Multimedia@Work

Multimedia continues to be a buzzword even today. Be
it school education or TV broadcast or business or the Internet. A technology that has
changed the very shape of entertainment, computing, and electronics industries. All
because people can actually ‘use’ the multimedia technology and ‘apply’ it in their daily
life-and make all the difference.

The whole multimedia business is amazing.
It has redefined the areas in which information industries compete and has altered the
boundaries of competition. Here we make some observations on these issues and the role and
opportunity for multimedia from the past to the present.

In his book Powershift, Alvin Toffler says,
“We stand at the edge of violence and what will be among the deepest powershifts
which history has ever witnessed.” In many ways, the statement has a ring of truth.
As, for the first time there exists a technology which does not call for end-users to be
computer scientists-and still increases and changes rapidly the utility of IT. The
convergence of media business with IT has had a remarkable impact on end-user
industry-from aerospace and engineering to medicine and primary education. Thanks to the
`interactivity’ that allows users to explore ideas and the environment.

The decline in PC prices-as well as
processing power-has given the necessary drive to multimedia as such. Defined primarily as
the ‘integration of text, graphics, audio, video, and animation on a computer, today its
definition is extended by integrated technologies such as telephony, connectivity, and
media. Multimedia applications such as CBT (Computer Based Training) systems, multimedia
databases, PoI (Point of Information) terminals, edutainment, and imaging have emerged as
key drivers to the integration of not just users and technologies, but also industries.

Multimedia Apps
The standard configurations of multimedia PCs are Pentiums or equivalent in other
processors with 16 MB or 32 MB RAM, 1.2 GB HDD, SVGA color monitor, a sound card, and a CD
ROM with speakers or a headphone-in case you get a Mac it comes multimedia-configured.
Where does this place the applications and what is the potential? Multimedia applications
can be broadly categorized into PIECE (Productivity, Information, Entertainment,
Creativity, and Education).

PRODUCTIVITY
Users can integrate multimedia in productivity tools by embedding image or audio into mail
or presentations and product communication or even animating their spreadsheets or using
voice as reminders in diaries for appointments and scheduling meetings. In addition, with
connectivity whiteboard software and groupware tools have integrated multimedia that
connect people so that people can conference within a building or from one country to
another.

In addition, PC conferencing is an area
that is not only getting people and executives to interact with each other but more
importantly helping people and business to get closer to customers in terms of time and
costs.

Multimedia documentation integrated into
applications has definitely made an impact on productivity. For example, Japan-based
Komatsu initiated worldwide development and implementation of electronic multimedia
documentation as an integral tool to business productivity for parts management, service,
and customer response. Back home, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has pioneered the
implementation of such systems to great RoI.

This indicates the trends in the utility of
multimedia in productivity applications. Today people at home buy new PCs which come
integrated with productivity tools that allow people to pay their taxes, monitor their
finances, and even manage their home with the aid of multimedia on screen. Productivity
tools also include the integration of even security systems connected to PCs!

Integration of multimedia tools and
technologies onto laptops, mobiles, pagers, and even watches, has made life much easier
for the corporate globe-trotters. In marketing communications, multimedia brings products
or services to life. Its interactivity allows a level of user engagement that could only
be approximated with an expensive personal sales call in the past.

For the growing number of companies that
are doing business internationally, the multilingual flexibility of multimedia is a
quantum leap forward in dissolving geographic and language barriers to facilitate
productive communication. A single multimedia program can be developed to present audio
and text in various languages, and switch between them with the click of a mouse.

Interestingly, multimedia has the potential
to wrap useful customer service information together with powerful marketing messages and
ongoing updates. Pricing catalogs, retail directories, or specification sheets can
intertwine with the company identity and key advertising images as part of the customer’s
information system. No other medium can stake such a powerful claim as multimedia when it
is embedded and fully exploited. Multimedia is ideal for presenting memorable images and
demonstrating products persuasively. It is increasingly being used in tradeshows to
capture attendee data for marketing purposes.

