Once the only way to cross the river Arno, the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy now earns its special place in the hearts of Italians and tourists alike for the glittering array of jewellery shops that line its arches.
In this way, the centuries-old Ponte Vecchio demonstrates a modern premise – why can’t the journey also be a destination? If a bridge can be more than just a means of linking point A to point B, and become a place of business in itself, why can’t other facilitating technologies be put to broader use?
Video conferencing has been the darling of business communication since the mid-1990s. However, business has been slow to move on from the basic idea of allowing people from opposite ends of the globe the chance to speak face-to-face.
Moving Beyond the Old Bridges
We now have very human conversations with people we could previously reach only via a disembodied phone call, static mail or email, or at the end of a lengthy, and expensive, flight. However, the converging technologies that revolutionized mobile phone communication have not been brought to full force in video conferencing. We’re still settling for plain old bridges, when we could be creating glittering marketplaces.
The evolving 3D technologies, touch screens, geolocation, refined sound and picture quality, mobile hardware, and secure encrypting services available online should move video conferencing from a replication of human interaction to a full exploitation of the digital world.
Enhancing the Basic Video Conferencing Experience
Why settle for a video conference call that is “almost as good as being there”, when you could create an environment that is “better than being there”?
In the traditional boardroom setting this could mean real-time, conversational financial modelling, or immersive, virtual tours of properties and developments, or making current and previous projects available alongside each person’s image.
And there’s plenty of potential for smaller businesses, especially with many conferencing providers able to set-up private and personalized services.
Imagine an architect who could guide a client through an immersive 3D-rendered house plan, while an interior designer throws out color schemes on demand, all within a real-time, face-to-face conversation. In an office setting that kind of experience becomes cumbersome as everybody fights for a view of the screen, or control of a single keyboard. However, in a partially virtual environment there’s room for all.
An auction house or art gallery could build its clients a private, invitation-only space, where the bid items can be handled and inspected in virtual 3D while the real action goes on via video conference. In reality, thirty pairs of hands reaching for the same vase while bidding isn’t going to work out well for the Ming.
Travel agents could guide people through the treasures of the world before their client has to finalize their itinerary. Or, clients could be given access to local experts who could virtually guide them through areas too culturally or environmentally sensitive for actual human footwear.
School children from countries separated by oceans could practice language skills by playing real-time games and exploring online while looking each other in the eye.
Insurance agents and emergency service workers could be personally guided through the remains of any disaster, large or small, while viewing personal “before” pictures to gain a first-hand understanding of exactly what has happened.
A Better Way to Do Business
Most of these enabling technologies already exist, they just need to be incorporated into existing video conferencing planning.
The value of having a face-to-face conversation with clients, partners, and employees has long been proven, and the human element of any interaction is always the most powerful. But we can go further.
By embracing the online element of telepresence services they can become more than just a bridge between two points, a means of travel, but rather a destination itself, a place to do better business than before.
Image source: Flickr CC user Colby Blaisdell