Is the Enterprise Ready for Its Close-Up? Making a Business Case for Corporate Multimedia

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Even content dweebs like us can do the math: replacing face-to-face meetings with online Web and video conferencing, streaming media sales events, and the like represents a substantial cost savings to the enterprise. Just add up the price of the plane tickets your company didn't have to purchase to send staffers to Des Moines for product training or sales people to Lima to pitch their widget—doesn't exactly take Mr. Wizard for that cost-savings equation.

What is most interesting about the rising tide of enterprise rich media use is how quickly companies incorporate audio and video into everyday business processes. Users are re-imagining multimedia's functionality once it becomes as common and effortless a business tool as photo copiers and staplers.

Business information provider Factiva started using Brainshark's audio/video presentation system several years ago to create narrated and animated "eTopics" training modules on new products for its staff, partners, and 1.6 million enterprise subscribers. Now, the tool is so pervasive at the company that it changes how people work, according to Anne Caputo, director of learning programs. "We no longer expect our briefings or product introductions to involve human beings going someplace, which is now the exception, not the rule," she says. But with easier rich media creation tools, the company also no longer relies on Caputo's own small staff to create eTopic modules; she now has 200 permisisoned authors around the company contributing their expertise via rich media content creation. Video announcements from the CEO, which people are more likely to notice than another press release with quotes, go to everyone at the company at once; and most briefings and inter-office meetings are now recorded for later reference. "Our use of it has increased significantly," says Caputo. "It's beginning to go significantly beyond product training."

As businesspeople are fond of saying these days, the enterprise has drunk the Kool-Aid. Wainhouse Research says that enterprise spending on the making, managing, and distributing of on-demand rich media will grow from $190 million in 2004 to $1 billion by 2007, a market driven by the convenience, savings, and sheer effectiveness of communicating in video and audio formats. To be sure, lower bandwidth and storage costs have made rich media a more feasible tool for companies, but executives are now making the case that rich media simply communicates more efficiently. "It puts a closer face on the organization," says David Welch, SVP of digital media and collaborative technologies at Citigroup. His company just erected a massive video distribution network using Media Publisher Inc.'s media integration solution to send briefing, sales, training, and announcement video content to more than 150,000 employees at 5,000 global offices and 400 corporate portals. "It brings a value to it by itself to have the personal face on communication. A lot of communication is visual. It improves the quality of the communication," says Welch.

We Want Our Corp TV
On one level, the proliferation of rich media in the enterprise has gotten some companies to start thinking like producers of media, particularly assets that offer a business edge. For instance, Avistar provides video recording and collaboration tools for every desktop in an office. Coworkers use video instead of phones to converse and conduct ad hoc visual collaboration sessions among cubicles or offices. Avistar is now part of IBM's Workplace Client Technology. "It's a richer medium to communicate with than text and just voice," says John Carlson, Avistar's VP of marketing. "It tends to be cleaner and more focused and quicker, so you understand things better, the process can be resolved more quickly, and the flow of business can be improved."

One financial services company uses the technology for its research analysts to make video responses from their desktop to breaking business news so that it can be distributed directly to their investors and brokerage houses. "There are always vendors trying to get mind share with the same clients," says Carlson. "It helps differentiate that message—here is the guy who wrote this report. They get higher response rates from people looking at these versus email blasts." And once it is installed, the ability to make and retrieve rich media at the desktop weaves itself into the workflow and gets, on average, 34 minutes of use a day, Avistar claims.

Of course for years, large companies have used video to distribute all sorts of internal and external communications via VHS taps, DVDs, or even live satellite broadcasts. However, by leveraging the IP network, companies now see how digitized, centralized rich media puts everyone in a company on the same page with a compelling, clear statement of company policy all at once, says Stan Woodward, CEO of Reflect Systems, which has its own enterprise broadcast system installed with Kellogg's, Northrup Grumman, and Dell. At MCI, for instance, "what got people jazzed about video and audio over IP was they could hit everyone at the same time with the same message with the same impact in house. It gave them communication velocity." As multimedia penetrate business practices, executives themselves are making the case that digital rich media allows for more consistent and compelling messages, but also provides companies with a feedback loop—a way of knowing who saw what presentation when.

Once enterprises capture and catalog rich media, they find it can be re-tooled, or syndicated, in lucrative ways. By parsing internal briefings and training sessions wisely, companies are creating lush assets for partners and clients. A pharmaceutical firm using Media Publisher, Inc.'s rich media integration solution reported to its CEO, Rod Bacon, that a video-driven product solutions center is giving them a competitive advantage that wins new partnership deals. "The technology that has been in the enterprise and used for corporate communications is now being used as a core tool for enhancing revenue," says Bacon. Companies like Citigroup are producing massive amounts of high value rich media investment content that it syndicates selectively across hundreds of enterprise and customer-facing portals. In some cases rich media starts its life as internal communications, gets re-edited and pushed out to enterprise customers who, in turn, repurpose and re-brand that material for their own employees and customers.

In its most evolved state, enterprise rich media can turn a multinational corporation in any field into a TV network. Content managers within these companies now must attend to the quality and professionalism of content production because internal shards of info like recorded meetings and training sessions can become repurposed media assets that face clients and customers.

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