More Effective Meetings and Less Travel Time: The Impact of the Right Video Conferencing Solution
You’ve probably heard the adage that 93% of communication is non-verbal. We communicate mostly with our body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, and need those cues if we want to turn communication into collaboration.
Unfortunately, we can’t capture that in an email or phone call. You miss a lot when you can’t see a person’s face. That’s why many people opt for in-person meetings, but those also have drawbacks. They can often be costly and impractical.
At Holy Cross Energy, we see both sides of the coin. On the one hand, we are a member-owned electric utility co-op. The very structure of our organization requires that we elicit input from our 43,000 member-owners, and that our 167 employees, as well as our board of directors, be responsive.
On the other hand, Holy Cross serves a community dispersed across a region of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, Colorado. This landscape distances us from one another and poses a serious business challenge, because it’s easy to lose touch. Because we try to spread our meetings out around our territory, it can be time-consuming to attend in person.
Internally, we have three offices that might not look far apart on a map. But for one of my colleagues at a remote office, a one-hour meeting in our main office might involve nearly two and a half hours on the road.
This came to a head recently with a major bridge replacement project causing many people to spend hours per day getting to and from meetings. With the fuel cost, personnel hours, and lost productivity, I knew we had to find a better way. And video collaboration seemed like the answer.
Proving Video Conferencing's Value
We decided to do a proof of concept (PoC) with Jabber and some off-the-shelf video equipment to show the potential of video conferencing. We had already deployed Jabber. We have a Call Manager–based phone system, and Jabber is a service that runs with Call Manager, so it cost us nothing other than the license-count hit. We used the additional licensing we had available and created these endpoints. Even though Jabber isn’t meant as a video conferencing solution, we could use it as a slimmed-down version of the solution we imagined.
A major use case was with our board meetings. Our board members didn’t want to fight traffic, since it could often take three hours in traffic to drive to meetings. But they also knew that an audio-conference bridge call was not the best alternative. They wanted to report to the meeting from one of our other offices, see each other, and share content.
Using Jabber, they loved being able to effectively participate in a meeting while cutting down that long drive. It was a small test, but the feedback was clear: they liked the potential. That’s when they wanted my team to look more closely at video conferencing and where it could take us.
The Most Cost-Effective Total Solution
After the initial PoC, we submitted with our budget a complete solution—more than what Jabber offered. We started looking at video endpoints and what was available at the time. We needed an enterprise-class video conferencing system.
We hoped to find a solution that could take advantage of the TVs we already had installed in the rooms. That’s when we came across Cisco Webex. Instead of buying a Webex Board, which is a fully integrated system with a screen, we could choose from among the various Webex Room Kits, which are a camera and codec in one device that you can then plug into your existing screen.
Our board members and senior staff loved that we could benefit from all Webex has to offer without the additional outlay for the hardware to replace the existing TVs. Even the Webex Room Kit for the smallest rooms would give us new capabilities, allowing for smarter meetings, smarter presentations, and smarter rooms. Cisco also worked with us to find a price that would help us get our budget approved.
Immediate Uptake, From Day One
We ordered the kits and did the initial room setup for three rooms just a few months ago. It’s still early, but the experience has been positive. The room kits are highly utilized and at times it is hard for my colleagues to find an available room kit when booking meetings. We fully expect to expand Webex into more rooms in the future to help meet this demand.
My colleagues tell me they enjoy Webex’s quality and its flexibility. Because Webex is such a big, encompassing product, you can do much more with it than your average meeting. It takes into account all these nuances of how a person might want to use it: Outlook integrations, file sharing, and a client you can download to your computer to facilitate everything. Our employees love having face-to-face meetings without all the driving.
Webex’s simplicity and flexibility also enable people to host meetings without leaving their desk. This is perfect, because people don’t always need a full room for a meeting. It’s impacted our business quite a bit lately. Since we’ve started working more with outside companies, it has allowed for even more face-to-face meetings without the drive.
Setting up a quick Webex meeting is great. In IT, we are of course willing to help with this, but a lot of our users find it easy to do themselves after minimal training has been given. It’s kind of nice that my IT team gets to focus on other tasks and staff don’t feel like we’re a bottleneck.
Webex has helped us get the benefits of an in-person meeting without the cost. Meeting remotely with Webex, it turns out, has drawn the company closer together.
Moving in the Right Direction
After the positive reception of our first three rooms, we plan to expand to another four rooms this year. This plan will equip one or two of our larger meeting spaces with Webex Boards. I’m particularly excited about our team’s ability to share and work with documents. We are excited about exploring new and creative uses of Webex. For example, Webex could be used at our annual meeting to reduce commute times for some of our members.
This use could potentially allow for our members to attend a meeting who may not have the abilities to otherwise attend in person. Having this as an option I believe will have a tremendous impact on our organization in our member outreach and engagement.
My own project for the next while will be to develop more training to make sure our staff get the full benefit of all Webex’s nuances. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel with that training, since the Cisco documentation is good, but I want to tailor it to our organization. I need to ensure it’s pertinent to our users.
My advice to anyone considering a video conferencing solution is to start small. Don’t try to bite off the whole thing at once. As more people adopt and realize the power of what you can do with a solution like Webex, then you will have the traction you need to get a successful project off the ground.
Our Webex implementation has helped us be more efficient and save money. For an organization like Holy Cross, if we can cut costs in one place, it means we can put the money somewhere else within our co-op. The more efficient we are with our members’ money, the better we can move forward on other initiatives. Webex doesn’t just help us collaborate amongst ourselves and with our members. It helps get us where our members want to go.