"It surprised me to what extent videoconferencing is here," said Tom Leonard, who directed the study for Inteco Corp., a Norwalk, Conn., market research company.
Videoconferencing allows people in separate locations to see each other and work together over phone lines. Most systems are room-size, but vendors including Intel Corp. are introducing desktop PC-based systems.
Of the 149 Fortune 500 companies surveyed, 42% have implemented videoconferencing. Another 14% said they planned to adopt multimedia within two to three years. However, Inteco cautioned that the study focused on early adopters of technology, so its results don't represent the entire market.
One popular use of videoconferencing, Inteco found, is "white board sharing," which allows workers at different locations to work simultaneously on the same document.
"We expect much more take-up with white board systems than full-scale desktop videoconferencing," in which computer users can see each other while working, said Mr. Leonard, analyst at Inteco.
Companies adopt videoconferencing when it is cost-justified, improves productivity and allows for better communications and customer service, Inteco found.
Inteco surveyed a total of 176 companies and educational institutions by phone in December and January. Of that group, more than 70% are taking multimedia into account as they upgrade their computer networks.
"Companies don't know what this technology will do for them, but as they go through the cycle of upgrading networks, they don't want to have networks that can't handle it," Mr. Leonard said.
The research, released last week, forecasts business spending on multimedia systems will grow to $13 billion in 1997, up 91% from 1993.
The media community-including ad agencies and publishers-is keen on multimedia. "With interactive TV coming into play, they have no idea what it will be, but they seem to say, `We have to be multimedia literate,"' Mr. Leonard said.