In Two Places At Once

It has been quite amusing to observe the recent hype around a not so new technology referred to as "telepresense." Some in the media have called it "the savior of videoconferencing" while others are referring to it as the "BMW 7-Series of visual communications." Marketing teams are spinning positioning messages like "a new technology that creates unique in-person experiences between people, places, and events."

So what is today's meaning of the word telepresence and why should you care? One of my preferred definitions of telepresence comes from Wainhouse Research, an independent market research firm focused on the unified communications and rich media conferencing fields. Wainhouse defines telepresense as "a videoconferencing experience in which the users feel like the remote participants are in the same room." Makes sense to me, an environment specifically designed for videoconferencing technology that provides real life interaction and communications.

Common Elements
Although today's telepresence systems come in a variety of flavors, there are several common elements among the various designs available. The first common thread is a goal to achieve realism. Achieving realism encompasses a wide variety of design elements including true-to-life image sizes; correct angles, perspective and distance perception; images with lifelike resolution; and conversational audio that provides directional realism.

The second commonality among the various telepresence options is that the systems should be as easy to operate as an in-person meeting. In other words you walk into a meeting room, sit down at a table, and have your meeting. The concept of a feature-rich control system interface is not welcome in these environments. And the final common element is that the system must provide utility like reliability.

Different Shapes And Sizes
Although most telepresence systems adhere to these common elements, today's solutions are available in a variety of different packages. At a high level these packages can be grouped into the following categories-custom, semi-custom, and off-the-shelf telepresence solutions.

The custom room category is what you would assume-creating an environment where every component, from electronics to lighting and paint to window coverings, is selected and installed specifically for the customer and that location.

The semi-custom rooms typically include many of the same technical capabilities as a custom room but will be more pre-configured or "rubber-stamped" from an equipment selection standpoint. This semi-custom room category typically also includes the "room within a room" type systems where the customer provides a shell and the "room" is installed.

The off-the-shelf system delivers the common elements of telepresence but typically do not require significant investment or customization of the environment. These types of systems are often referred to as adaptive telepresence environments.

The Opportunities Are Knocking
The opportunities surrounding telepresence are extremely vast and broad for a knowledgeable systems integrator. Custom rooms lend themselves to additional opportunities beyond the traditional design and provision of electronics. These opportunities include the development of the entire environmental design plus provision of furniture, cabinetry, window coverings, and lighting. Although you may not have these skills within your organization, there are a variety of subcontractors that will either act as subcontractors or partners on projects of this magnitude.

Semi-custom rooms are a natural fit for custom enhancements that may include additional control system functionality, while off-the-shelf systems open huge opportunities for add-on technologies and additional feature/function capabilities.

Although somewhat ironic, in regards to the single wire data, voice, video convergence movement, many customers are choosing to have a separate network for their video communications-a perfect chance to include network connectivity in your managed services offering.