On a clear day you can see all the way to your future.

September 23, 2006

The pace of change in business communication is phenomenal.

Five years ago I was convincing clients they needed emails, three years ago websites, one year ago blogs and now the latest buzz in business to business communication is hearing and seeing.

Technology and demographics, the two key drivers in this era of rapid change, leads us to wanting to and now being able to, see the “whites of their eyes” and hear the tone of their voice.

My first webcam, affectionately known as the glass eye, in 1993 was a glorified toy, I couldn’t find anyone else that had one and it sat and gathered dust for years.

My latest webcam travels everywhere with me, hooks up to my laptop and let’s me talk with and see clients, friends and catch up with the family, face to face and in real time, wherever I go and however far away I am.

I have clients who run multinational company’s and keep in regular daily contact with their offices by using simple webcams to simultaneously hook up with all their offices and employees.

Others are using it to bring together interstate sales and administrative teams in live hook ups and discussion – one client is saving about $500 a week, just in air fares, and others are using it to keep in touch with clients and suppliers.

Part of this revolution is due to the low start up costs.

Apart from the initial purchase of a webcam, assuming you have a computer and decent internet connection, it is free – and that’s got to be in your budget.

Internet providers such as Skype, MSN Messenger and others allow you to teleport yourself, for as long as you want, wherever you want, whenever you want.

The decision of which webcam to buy is a little more difficult, there are tonnes of them out there and I suggest you do a search on the word “webcam”, or talk to a geek-friend (and we should all have one in our network).

At the time of writing this article the hot choice in webcams is Logitech’s QuickCam Fusion.

It has won several awards, comes as a complete “out of the box solution” with camera (1.3 megapixel) headset and microphone unit (reasonable quality) built in microphone (good pick up), cute add on video effects and in built software allowing you to hook up, relatively painlessly to MSN Messenger, Skype and other providers

I was able to install and use it with little effort and only a minimal amount of swearing.

My one niggling issue is the bracket attached to the camera which is a bendable arm, it attaches itself well on my PC monitor, but rocks like Elvis when attached to the laptop screen – I would have preferred a clamp of some sort.

Pricing for this webcam varies, it is usually around $170.00, but I have seen it as low as $140.00.

Once you’re hooked up with a webcam, the sky’s the limit.

I have just spent the last couple of weeks turning my humble office into a quasi recording and TV studio.

The next frontier and big buzz in business communication are podcasts. They are the equivalent of radio and television shows that you produce and broadcast out over the internet.

My podcasts, for instance, are regular short business related audio and visual pieces on a wide variety of business topics – if you’re interested you can subscribe at http://www.successthroughfocus.com using the newsletter subscription link.

The technology behind audio recording is relatively simple and solutions are plentiful, ranging from using Microsoft’s inbuilt sound recorder to using an external recording studio.

My solution is in between these two extremes. Sony has a software product called Sound Forge 8 that allows you to record audio, at your desk, at near recording quality, using your PC and a microphone. You record directly into the software and when you’re finished you can edit it relatively easily and pretty much like an MS Word file using cut, copy and paste – OK for the audiophiles, it doesn’t replace a real studio, but for the rest of us it works just fine.

Once you get the hang of the software there are a lot of other tweaks you can make to the recording. This software is available for a free 30 day trial period (downloaded from the website) and retails for around $419.00.

The TV studio has also come to the desktop with a program by Serious Magic called Visual Communicator. It allows you to record television like broadcasts, using your webcam or Video, DVD or similar camera and even comes complete with a green screen – just like the one Spielberg uses.

This software is a bit tougher to use and frankly far more difficult to install.

It took me 5 emails backwards and forwards to the U.S. and many hours on their FAQ pages to resolve numerous installation issues, and once these were done the next hurdle was setting up lighting (although there is some guidance in their literature on how to achieve this) and learning the software.

This is not for the feint hearted, and will take many many hours to get the hang of and costs around $480.00.

These and many other software and hardware communication tools are opening up the possibilities of what can be achieved using the humble PC and a bit of imagination. Have fun and see how you can innovate your business to business communications, as we move in to the brave new frontier.