HSBC said today that it is setting up a global telepresence network, providing yet more evidence that the top-end, high-definition cousin to videoconferencing might well be the technology investment that gets the green light from CFOs despite recession indicators being on red alert.

The network will use Cisco TelePresence equipment for HSBC offices in London, Chicago, Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York and Dubai that can take six speakers per room. As with other companies in this fast-developing sector, HSBC sees telepresence providing a life-like alternative to face-to-face meetings, saving on time, reducing travel budgets and helping comply with green agendas.

“It’s been a priority for us to focus on restricting unnecessary travel and we have a public commitment to reducing our carbon footprint,” said HSBC spokesman Neil Brazil. “[Telepresence] certainly ticks a lot of boxes for us. In October 2006, we were one of the first companies to make a promise to be carbon-neutral and we have invested in offsetting projects around the world.”

Cost savings will also be welcome and Brazil said that a recent one-month trial measuring the impact of telepresence at HSBC’s head office saw a £341,000 ($604,000) reduction in travel spending, as well as a reduction of 522,000 in air miles.

Telepresence providers are claiming rapid increases in sales and the nature of the collaboration business suggested by Metcalfe’s Law suggests that, once telepresence systems reach a critical mass, growth will again surge as companies add points to link in to a larger network of nodes. The inflection point, Cisco research and the evidence of recent contract wins suggests, could well be this year, as enterprises seek ways to cut spending and optimise the time of key executives.

Current telepresence system users include Accenture, British American Tobacco, Procter and Gamble, PepsiCo, Dreamworks and the UK/US union group Unite.

As well as Cisco, other large telepresence providers include Teliris, Hewlett-Packard, Tandberg, Cisco and Polycom.

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