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November 10, 2009

VIDEO CONFERENCING 4:A collaborative solution

Rounding up our current series of features on video conferencing, Pete Roythorne finds out what happened when NEC Europe took the decision to deploy a video conferencing solution across its European companies.

In January of this year, electronics giant NEC Europe decided to implement a Europe-wide collaborative video conferencing solution for its regional headquarters.

The solution that the company chose combines a 360˚ view of the conference room, high-quality audio and video that tracks the flow of conversation, with presence, Instant Messaging and other collaborative features for the ultimate user experience.

Chris de Silva, managing director of Philips Unified Solutions, which supplied the system, explains. “There is a range of video conferencing solutions available, from the simple and inexpensive through to the more sophisticated, hi-definition and more collaborative conferencing solutions."

"While simple video conferencing technology does have its place in a business, it may not be deemed a satisfactory alternative to a face to face meeting in every case and more advanced solutions should also be considered. The more sophisticated solutions, for example desktop videoconferencing deployed with collaborative tools for reviewing presentations and other documents, can provide a real alternative to face to face meetings and replace more of those meetings, with numerous benefits, including time and cost savings and a rich user experience.”


Collaboration is what you need: NEC's new virtual
meetings solution allows real-time sharing


Real-time application
The system uses one centrally located server from which the 14 client devices in the various countries work, simplifying the administration and management of the solution. Meetings are scheduled through the company’s Microsoft Exchange email system, although the virtual meeting environment is powered by a combination of Microsoft Office Communications Server, RoundTable and LiveMeeting.

The solution integrates voice, video and instant messaging technologies into a collaborative virtual meeting space that offers users the ability to present, share and manipulate documents in real time.

The system was rolled out across 14 NEC European locations – including Sweden, Netherlands, Poland and the UK – and the state-of-the-art conferencing solution has significantly improved business efficiency, as well as providing major time and cost savings by removing the need for outsourced audio conferencing services. It has also substantially reduced business travel time and the carbon footprint for the NEC Europe executive team.

While the collaborative solution may be one of the more expensive ways to go, de Silva believes it is the best alternative to a face-to-face meeting.

“It retains most of the elements that make a face-to-face meeting so productive,” he says, “including the ability to see and react to people’s body language and interpret what is said – and indeed the silences – on the call, and the sharing of information and documents in real time.”

Reaping the benefits
Prior to the installation, European monthly management meetings took place in London, resulting in very high travel costs and an inefficient use of working hours. In addition, the excessive travel time provided a poor work-life balance that did not match the company’s ethos. The organisation is now reaping both the cost and efficiency benefits resulting from the deployment of the new collaborative conferencing solution.

Sejal Shah, technical consultant at NEC Europe, explains how this has effected the company's meeting planning.

“By implementing this new solution, we have managed to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings the management team are having to one every quarter,” he says. “This has dramatically improved our efficiency and must have an effect on our carbon footprint.”

There were several complexities that needed to be considered before the installation could be completed, including the integration of the solution into the existing communication and email system.

Shah continues: “Good project management was vital. Knowing that we wanted to deploy the system simultaneously throughout all participating countries presented a major logistical and planning challenge."
Anticipating problems
“The NEC Philips team anticipated every potential problem and combated it with extensive training prior to the install, which was then followed by tailored instruction to ensure that everyone had the required knowledge. For an international roll-out by a multi-language team – where, for many of the users, English is not their first language – it was potentially fraught with problems. Meticulous planning meant it was pulled together with ease.”
So what would NEC advise anyone looking to install their own virtual meetings solution?

“Consider collaborative tools to get the most out of your long distance meetings and reduce the need for face-to-face meetings to the absolute minimum,” says de Silva. “Second, remember that video conferencing is more than a boardroom toy. You need to look at deploying a solution that can be utilised more broadly by those in the organisation whose roles require high levels of collaboration or traveling.

He adds that it’s important not to look at a video conferencing solution as a standalone technology or investment.

“It should be built into your considerations for other projects, such as home or flexible working initiatives, and look at integrating video conferencing into a wider solution, which includes communication systems and other business applications.”

Understanding your requirements
De Silva also points out that companies need to understand the business requirements before selecting a video conferencing solution to ensure the their selection provides maximum benefit to the entire organisation.

“Finally,” he concludes, “don’t just deploy a solution and hope it will work. Train users on how to use it and the benefits, and even consider internal directives on when and how it should be used to drive through the benefits. When users start, they won’t stop!”

Following on from last week’s feature about the European Union considering a mandatory 20% cut in business travel in favour of virtual meetings, NEC has certainly managed to slash its internal meetings needs, but whether that equates to a 20% cut, even in the case of a company as forward-looking as NEC, is questionable at the very least. Even in de Silva’s words there are many occasions where face-to-face is essential. To impose such a cap on companies is something that cannot be done without much more in-depth investigation.

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