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