The current cost of fibre services for Auckland businesses is “astronomically high”, especially when compared to prices Wellington businesses pay, according to Orcon CEO Scott Bartlett.
He was addressing a breakfast meeting in Wellington earlier this month on the theme “is your business ready for fibre?” Also delivered in Auckland and Christchurch, the session was hosted by Orcon and Cisco and sought to make businesses more aware of the potential for productive use of the ultrafast and rural broadband initiatives.
Bartlett told the audience that fibre costs are lower in Wellington because of the early and continuing competitive presence of Citylink .
He said fibre networks enable immediate cost reduction through voice-over IP “and once you’ve got it, it’s easier to bolt on videoconferencing, disaster recovery and backup in the cloud.”
Users on a panel discussion included Fletcher Building chief information officer Paul Knight, who said fibre services that enable high quality videoconferencing are a necessary part of doing business.
He said the advantage of high-quality videoconferencing should not be seen solely in terms of saving the cost of travel, but in “improving the quality of conversation”.
Low-bandwidth videoconferencing interferes with concentration, he says. The time and stress of travel is saved, but in the face of a long meeting with a poor-quality information stream, people find themselves “drifting off”, and the failures of the technology figure largely in the conversation, detrimentally affecting the business discussion that should be going on.
Fletcher Building has offices in New Zealand, Australia, the US and the UK. Knight says the company has 44 IT departments and it’s hard to get an end-to-end view of IT in the group without enabling conversations.
The group has begun to implement high-bandwidth videoconferencing using Cisco’s telepresence technology set up by Gen-i, with an initial emphasis on formulating a consistent health and safety strategy.
“We underestimated the takeup of telepresence,” Knight says, and demand is already pushing the limits of the timeslots available in the telepresence rooms.
Asked whether telepresence would ever conquer some executives’ insistence that nothing is as productive as a face-to-face meeting, Knight told Computerworld that Fletcher doesn’t see it as a complete replacement for physical meetings – and other panellists agreed that face-to-face meetings, especially between people who have not previously met, are necessary.
On the other hand, Knight says, telepresence has enabled meetings between people who never would have been able to set aside time or budget to meet live.
Fletcher brings a practical example of broadband use in direct furtherance of business; such practical cases are rarely brought to public notice, says master of ceremonies Geoff Lawrie, CEO of Cisco NZ.
Because there are not enough such “proof points and real examples”, he says, Cisco, for the fourth year in a row, has put up $100,000 to further a medium-sized business’s implementation of broadband video. The “Cisco makeover” award is given to the company that presents the best 100-word business case in the field.
Last year’s winner, Molemap, helps people keep track of changes in the moles on their skin to alert them to incipient melanoma. Molemap has built a successful business with bases in New Zealand, Australia and the US, but its back-office communications were a weak spot, says CEO Adrian Bowling. The company used Skype but this had security and performance issues.
“If you’d come to me 18 months ago with a $100,000 proposal for a videoconferencing system, I would have had trouble justifying it,” he says; “but today, if you gave me the choice of writing out a $100,000 cheque or giving the system back, I’d write the cheque.”
“Customers can take the whole back-office computing operation out,” Xero CEO Rod Drury told the meeting. A company could run a modern office productivity system like Microsoft Office 365 and, naturally, accounting, in the cloud. “There is no reason for a business with less than 50 seats to have [in-house] servers,” he said.