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Designing Teleconferencing as an Organizational Asset.

This is the information Age. At least 60 percent of the work force deals in information, and approximately 50 percent of the gross national product is attributable to an information economy. Information is the product of our time.

Like a living organism, information is self-generating. it is constantly multiplying, dividing and changing. Each new bit of information generates another bit of new information.

Further, the technological revolution we re undergong has, in some instances, condensed the evolutionary process of information exchange to microseconds, thereby creating an exponential rate of information growth and change. In addition to being a product, information has, overnight, become our most valuable resource.

The profitable acquisition and use of the latest bit of information, like the acquisition and use of iron in the industrial Age, has become the corporate challenge of the '80s. Those organizations possessing instant and accurate information, whether from information brokers officed next door or from sources haflway around the world, will be the organizations to survive and thrive.

The demand for information, whether it be used for increased efficiency or the assumption of a greater market share, has dictated to managements throughout the world the absolute need for improved and more-efficient communications.

To meet this challenge, managements can turn to the same technological revolution that has helped create the Information Age.

Teleconferencing, with its new technology and practical methods, brings a bright new communication horizon to all of us, whether we work in government, private industry or the professions. Reduces Travel Stress and Cost

While reduction in travel, with its related reduction in stress and expense, is the most obvious benefit, there are many other pluses to the development of a well thought through teleconferencing program. Increased and better organizational communications, reduced decision-making time, better decisons, increased responsiveness to the marketplace, greater competitive edge and increased productivity are among the benefits that suggest that teleconferencing is more than simply a practical and cost-effective alternative to travel.

Two-way electronic interactive teleconferencing between two or more groups at separate locations can assume a variety of forms. These forms allow a good match between organizational needs, management styles and available technology, whether it be an off-the-shelf system or a custom configuration.

Choices allow for video and/or audio teleconferencing, computer conferencing, audiographics, freeze frame, satellite, videotex or multimedia, together with mixtures of technology and networking that can meet most any need for remote people-to-people group communication in rapid time.

The most straightforward of the teleconferencing modes is dedicated audio teleconferencing. At the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of sophistication and expense, is an integrated two-way computer and video-teleconferencing system complete with alphanumeric and high-resolution computer graphics. In between lies a host of choices.

Audio-only teleconferencing may be point-to-point or multipoint voice transmission, generally via telephone circuit. Audiographics adds the transmission of written or graphic material, frequently transmitted via vacsimile equipment and the telephone circuit. Another form of audiographics involves the electronic blackboard, which allows for the spontaneous generation of written material or graphic images at one location with reception and display on video monitors at other locations.

There are two types of video teleconferencing--full-motion video and freeze-frame. Freeze-frame videoconferencing, which is the next logical step up from audio-only teleconferencing, can utilize conventional telephone lines. It involves the transmission of discrete images over a period of time (usually from 13 to 50 seconds, depending on the bandwidth available). The pictures are generally taken by standard black-and-white or color television cameras. Full-motion videoconferencing is, of course, standard television transmission, whether narrow or wideband, adapted to teleconferencing purposes.

In addition to these possibilities, an organization may wish to maintain certain dedicated teleconferencing facilities and utilize other teleconferencing technologies on an ad-hoc basis.

For example, an organization may determine that owning and maintaining dedicated audio or freeze-frame teleconferencing facilities is the optimum level of teleconferencing capability consistent with its needs and budget. This need not preclude the occasional use of full-motion videconferencing, which can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of existing facilities such as public broadcasting stations or a hotel chain that offers video-teleconferencing capabilities and services.

There are no absolutes. The real technological imperative is to develop an effective system that meets an organization's needs in the most cost-effective manner.

Regardless of the technology involved, the reason for any teleconferencing system is to bring people closer together in time and space so they may more-easily and effectively communicate. In many organizations, this change in communication styles and techniques can seem like a quantum leap--one that may move top management back into the area of real-time risk taking. Such a move is not undertaken lightly. Do a Comprehensive Review

The first step any organization should undertake is a comprehensive review and evaluation of its communication needs. Only in this manner can the management determine its current and future teleconferencing requirements.

Thorough analysis and planning of an organization's teleconferencing system cannot be overemphasized. It is absolutely essential that an organization ask itself what its expectations are of teleconferencing. Far too often, an organization enters into a technological development expecting too much from the technology. The best video teleconferencing is not going to turn an annual sales meeting into the Tonight Show. But careful planning can help to assure that the proper system is chosen and works effectively

In addition to the question of what it is an organization hopes to accomplish with teleconferencing, there are a myriad of other concerns to consider in an organization's teleconferencing plan development. Not the least of which is a budgetary consideration.

In addition to facility development costs, teleconferencing can bring about major management costs. Management information systems may have to change, depending upon the sophistication level of the desired teleconferencing system. Management style, as well as intraorganizational communication and reporting systems, is going to change. Consider Orientation Costs

At the minimum, orientation and training costs must be considered in addition to facility construction, equipment purchase and installation costs. These costs can run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Equipment costs are, of course, at the base of any teleconferencing system, and frequently represent the first question most management task when considering the implementation of teleconferencing and the level at which to begin. The range of equipment costs and transmission quality is vast. An organization can spend anywhere from $2 to $600 per working day for a two-location system.

For example, an audio-only system capable for New York-to-Los Angeles transmission with acceptable quality on the low-cost end and state-of-the-art quality at the high-cost end of the price spectrum will range from $3,600 to $48,000 total for the two locations. The system would include auto-nulling and duplex transmission via telephone line.