The multimedia applications offer unique
development opportunities: a focused audience and ‘highest common denominator’ playback
hardware. These factors lend themselves to high-impact presentations that can push
creative and technical boundaries-distinguishing features in busy, competitive settings.
Talk to Digital or CCSL to find out if this is the future@work?

INFORMATION Information poverty in many
countries has contributed to the slowing down of the economy.

Information needs of yesterday-from
reference material at school to legislation and government processes-has always been the
need of any society. With multimedia and CD ROMs, information is not only being made
available-and affordable-but also being enhanced in delivery and presentation.

Multimedia reference titles range from
encyclopedias to reference databases, such as addresses and telephone codes of various
countries, which by a mere click on the map leads to government legislation being made
available online with the relevant media. Today, industries such as healthcare, telecom,
advertising are using multimedia information to store and distribute the much-needed
information needed by businesses. From business to the home and from government to the
individual, multimedia information is reducing the gap between information haves and
have-nots.

PoI terminals that inform people about
paying their bills and parking tickets is much in demand today. The necessity to inform
common man has seen the rise in demand for PoI terminals. Now PoI terminals are even
connected via networks so as to share resources such as media and other information which
would have otherwise made these systems expensive to deploy and maintain.

ENTERTAINMENT
One industry where multimedia showed up early was entertainment, and that was nothing but
simple economics. Multimedia in movies, television, and games began to appear in the
latter half of the eighties and the early nineties to make a definite impact in the minds
of people. CD ROM titles, such as on movies, places or even tourism entertainment, are
definitely giving boost to users and producers alike.

Indian content for entertainment is
definitely one example. As we stand today, entertainment is definitely one of the largest
industries worldwide consuming and producing a lot of multimedia content for people.
Today, for example, music composers or singers first create music on their PCs with
various possible instruments and notes and simulate their music even before they decide
what to do next and how to do it. MIDI, for instance, is a music technology that is now a
standard in every percussion instrument available today. It has opened new vistas for
creators and entertainers of various categories to open their minds to entertainment and
relook what entertainment could really achieve by just going digital.

In a world that is progressing so rapidly
toward an information culture, the interface-the on-screen appearance of information and
the way it is accessed-is the product. For many information companies, the interface is
almost the only manifestation of the organization. It is the package…the brand. Within
its design are the same opportunities for building product recognition and competitive
advantage as in more tangible products such as a car or TV set. Higher sales is reported
when interactive kiosks are used to support sales, e.g., IBM in-store application saw a
sales increase of 50 percent for in-stock items and 100 percent for special-order
accessories.

Multimedia is a powerful force wherever
company meets consumer…whether it’s on the customer’s desktop or at high-impact kiosks
in company locations. Multimedia can bring point-of-purchase and retail directories to
life, merging customer service with marketing and engaging the viewer in a dynamic
exchange of information and image.

CREATIVITY
With multimedia, creativity got a tremendous shot in the arm. From producing content for
information to reference or even entertainment, people automatically began to look at
their hidden talent, and started exploring. Exploration began at all levels, from dabbling
in creative ideas using paint, image or even sound tools to integrate ideas into life.
Whether it is in the office or making a movie or even leaving a note for someone on a card
on a PC, multimedia has given a new impetus.

Camera is a good example. It comes
digital-enabled so as to integrate photographs in a family CD ROM album by simply
connecting the camera to PC directly and making copies or taking print-outs on even
tee-shirts. All this can be done by ordinary people at home-yet took the job of a
professional. That is the impact of multimedia on creativity.

Today companies are working on a host of
products such as cameras and printers (traditional tools at home and office) to help
people stay in tune by simply connecting a TV to their PC and watching their favorite
music channel while working simultaneously. The list of possibilities here is endless.

