Videoconferencing Speed Cameras that have Managers Smiling

We have, since the turn of the millennium, experienced radical change in the way we meet and collaborate. Across corporate, health and tertiary education sectors in particular, videoconferencing (VC) technology has helped slash the cost of transporting busy executives to distant boardrooms, lecturers to the front of remote classes and health professionals into the residences of remote patients.
As broadband connection and VC equipment fall in price and the technology’s performance improves, more organisations are taking the plunge into visual, rather than physical, encounters. Today the technology that helped Peter Jackson concurrently direct the making of The Lord of the Rings trilogy in numerous locations, is facilitating quicker decisions and reducing the limitations of remote collaboration.
The worldwide VC market expects to reach US$1.49 billion by 2009 according to Frost & Sullivan report, so it is an industry that is well past the early adopter phase.

Tuned into teamwork
Wellington-based Pronto Print Solutions has initiated many technology upgrades in its 26-year history, with owner Bernard Nolan staying ahead of the competition throughout the evolution from ink-based printing to today’s digital formats.
Two years ago, Pronto opened copy bureau in central Auckland, and the company grew by acquiring Corporate Print in East Tamaki. Because Nolan had to spend more time in Auckland the company bought Tandberg 550 VC units in April 2003 to link the Wellington and Auckland centres and trim his travelling expenses.
“We have four salespeople in Auckland and six in Wellington,” explains Pronto’s group IT manager Mike Keegan. “Videoconferencing enables us to get both sales teams together on weekly basis to pass on leads and share sales techniques. It saves two flights week, and dramatically improves internal communication.”
Keegan says the Internet Protocol (IP)-based system, which operates over Telecom’s Private Office Network, also links Auckland clients with Wellington expertise and lets them share PowerPoint presentations. He was impressed with how easy it was to install the system and, apart from little initial nervousness at being on camera, staff quickly adapted to electronic meetings. “Our first few meetings were bit of mish-mash because people tended to talk over each other,” recalls Keegan. “But that’s no longer problem.” However, he recommends that meetings of more than four people be controlled by chairperson to direct proceedings.

Parliament with pictures
A videoconferencing system installed at Parliament in 2003 has encouraged wider participation in the democratic process, according to the Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt. The facility has, he says, made an important contribution to more open government.
Individuals and groups can make submissions to increasingly influential Parliamentary Select Committees without having to go to Wellington. Access is available from any location with an ISDN connection. “It has also been extremely useful in allowing the consultative process to involve large groups of people who would otherwise be excluded,” says Hunt. Samoan Citizenship petition heard by the Government Administration Committee last year linked more than 1500 people from Christchurch, Auckland and Apia to Parliament.
Today the system is used for everything from staff interviews to facilitating daily inter-parliamentary relations within the Commonwealth. Its international application offers significant efficiencies. Graeme Heenan, the parliamentary officer responsible for meeting support and facilities, cites the recent Bill on Dog Control as an example. “It enabled large number of overseas experts to be interviewed.”
With Select Committees involving 15 members plus and two to three support staff, travel, accommodation and food costs have been slashed. Government advisers can now videoconference directly with meeting participants and committees report back to the House more quickly than before.
The dual plasma screen Tandberg system features powerful encryption software to deliver the necessary level of security.

Paediatrics with twist
VC technology has paid for itself many times over in the health sector. The New Zealand TelePaediatric Service (NZTPS) based at the Starship Hospital is an excellent application study.
The NZTPS service, which uses V-CON equipment and has its network services sponsored by Telecom, connects the country’s paediatric community over Virtual Private Network (VPN). “We provide an inexpensive, high quality mechanism for treating patients, networking, teaching and communicating through the connection of key medical facilities, resources, and specialists,” says Simon Hayden, national manager of NZTPS. “Our IP-based units connect video, audio, and data streams point-to-point or multi-point. Currently we have 11 sites nationwide, with around 10 or more to be added during 2004.”
NZTPS frequently monitors the effectiveness of the technology on the meeting or clinical process. “The predominant feedback is that if VC was unavailable then the meeting would not have taken place, or it would have been done via telephone. While travel costs can be easily quantifiable, the cost to child that doesn’t have to travel away from home cannot easily be determined in monetary value,” says Hayden, who also offers some useful advice to VC adopters.
“Ensure users have centralised point of contact for bookings and fault reporting. Provide training for key users as they are the first point of contact when something goes wrong. And use product champions to promote videoconferencing, but make sure they are peers to the target market.”

Multi-point teaching
The University of Auckland Business School’s vision of becoming an internationally respected, enterprising, and research-driven institution is behind its enthusiasm for developing “technologically rich teaching capabilities”.
Executive dean, professor Barry Spicer and university vice chancellor John Hood saw short-term VC opportunity to multi-point videoconference between three of the university’s campuses. Long term the system could be used for both importing international teaching expertise and exporting teaching modules to non-campus areas. But all three applications were implemented within six months.
“These new applications were designed to be part of flexible audio-visual supported teaching spaces that could be used for both local and distance learning,” says IT manager Patrick Maguire. “The integrations had to have high level of teaching technology sophistication, but with very simple controls. This was managed by using touch-screen control systems.”
To allow high level of interactivity both within local classes and between classes, all rooms have multiple cameras and projection screens, with the video matrixed so either teacher or class can be shown at the “far end”, or selected at the “near end”.
All rooms function with microphones that are continuously open and, thanks to multiple projection, both teachers and their teaching aids – PowerPoint presentations, document camera, and so on – can be seen at all three sites.
“The most obvious economy has been less travel, particularly between the Tamaki and North Shore campuses, as well as the Rotorua and Auckland campuses on our New Zealand-based programmes,” says Maguire. “And 12-week programme involving the University of Virginia, New York, and our Auckland campus would not have happened without the technology.”
The process has lifted the quality of teaching available to students. The university plans to consolidate teaching models and uses for VC technology in 2004. “Equipment and systems will be further refined and there’ll be an emphasis on quality training for users,” says Maguire. “Synchronous and asynchronous video streaming of lessons will become mainstream, and additional VC systems will be installed both on and off campus.”

Solid savings
State-owned enterprise Solid Energy expects to

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