Slideshow: Cisco Umi Takes Telepresence To The Home
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Many small and midsize businesses deploy videoconferencing systems to cut travel costs, but the smart ones find that it can help in other ways.
Take Captech, a 300-person IT consulting firm headquartered in Richmond, Va. The 14-year-old company has indeed saved on travel costs, but that's not necessarily what they set out to do. IT operations manager Brett Bajcsi said in an interview that as Captech grew beyond one office--it now has five, plus other remote employees scattered around the country--it needed a way to keep people from feeling too, well, remote.
"As you find yourself distributed into more markets, it's harder to bring people together," Bajcsi said. "The big challenge for me is: How do I find a way to make people feel like they work for Captech?"
Bajcsi said a branch office could feel like a "rogue state" without the opportunity for regular, face-to-face interaction with the company's partners, management, and other teams. While videoconferencing isn't a complete substitute for in-person meetings, it can come pretty close.
"It's one thing if you talk on a phone to someone--you hear their voice, you hear what they're saying. Or you read what they're saying in an email," Bajcsi said. "But you can't read them. Videoconferencing allows you to do that."
Captech first deployed videoconferencing for its internal company meetings, such as its weekly marketing session. Doing so enabled remote employees to better see presentations and other visual content, whereas in the past they'd quite literally been left in the dark.
The company soon found other videoconferencing uses that have become integral to regular operations. It began conducting job interviews via videoconference rather than requiring candidates to travel to the Richmond headquarters and reimbursing the associated costs, which was it's previous process. Bajcsi said the video interview method has worked well to date.
Videoconferencing has also become core to the company's extensive employee training programs. "It's been very useful for that," Bajcsi said. "We've been able to integrate remote offices with [video] training as opposed to having them travel."
Meetings, recruiting, and training use cases have all generated significant travel savings. From a return on investment standpoint, Bajcsi notes as an example 15 employees who drive down from the company's Washington, D.C.-area office to Richmond--about 180 miles roundtrip at 51 cents per mile--for a 5 p.m. all-hands meeting. Those employees are likely spending the night in a hotel--say at $100 or $120 each for the night. Then there are meals and miscellaneous expenses. Punch all that into a calculator, and Bajcsi said one videoconferencing endpoint pays itself off after a couple of comparable meetings.
Captech's video technology is almost exclusively Cisco gear, including the C40 and EX90 endpoints, and Movi. Bajcsi said the company will occasionally use Skype for a job interview.
The company's video usage has since expanded beyond its corporate borders. "We've been able to leverage it for client work, which has really been fantastic," Bajcsi said. They've begun using videoconferencing for a project with the Virginia Department of Transportation, one of Captech's customers. That has again saved on travel costs, but Bajcsi said it also reduced employee downtime while in transit to the client site, and allowed for daily check-ins rather than meeting in person at less regular intervals.
More recently, Captech actually installed one of its own endpoints at a client office, Tampa, Fla.-based financial service company Raymond James. Doing so helped Captech win an additional project with Raymond James; as a result, they're considering deploying their own endpoints at other customer offices.
"One of the things they were very concerned about was running a distributed Scrum development project," Bajcsi said. "We were able not only to offset issues related to distributed teams, but also significantly reduce travel costs and the impact of time spent in transit."
Bajcsi's advice for fellow IT managers considering a videoconferencing deployment can be summed up in two words: Start small.
"Don't try to solve every problem at once; don't try to anticipate every use case," he said. "Keep your scope small to begin with, understand how it's implemented and how it's going to work, and then expand from there."
Starting simply with meetings allowed Bajcsi's end users to become comfortable with the technology and learn what it could do. Then the users themselves began asking questions and driving demand for other videoconferencing applications.
"We've had some issues. It's a little different than walking into a room and turning on a projector," Bajcsi said. "Our users have really adopted it well. Most of the confusion in the beginning was what all you could do with it."
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