Cisco Umi brings Telepresence to small business

This week Cisco unveiled Umi, its high-definition telepresence system aimed at consumers. While the concept is impressive, it is also costly for consumers. However, for small and medium businesses, Umi offers a valuable business tool that may actually enable them to cut costs.

As a consumer technology, Cisco Umi is unlikely to gain much traction–at least initially. The concept is nice, but it is expensive. The $600 equipment costs and $25 monthly fee are out of the range of discretionary spending for most consumers and fall into the realm of frivolous luxury. Besides, this first version of Cisco Umi doesn’t even quite meet the vision originally laid out by Cisco, and it still has some kinks to work out.

Fear not, though! All is not lost for Cisco’s Umi. The vast consumer market may not embrace the Cisco Umi with open arms, but small and medium businesses are another story. For small and medium businesses, Cisco Umi is a cost-effective teleconferencing solution that can actually save money.

Meetings are an integral part of doing business for most companies. There are project meetings, sales meetings, board meetings, meetings to plan the meetings. For companies with remote and branch offices, getting all of the appropriate people in the same geographic location so they can sit in a room and collaborate is a significant expense.

Sending a sales manager from a branch office in St. Louis to the company headquarters in Boston involves airfare, hotel, rental car, and meals. Conducting that same meeting via Cisco Umi video conferencing would pay for itself in a meeting or two.

Multiply that by all of the meetings conducted in a given year, and all of the individuals who have to travel about to get to those meetings, and the Cisco Umi becomes a cost-saving measure, enabling businesses to maintain the same collaborative culture and level of productivity without the travel.

Even on a smaller scale the Cisco Umi makes sense for business. Rather than traveling across the country or around the world, imagine that a business has a branch office or two on the other side of town. Driving to meet at one location still incurs expenses for gas and wear and tear on the vehicle(s) used, and comes with the risk of collision, or getting stuck in traffic. The time invested in driving is wasted time that could be used more productively. Meeting via Cisco Umi cuts expenses, reduces risk, and improves productivity. Not a bad investment.

Granted, many of those same goals can be achieved for a fraction of the cost of Cisco Umi, or even for free. Businesses can use Skype, or Windows Live Messenger, or any of a wide variety of PC-based video chat and conferencing alternatives. Cisco Umi represents a quantum leap forward in the quality of the video conferencing experience, though, and it unshackles it from the PC.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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