“Travel is medieval,” wrote Max Frisch. “We now have the means of communication which bring the world into our homes.” The sentiment expressed in the 1950s by the author of the best seller “Homo Faber” has never been more valid than it is today. The Internet has opened up the possibility of many new forms of communication such as web conferences. These business meetings on the Internet enable any number of participants from any number of companies to work together on applications from their PCs. They can discuss projects or give presentations online. At the same time, they can also speak to each other using conference call facilities. A webcam even allows users to see the other conference participants.
Web conferences would certainly have spared the hero of Frisch’s novel, Walter Faber, a large number of business trips, including the one that ended with a plane crash in Mexico. Web conferences can also help the legions of meeting-weary managers by doing away with the need to attend routine meetings which are held on a frequent basis and do not necessarily have to involve face-to-face contact. This fact has even been recognized by a travel agent, DER Business Travel in Frankfurt am Main, which uses the web conference system Meeting Center from WebEx to communicate with business clients when conducting presentations, meetings or product training courses.
Travel agent reduces travel costs
“All our account managers hold eight to ten web conferences with their customers every week,” explains Christian Spangenberg, Head of Key Account Management & Sales. “If you take the results of the business travel study conducted by the Verband Deutsches Reisemanagement (Association of German Travel Management) which determined that the average cost of a business trip is almost Euro 500, it is easy to calculate the savings that can be made through web conferences.”
This fact is confirmed by Oscar Koenders, Head of Marketing at Toshiba Computer Systems in Neuss. Surveys show that the increasing use of web conferences at Toshiba is helping to boost productivity. The Neuss-based company, which has a workforce of 1000, has already saved 115 working days in the first year by using web conferences in marketing. Toshiba was also able to cut the cost of its overall travel budget by 75 percent. Moreover, employee productivity rose by 25 percent since inefficient travel was rendered unnecessary.
In Koenders’ opinion, there is considerable, as yet unexploited potential for further development of web conference services. “Here at Toshiba, I was one of the first people to use WebEx and might be described as a ‘power-user’,” says Koenders. “Now, I automatically turn to WebEx when organizing a meeting. It is a bit like changing from using a diary to using a PDA. At first, I wasn’t too sure about the whole thing but I soon began to wonder how I had ever managed without it.”
Christian Spangenberg from DER Business Travel describes the benefits of online business meetings as follows: “They have proved to be very beneficial in a variety of ways. If a travel agent is able to prove that they can make the best possible use of expenditure for business travel through online booking, they are very likely to gain the confidence of the customer.”
Software development with web conferences
The sports equipment and clothing manufacturer adidas-Salomon also relies on web conference solutions from WebEx and uses them to improve coordination among its software developers, for example in the development of its product data management (PDM) solution which is based on SAP Material Management.
The PDM application emerged as a result of web conferences held by project participants from three sites – Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg, Portland (Oregon) and Hong Kong. “Online meetings really proved their worth in the PDM project,” states Ronald Urban, Specialist Incident Management, Global IT Service Desk at adidas-Salomon in Herzogenaurach. At peak times, up to 100 web meetings were held every month, falling to a not inconsiderable 60 during less intensive phases of the project.
Participants in an online meeting are ready to start with a few clicks of the mouse. Once they have received an invitation by e-mail, they log onto the website of the provider and perform a one-off client download. Installation takes just a few minutes to complete. The service is then available immediately. The web conference services are platform-independent and run on any PC.
Users can even integrate web conferences with programming interfaces (APIs) into CRM, business process automation, supply chain management, e-learning and Voice-over-IP applications. This means, for example, that sales representatives are able to start online meetings with customers directly from the customer profile in their CRM solution. Moreover, all important data can be processed and automatically updated during the meeting directly within the application.
Thanks to the seamless integration of WebEx solutions into SAP applications, companies can begin their WebEx meetings without any problems from the mySAP Enterprise Portal or cFolders in mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (mySAP PLM). Users are then able to plan and hold online meetings with internal and external participants with the greatest ease thanks to single-sign-on and without the need to enter additional WebEx user data. This has the advantage that all the relevant data and information is available on a standardized platform for use during the web conference.
“Despite the fact that face-to-face meetings between project participants were essential from time to time, the web conferences resulted in enormous savings in travel costs,” concludes Urban. “This amounted to a six-figure sum over the course of the entire project. Instead of wasting precious time on traveling to meetings, employees who participate in web conferences are much more productive.”
It is not absolutely necessary to set up a separate application for web conferences since companies can use the infrastructure provided by WebEx. This consists of MediaTone technology and the WebEx Interactive Network (WIN). The MediaTone technology uses the T.120 standard for platform-independent data communication in real time. WIN is a global network which was specially developed for the transmission of real-time communication via the Internet. It currently has more than 650 servers at ten locations in the USA, Europe and Asia.
Data security on the web
Alongside reliability, one of the key issues in web conferences is security. After all, online meetings are used to discuss important topics and usually involve the disclosure of confidential information. The information and content of a web meeting are available in real time with WebEx. They are not saved on a server, as is the case with solutions from other suppliers. The advantage of this is that data does not have to be downloaded, so there is no possibility for hackers to access the information. The data is also encrypted with 128 bit and SSL (Secure Socket Layer). This method is also used by financial institutions for online banking and is considered to be very safe, something that cannot really be said of business trips, as the example of Homo Faber demonstrates.