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BT TelePresence offers smoothest path to Anglo-Irish cross-border co-operation
Having won a government contract to report on opportunities for economic co-operation between the UK and Ireland, PA Consulting set about organising exploratory workshops among business leaders and experts.
Chris Henning had to ensure key players in both countries could participate in frank and meaningful discussions. Knowing the cost and inconvenience of overseas travel would put many off, he asked BT to host cross-border workshops at its TelePresence video conferencing facilities in London and Dublin.
The state-of-the-art technology replicates the look and feel of real-world meetings with astounding accuracy. This allowed productive, free-flowing discussions to flourish across the geographical divide.
I was blown away by the technology. There’s very little you can do at a face-to-face meeting that you can’t do via TelePresence.”
- Chris Henning, Managing Consultant PA Consulting Group
Talks involving high-level business leaders and experts can be notoriously nuanced. If they’re to be meaningful and productive, they must be held in an environment where participants feel comfortable talking to one another frankly without fear of being misunderstood. Nothing must hinder the conversation’s natural ebb and flow.
So when PA Consulting was awarded a government contract to report on the potential for economic collaboration between the UK and Ireland, it was clear the process must begin by getting key people around a table. The intent was to thrash out the issues in a series of workshops, focusing on sectors such as financial and professional services, tourism, energy and innovation.
Chris Henning, a Managing Consultant at PA Consulting Group, explains: “We needed to run workshops with Ireland and the UK working together collaboratively.” Yet as the workshops required input from business leaders and experts in both countries, attendance would have to be as hassle-free as possible to maximise the likelihood of such people participating.
With time and budgets tight, not to mention carbon constraints, arranging physical meetings in one country wasn’t practical. Holding the workshops in both countries via a virtual link seemed the obvious answer. But yesterday’s video conferencing technology – often characterised by time delays, choppy video and out-of-sync audio – wouldn’t have been up to the job.
“Old-style video conferencing wouldn’t have worked,” confirms Chris Henning, “because of the immediate and interactive nature of the debate we were seeking to spark between the participants.”
PA Consulting was aware that BT offered a fully-managed video conferencing service based on Cisco TelePresence technology. It figured that BT could help with the challenge of organising the high-level, cross-border talks quickly – and virtually.
“We booked three weeks ahead of the workshops and BT was remarkably flexible and accommodating,” recalls Chris Henning. “Everything was taken care of and there were no technical hitches at all. BT ensured things were properly set up, both on the technical and the personal side. It all went perfectly smoothly and the whole experience was fantastic.”
Cisco TelePresence technology is as close as it’s currently possible to get to the experience of a face-to-face meeting. Participants sit around what appears to be the same table and can see virtual attendees, life size, as if they were there. They can interact with them in real time, observe how they react (bodily as well as verbally) and can even share virtual documents across the table.
“I was blown away by the technology. There’s very little you can do at a face-to-face meeting that you can’t do via TelePresence,” says Chris Henning.
Other delegates felt similarly. Ryanair Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary, said: “The quality of the live-time debate and discussion was very impressive. It certainly was a very productive way of having a cross-border discussion.” Independent marketing consultant, Martine Ainsworth-Wells, said: “It didn’t occur to me at any point that we were in different countries. It certainly didn't feel that way.” Andrew Brownlee, of the Institutes of Technology Ireland, agreed: “This was my first experience of the technology and it really does feel like everyone is in the same room.”
The conversational realism of the technology, as well as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of being able to access it via a managed service, both added clear value for PA Consulting. Chris Henning says: “Without TelePresence we’d have found it very difficult to run an effective workshop series and therefore very difficult to deliver this project to a given budget.”
In all, five virtual workshops were held involving 45 people. Delegates’ feedback showed it wasn’t only PA Consulting that gained value from the TelePresence technology:
- 100 per cent said participating in the workshops via TelePresence had improved their productivity because of time saved through not having to travel to attend
- 50 per cent said that without TelePresence they probably or definitely wouldn’t have come
- Only 33 per cent said they would have come anyway
David Manning, director of corporate affairs at energy company SSE, said: “The main value of using TelePresence was that it gave participants a much better sense of the tone and direction of the conversation than traditional audio or video conferencing. That leads to a better understanding of the issues, which allows you to focus and make good progress.”
In terms of benefit to the environment and the bottom line it’s estimated that almost three tonnes of carbon and at least £16,000 in travelling costs were saved (based upon 50 per cent of the attendees turning up for a meeting in London).
Within the overall project, PA Consulting regarded the TelePresence-enabled workshops as extremely valuable in terms of generating ideas and frames of reference for improving economic collaboration between the two nations. “They were a critical part of our research. That’s now going to feed into a report on the opportunities, which will go to both the British and Irish governments,” concludes Chris Henning. “What happens after that is for those governments to decide.”
- BT One Collaborate video, featuring Cisco TelePresence immersive high-definition technology