Next Best Thing

When multipoint, multi-location conferences are required, Barton Malow also taps into Polycom's MGC multipoint control unit through services offered by service provider WireOne Inc. The Polycom MGC allows multiple sites to connect simultaneously during a video call and offers various viewing options of continuous presence resulting in a screen layout similar to "The Brady Bunch" or "Hollywood Squares," ensuring that everyone in the meeting can be seen. The Polycom MGC is the only system of its kind that lets users do this over multiple types of networks including ISDN, IP and ATM. In just four months, it is estimated that Barton Malow has saved around $100,000 through its use of video conferencing. This figure is a combination of direct travel related costs saved, productivity increases, elimination of "downtime" associated with travel as well as the elimination of the physical wear and tear on personnel associated with business travel. "The technology is transparent and requires zero maintenance," said Phil Go of Barton Malow. "These are two of the most crucial requirements to ensure people will really use and enjoy using collaboration solutions. The ability to walk into a room, hit 'Dial' to connect with colleagues, and then simply plug in a laptop to easily share content and work together as if everyone was in the same location, is huge."

The future of both video conferencing and online conferencing is bright, indeed. As more private national networks come online and as broadband net access comes down in price, an even higher-quality user experience is on the horizon. As the systems become more advanced and bandwidth continues to become more affordable, one of the biggest new developments is the integration of video, voice and Web collaboration into a single user experience. This "unified conferencing experience" will help drive wider adoption of these technologies by giving users greater flexibility and control over how they collaborate, and enabling people to participate using multiple types of devices in a single meeting (video system, Web browser, cell phone, etc.). The business meeting of the future is here today, allowing you to take care of business video conferencing, no matter where you are in the world. It's the next best thing to being there in person.

Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist and consultant living in San Francisco. Reach him at