American Express Rolls Out Virtual Meeting Solution

American Express is unveiling its virtual meetings eXpert, an offering that expands businesses' options for virtual meetings and helps companies determine whether a particular meeting would be better done online or face-to-face. The solution is designed to help businesses increase their collaboration capabilities while driving down travel costs. American Express' move comes at a time when some companies, like Cisco, are finding significant savings through virtual meetings.

American Express is jumping into the virtual meeting space.

American Express Business Travel is conducting a pilot of its new virtual meetings eXpert offering, which will act as an aggregator of public telepresence facilities and private networks that businesses may already have in place.

In addition, the solution, announced Aug. 18, also will help businesses decide whether a particular meeting would be best suited by traveling to the site or conducting it online.

The goal is to offer businesses a way to save money in their travel budget by increasing the number of meetings that can be conducted via the Internet, according to Charles Petruccelli, president of American Express Global Travel Services.

"Ultimately, we believe that both virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings should be components of a best-in-class corporate travel and expenses program," Petruccelli said in a statement. "By being able to rely on an automated process, companies can feel confident that employees are making the right decision when it comes to travel versus virtual meetings, and taking advantage of every opportunity to save while maintaining travel that is strategically essential."

Petruccelli's comments echo those of John Chambers, Cisco Systems' chairman and CEO. In several public appearances this year, Chambers has extolled the benefits of virtual meetings in increasing collaboration while driving down expenses.

He also sees it as part of a greater trend toward the use of video in business and the merging of consumer and commercial technologies.

At Cisco's Partner Summit June 4, Chambers demonstrated how the company's Flip video camera and Telepresence online collaboration technology can be used in a business scenario. He also said that Cisco has successfully used video and Web 2.0 technologies to cut costs. When Cisco announced its Unified Computing System in March, the vendor reduced the cost of the major event by 90 percent through the use of video, Telepresence and other technologies.

Cisco also now uses Telepresence for its largest internal meetings, which helps significantly cut costs for those events, Chambers said.

"Physical meetings inside Cisco are dinosaurs," he said in June. "We've done our last big physical meeting. It will not happen again."

American Express' offering looks to help other businesses see similar benefits. Using such criteria as the price, duration, purpose and environmental impact of a trip, its virtual meetings eXpert solution, at the time of booking, will give users a heads up on telepresence and virtual meetings opportunities, and then will help businesses decide if it makes sense to send somebody to the meeting or conduct it online.

The solution also enables larger companies that already have their own telepresence capabilities to expand their reach, and gives smaller businesses greater access to virtual meeting technologies, American Express officials said.

The company currently is running a pilot with a Fortune 500 company, officials said.