New tools to streamline communications

Video ConferencingWe are experiencing an avalanche of electronic communications solutions, including telephone bridge lines, instant messaging, online meetings, webinars, Skype-based video conversations and full-fledged videoconferencing.

These communications solutions are transforming the way business is getting done by providing time and cost efficiency. Frost & Sullivan, a business research and consulting firm, forecasts the web conferencing and collaboration market will reach $4.12 billion by 2014.

“Video chat, Skype, GoToMeeting and other technology tools have made our world smaller and our network closer,” said Noland Hoshino, co-founder of Vancouver-based [B]cause Media Social Communications. “The economic benefit of having a tele-meeting with someone overseas or across the country is astonishing compared to the way we used to do business years ago.”

Webinar wave      

Al Wagner, proprietor of Big Toe Studio in Ridgefield, said that webinars started to really become popular over the last three to five years. His studio helps customers record audio and video for webinars, as well as for embedded video and audio on websites. He said that his customers use webinars for several purposes including sales, training and customer support.

“It became more and more clear that webinars would replace traveling,” said Wagner. “The money and time savings caught on big.”

Ian Crane, VP at Event 1 Software Inc. in Vancouver, said that as the economy gets tougher and people get more frugal, webinars are an attractive option for communication.

“It’s extremely rare,” said Crane, for his company’s clients to pay for on-site customer training these days.

Picture this           

Although conference calls are an efficient way of communicating at a distance, adding a visual component to electronic business communication can provide benefit.

Veronika Noize, marketing coach at Vancouver-based SoHo Marketing Guru LLC, said “Integrating a visual aspect keeps people more engaged.”

Noize said that when she gives online presentations to clients, she either uses Skype or an online meeting and collaboration tool that not only shares her PC desktop with participants, but also enables participants to live chat and see pictures of the other attendees.

Hoshino said he recently participated in a video conference with a nonprofit organization in Africa. He said the live feed of images, sound and emotions made the videoconference much more effective than a simple e-mail message.

Brandie Kajino is owner of Vancouver-based SOHO Solutionist, which helps women business owners leverage technology to get better organized. Kajino said she recently gave a presentation to a group in Nashville, without having to leave her Vancouver office. She used Skype, toggling between video of her face and her computer screen.

“Skype is ideal for organizations with a small budget,” said Kajino.

Rich Wersinger, president of Battle Ground-based RJW Consulting, also uses Skype. Wersinger, who creates narrated product videos called “screencasts,” said he found a potential client from the UK on LinkedIn.

“The ability to instantly connect with the other party was phenomenal,” said Wersinger. “Skype helped me win that contract.”

And, said Wersinger, the entire 45-minute international call was free.

Don’t forget IM

Instant messaging (IM) is yet another method of remote communication that businesses can use for efficient transfer of information – even visuals like screen shots. Crane said his company uses several IM applications, depending on security requirements. However, while IM is great for “quick stuff,” like a path to a file or a phone number, he said the phone still works best for communicating complex ideas.                    

One barrier that Wersinger sees to most electronic communication technology is bandwidth – not all businesses and clients have access to fast enough Internet connections to make webinars and real-time video practical. One innovative way Wersinger uses technology to communicate with his clients that doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth is a web-based project management application called BaseCamp. This application enables all the people involved with a project to log in and share information and post pictures, questions and comments.

Although she recognizes the benefits of electronic communications, Noize laments that “interpersonal skills are taking a backseat to technology.” She said that the number of words Americans use frequently has dropped 50 percent, from 40,000 to 22,000, since 1975.

“We’re not communicating as clearly or as well,” said Noize.

Although his business is founded on technology, Wersinger said that an occasional face-to-face meeting with team members or customers can help build “a deeper level of trust and credibility,” at least for older generations. But he wasn’t so sure this was as important for “digital natives” – those seemingly born with an iPhone in their hand.

Kajino said the trick to using these new electronic communication tools is in finding a balance.

“Technology is a tool, not a replacement for personal communication,” she said.

Hoshino agreed, stating that these communication tools are “great for getting connected all around the world, and saving time and money.” But, he cautioned, “We still need human interaction and the benefits of one-on-one communication.”

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