, Hong Kong and New York are being developed at a cost of about $100,000 (£51,000) each.
HSBC group chief information officer Ken Harvey says the company will examine savings generated from a reduction in air travel before deciding on the viability of further installations.
‘Everything burns energy, including these rooms, so if people abandon a regular phone call for a more interactive session that is good, but not if they hop on a plane as well,’ he said.
Harvey plans to implement connecting virtual meeting rooms in major locations, including life-size video boards with areas cut out for delegates.
‘The voice is directional and when people exit the meeting they feel as if they had really been with the other people in person,’ said Harvey.
‘You can have a nine- to 10-person meeting with people walking in feeling as if they are looking right at each other.’
Harvey says HSBC has put significant resources into testing advanced video conferencing facilities across the company. In areas where it was enforced it cut air travel by 25 per cent in 2006.
Despite the unit cost of $5,000 (£2,575) to install the video conferencing facility on individual PCs and large bandwidth requirements, Harvey says there is a net return on investment.
‘We have been installing desktop video conferencing units that use our own internal network,’ he said.
‘You have to spend enough to get the right quality and feeling of presence to make these technologies real enough so that people do not feel as if they are speaking to a talking head or experiencing voice delays.’
Gartner analyst Mark Raskino says telepresence is very timely in light of present environmental concerns.
‘It demonstrates good leadership by encouraging even more people to use conventional teleconferencing facilities,’ he said.
‘The risk for companies implementing these technologies is that it might be perceived as a thin PR green-washing exercise regarding the environment.’
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