Bank of America's staffers will surely have busy agendas when they gather for video conferencing-driven virtual meetings. But there will be at least one silent agenda item that maps to corporate strategy goals.

"Our primary goal is to improve collaborative work by staff around the world, but going green through reduced travel is a nice additional benefit," says BofA spokesperson Caroline Sciolino of the bank's deployment of Cisco's TelePresence videoconferencing system, which provides life-size images of meeting participants. "We have a commitment to report on various environmental activities through our annual sustainability reporting, and we're looking into how we can formally measure TelePresence's green benefits going forward."

BofA has installed 28 of the 200 units it plans to have place by year end.

Cisco's TelePresence is an immersive videoconferencing system that uses high-definition video and audio to give meeting participants the impression of sitting at the same table as people at other locations, right down to aligned remarks that allow staff to here someone at his or her "left" in their left ear.

The system will become the new standard for room-based videoconferencing at BofA. The bank will deploy various configurations including one for business meetings with up to six participants per room, and another that seats up to 18 people. "BofA will be able to use TelePresence not just for intra-company communications, but also to talk to suppliers and clients who also use TelePresence," says Jorgen Ericsson, vp of global financial services at Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG).

The energy savings of videoconferencing systems like TelePresence, whose competitors in the immersive videoconferencing provider space include HP's Halo and Polycom's RPX, are impressive.

BT Conferencing, a unit of BT and a Cisco reseller, also sells Engage, a tool that generates ROI calculations for videoconferencing rooms based on savings on travel costs and pollution emissions. One BT client found that at 25 percent utilization, each unit's cost was recouped in 14 months, says Jeff Prestel, general manager of BT Conferencing's video business. At 40 percent utilization, the payback was seven months. With a 25 percent utilization rate per TelePresence unit, a firm can save 482 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per month. With a 40 percent usage rate, the savings is 780 tons of CO2 per system per month, Prestel says.

Simon Mingay, a Gartner research vp specializing in environmentally-sustainable IT, expects the recession and environmental concerns to force banks to look at collaborative technologies such as TelePresence as a substitute for business travel. "We're likely to see many IT organizations in banks offering an increasing range of rich remote collaboration services," he says. Ericsson declined to specify the value of the BofA contract. A spokesperson said Cisco offers TelePresence units whose cost ranges from $34,000 to $340,000.

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