Talk­ing heads

Much of the un­nec­es­sary, car­bon-hun­gry busi­ness travel could end up a thing of the past if an Auck­land com­pany gets its way.

Element - - Enterprise Snapshot - By Adam Gif­ford

While the Gov­ern­ment is con­tem­plat­ing a law change so prob­lem gam­blers will fund the cost of a new con­fer­ence cen­tre at Auck­land’s Skycity Casino, over on the North Shore a plucky firm is catch­ing a wave that could make such large lo­ca­tion-based talk fests re­dun­dant.

Faceme al­lows any­one with a browser and a we­b­cam to web con­fer­ence. It sup­ports up to 12-way videos, and up to 100 users can log into a meet­ing. Faceme is de­vel­oped by Hi-tech So­lu­tions, a com­pany whose roots lie in sell­ing PABX tele­phone switch­boards.

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mark Chris­tensen says there are es­ti­mates web con­fer­enc­ing is grow­ing by up to 25 per cent a year, with a po­ten­tial mar­ket in the bil­lions within the next few years.

“It’s a hot space and where the world needs to be,” he says. What’s driv­ing growth is busi­ness col­lab­o­ra­tion as well as in­creased aware­ness of the cost of travel and the need to bring down car­bon emis­sions.

Or­gan­is­ers of the first Green Travel Sum­mit es­ti­mated travel is the sec­ond largest vari­able ex­pense for most or­gan­i­sa­tions, and con­trib­utes to a big chunk of their car­bon foot­print. What may be hold­ing back greater adop­tion of web con­fer­enc­ing is its reliance on paired sys­tems – the same ap­pli­ca­tion or equip­ment needs to be present at both ends of the call, whether it be Skype or ex­pen­sive telep­res­ence equip­ment.

“Cus­tomers were telling us tra­di­tional web con­fer­enc­ing so­lu­tions were in­flex­i­ble, ex­pen­sive and hard to use. We de­cided to take a more open stan­dards ap­proach like email or phone – you do it and it gets through,” Chris­tensen says. “Ev­ery­one has a browser, so we de­signed a sys­tem to bring peo­ple to­gether in the browser, as well as to give them work col­lab­o­ra­tion tools like shar­ing doc­u­ments, Pow­erpoint slides or videos.”

He says the app is de­signed for New Zealand broad­band con­di­tions “which aren’t that favourable,” so it should travel well in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“The ADSL up­load is the real is­sue. Faceme users only have to up­load their own stream, and they can take mul­ti­ple down­load streams.”

The next re­lease will in­clude even more ca­pac­ity to con­nect with ex­ist­ing meet­ing room hard­ware, which firms may have in­vested heav­ily in, and to con­nect with mo­bile de­vices such as smart­phones and tablets.

With firms around the world try­ing to ser­vice the mar­ket, Faceme needs to move fast.

Chris­tensen says win­ning the $100,000 Bnz-vir­gin Busi­ness Chal­lenge, which in­cluded time with Sir Richard Bran­son and men­tor­ing from BNZ and Vir­gin ex­ec­u­tives, was a great boost to the com­pany’s cred­i­bil­ity.

Faceme has opened five of­fices across the Tas­man and plans to use ma­jor telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pos this year as a spring­board for fur­ther ex­pan­sion.

Sup­port from its banker and share­hold­ers, as well as rev­enue from ini­tial sales means Hi-tech So­lu­tions has been able to carry the cost of de­vel­op­ment so far.

“We are try­ing to last as long as we can un­til we do sell down. The prod­uct can be can be pro­vi­sioned and sup­ported from New Zealand, so why not build a multi­na­tional from New Zealand?” he asks.

“We al­ready have more than 40 New Zealand cus­tomers, from small busi­ness to large en­ter­prise, gov­ern­ment, health and ed­u­ca­tion. New Zealand is a great test­ing place for this sort of prod­uct.

“As a com­pany, we have mas­sive mar­ket po­ten­tial and a cul­ture of chal­lenge – we are tak­ing on the big boys like Google, Mi­crosoft and Cisco. We have a world class prod­uct that is ready to scale.”

Faceme’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mark Chris­tensen

and gen­eral man­ager – prod­uct de­vel­op­ment Danny Tom­sett (on screen). Photo: Ted Baghurst.

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