February 26, 2001, 1:43 PM — Every year, companies spend a sizeable chunk of change on business meetings. Arranging a meeting involves expenses for travel and lodging for nonlocal attendees, renting or maintaining a suitable space, and publishing brochures and handouts. A less visible cost is lost productivity: If your employees are traveling, they will obviously have less time to attend to their daily duties, no matter how well-armed they are with cellular phones, laptops, and PDAs.
Videoconferencing, which can leverage existing networking and multimedia technology to deliver images and sound to attendees around the world, has long been touted as a more affordable and efficient alternative to old-fashioned business meetings because it saves on travel and lodging costs. But videoconferencing failed to deliver on its promises, largely because most companies simply did not have the bandwidth needed to facilitate these kinds of meetings.
But hope may be on the horizon. The new generation of videoconferencing products takes advantage of the Internet as a communications medium, allowing attendees to participate in meetings directly from their Web browsers. (See our related illustration, "Gathering around the virtual meeting table".) Now the question is, can the Web revive the promises of the past?
Several factors, both technical and nontechnical, determine whether a company's Web-based videoconferencing system saves or costs money. As with any IT project, Web videoconferencing is not the answer in every situation.