The addition of freeze-frame capability to this teleconferencing system would cost anywhere from $14,000 for black-and-white capability at the two locations to $125,000 for a high-resolution color capability utilizing four video cameras at each location. Again, the system contemplates transmission via telephone lines.

The ultimate addition to the teleconferencing system would be full-motion color video. The price for adding that capability ranges from $300,000 to $750,000 for the two locations. These prices reflect transmission via leased satellite transponder, and include the cost of purchasing uplink and downlink dishes.

The suggested prices for any of the systems do not include the costs for use of telephone or satellite services. Nor do they reflect the expenses involved in design services, installation and corporate orientation and training. Still, as noted earlier, the benefits are great.

What is the proper balance between investment and return? The system that an organization can afford today may not be the same as that which it can afford five years from now, nor may it be the system it wishes to be using five years from now. It is important that future needs and capabilities be considered. Plan for Future Capabilities

Audio teleconferencing is, for many companies, a first step. The teleconferencing facilities are designed so as not to preclude video teleconferencing and/or other future capabilities being installed at a later date. Facilities construction and installation with their attendant expenditures are, in most cases, scheduled over months or years. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that an organization know where it is going and follow a carefully structured master teleconferencing systems plan.

Phased implementation of such a master plan has many benefits. Equipment purchase and installation occurs when an organization's development and fiscal resources dictate particular teleconferencing capabilities.

The installation of teleconferencing facilities often stimulates the creative communication energies of an organization's executives. Management styles tend to change. The phased installation of a teleconferencing plan allows the organization to adjust to new communication channels, to adapt information systems to technology and changing management practices, and to develop new communication and information systems to meet the next phase of the master teleconferencing systems plan. Work Closely with Designers

Over the years, Jamieson and Association had developed two major design philosophies. First, to design for the user. We spend many hours working with both management and facility users to determine precisely what it is they wish to accomplish with their communication facility and what it is they wish to see in terms of systems in their facility. Then, based upon mutually agreed on objectives, we begin to fulfill our second design philosophy by preparing a master technical plan covering the total electroacoustical and conference environment.

Four professional design disciplines are of paramount importance in the design of successful meeting and teleconferencing facilities. They are acoustics, noise control, air quality and lighting. If any one of these areas falls short of meeting acceptable standards, the environmental quality and subsequent effectiveness of the conference facility is assuredly lowered.

The total communication experience of the conferees is critical. Conferees should be able to speak across the room without raising their voices and still be understood. Noises from the surroundings or the transmission medium must be eliminated. A constant exchange of air should assure mental alertness.

Conferees should be able to clearly see all visuals without straining their eyes. This means proper placement of screens and monitors as well as the use of controlled lighting. Conferees should not be subjected to total darkness, and lightning should be designed in such a manner as to facilitate subtle lighting changes. Lighting should be capable of facilitating videography without creating undue eyestrain or room-temperature increase, thereby causing discomfort for conferees.

In consideration of the high cost of technology and the client's budget, many of our designs are phased so that facility and equipment expenditures can be programmed over months a years, if need be. Consequently, many of our clients inaugurate their teleconferencing facilities with audio-only capabilities. But the master technical plan contains the necessary design to accommodate future video, whether it be audiographics, freeze-frame or full-motion videoconferencing.

Our early custom designs used modified speakerphones as the basis for handling larger phone conferencing needs. Such as a system has been used successfully by Dyco Petroleum Corporation.

All audioconferencing electronic equipment, as well as key audiovisual equipment, is located in an equipment closet that allows executives quick operational access during meetings.

The Dyco system allows for all persons at the table to easily converse with callers. A microphone at the center of the table picks up in-room voices. Overhead, a ring of ceiling loudspeakers reproduce with excellent fidelity the outside caller's voice.

A separate clip-on microphone is located at the "moderator's chair" and can easily be used by him or her during lectern presentations or at the chart board. This allows for unobstrusive control of the teleconferencing by the moderator.

Audio from both the video and audio-cassette playback machines, as well as multimedia control signals, can be used with a conference call.

Careful attention was paid to the meeting-room acoustics. Of equal importance was the use of electroacoustical equalization of the audio system. Audio-teleconferencing systems are sophisticated enough that they must be designed to meet both the needs of the users and the peculiarities of their environments.

Understanding and control of all factors--both internal and external to each teleconferencing installation--as well as consideration of future needs, are most important. To that end, the Dyco system is designed so as not to preclude future capabilities. Freeze-frame teleconferencing could be added to the system with relative ease. And the cost of doing so would range anywhere from $7,500 to $60,000 per location. A World-Class Facility

A recently completed example of a world-class conferencing facility is Control Data Corporation's Executive Seminar Center.

The new north room in this complex features a full multimedia, visual-presentation capability along with an audio-teleconferencing system capable of comfortably putting any one of over 60 people on-line, without any physical changes in the room during a phone conference. Each person in the room has total access to all visual and audio input without any stress or strain.

An important aspect of this design is the care that was taken in assuring that the audio system reproduces the incoming phone signal with the utmost clarity and naturalness. Control Data's seminar center is planned for the easy addition of satellite videoconferencing, with no need for major changes in the audio system to accommodate truly interactive, full-capability video and computer conferencing.

These days, we refer to our living in the Information Age. But this is also the "Communication Age," and telconferencing is now coming of age. With teleconferencing, organizations can be both cost effective and productive at the same time. The technology is here today, and is being put to work. The results are positive and allow managements to literally "speak for themselves."
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jamieson, R.
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1984
Words:2267
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