EDUCATION
One of the early multimedia apps was CBT systems. A model case here would be American
Airlines. The training center, responsible for the training about 90,000 airline
employees, started using CBT systems to supplement instructor-led instruction to teach
curriculum such as Flight Attendant Training. This introduction led to some amazing
statistics which indicated decrease in costs and reduction in classroom delivery time by
as much as 36 percent without effecting the overall delivery and absorption of the course.
There was also greater productivity of the learning by about 30 percent in retention and
utility.
Among Indian companies, SKF has deployed similar systems for customers in certain specific
areas of manufacturing technology and maintenance training. Learning and instruction
methodologies alongwith multimedia address issues such as retention, empowerment,
creativity, and ability to visualize and work with the instructor to enhance the overall
scope of the curriculum.

In cases of defined end-user systems, the
development and deployment costs of multimedia-led CBT instruction systems have got
corporations from various parts of the world evaluating and deploying such systems as
integral components of HRD and to increase employee productivity and satisfaction.
However, to develop and deploy such systems a variety of skill-sets are required to be
integrated-such as curriculum designers, educational psychologists, multimedia design
houses, and end-users of such systems-to make them really effective.

The role of the domain experts is
therefore, a key in the whole process of the development life-cycle. Multimedia is ideal
for self-paced learning. Its interactive nature keeps users engaged, interested, and
involved. People learn more when they can access what they want, when they want. It can
lead to increased levels of understanding by providing the type of immediate, specific
feedback that once required an individual tutor.

"We’ve found that students move
through the [multimedia] learning experience more than 30 percent faster than in a
traditional classroom," says an executive of a leading manufacturing company in
India. Industry studies show that multimedia actually accelerates learning and
understanding-critical to companies racing to educate their employees, associates, and
customers about new products and services.

Multimedia can help people master complex
topics that are difficult to describe in words. Training can be more concrete-filled with
sights, sounds, and images of the real world. Information can be layered so that users can
progress to successive levels of detail and complexity when they’re ready.

The Networked Future
With the rapid emergence of networks such as the Internet, the scale of economies have
changed. The Internet is the new economy. Over 60 million people and growing, this is a
nation state that’s virtual, and to really leverage from this and become a Netizen you
need to get wired. Indian companies, like their counterparts from across the world, are
working overtime to understand this new business opportunity.

The WWW is growing at a pace faster than
you and I can think and it’s the pace and the dimension of this new emerging paradigm
which is shifting everyone’s avatar. The reasons driving the pace of change are multimedia
and people who are connected. Sites are growing at the rate of one a minute. Mind you, we
are talking sites. The old theories of economics get rewritten every time someone tries a
new idea and it gives birth to a new way.

The creation of wealth and the pace of it
has never been witnessed before. Netscape is a classic example. James Clark, Chairman of
Netscape-and who owns 32 percent of the stock-is worth more than $ 1 billion. The day the
company went public and the stock traded at about $ 28.80, he was worth $ 588 million-all
within a span of few hours. The point is, till that day the company did not even have a
profit!

This publishing, advertising, and
communication economy is very clear. It is driven by the millions and millions of people
interacting with machines and PCs but, more importantly, with ideas. What drives this
Webonomy? Four major issues-infrastructure companies, content creators, advertisers, and
users. The Internet is what the interactive future will look like, although it will
diminish what exists today as technologies rapidly become more powerful and cost-effective
and deployable, from giant corporations to common people.

The Interactive Future
Thus, the ‘interactive future’ presents an extremely exciting future. Designers, content
creators, software developers, Internet plumbers et al, represent the future of the
knowledge economies. The future of multimedia the world over, and especially in India, is
extremely exciting with applications in one PIECE. As an indicator of the growth of
multimedia, the Australian Government has a Minister for Multimedia.

Asian governments are working to deploy
multimedia in all walks of life. An example of a major global multimedia forum of the
future will definitely be the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor) in Malaysia to the US and
Europe. The future is now!

GERARD J REGO
is CEO, Baron Hexa Pvt. Ltd.

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