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On track with video: conferencing does more than cut travel costs for CSX.


A December snowstorm closed the Richmond, Va., airport and kept members of CSX Transportation's management committee from getting together there. But it didn't stop their urgent monthly meeting.

They beat the weather with videoconferencing.

"We were able to conduct that meeting in a highly successful manner and abate the effect of the weather," says Jack Cooper, president of CSX Technology. "The meeting is an extremely important one and we would have missed a month."

Committee members who work in Richmond went to the CSX conferencing room there, while those from Jacksonville, Fla., used their room. The few members who couldn't get to either place were tied in to the meeting by telephone.

Successes such as this are why the railroad company is high on video meetings. Videoconferencing went from proposal to installation in five months in 1988.

The conferencing network is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, saving on travel costs and letting the company do things it couldn't have otherwise.

CSX pays almost nothing for transmission, with its private network of fiber-optic lines installed along the right of way of railroad tracks throughout its system.

"We have the luxury of running full T1. Being a bandwith-rich company, it costs us nothing to do that," says Mike Bobo, assistant manager of telecomm systems support for CSX Technology.

Satellite To Seattle

The exception is Seattle, home of CSX shipping partner Sea-Land Corp.'s Pacific Division Offices. Videoconferences between Metro Park, N.J., Sea-Land's corporate office, and Seattle are via satellite link with a 56 kb/s codec.

Csx has videoconferencing rooms in Richmond, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Hunt Valley, Md., Seattle, and Metro Park. Each has two 35-inch viewing screens, four cameras, and a range of videotaping and audio equipment.

Major vendors represented are Compression Labs (codecs). Shure Teleconferencing Systems (sound system), and integrator and Videoconferencing Systems Inc.,

There is an overhead graphics camera, fax machine, PC with printer, and keyboard controller in each room. Users operate all cameras and other equipment themselves by keyboard. Besides the main room, Baltimore and Jacksonville have smaller rooms with a similar setup but less equipment.

Smaller rooms are needed as the "prime time" hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. fill up. In Baltimore, for example, the large room is booked for 86% of available prime time hours, andthe small room 82%.

Point-to-point videoconferences are the norm. In multipoint conferences, additional sites beyond two are receive-only.

Most conferences are internal, but companies such as GM and Ford do meet with CSX by video through a Sprint gateway.

More Than Savings

With headquarters in Richmond and vast operations in other locations, CSX has cut travel significantly with videoconferencing. But that's only the trip of the iceberg, executives say.

"THis is enabling people to communicate more completely andconcisely. The savings are what people look for, but the real payoff is the leveraging of our assets because people can communicate better," says Arthur A. Aubrey, manager of strategic planning for CSX Technology.

"There is a direct cost to travel and overnight lodging, and an indirect cost to disruption of your personal life and being away from your office," adds Cooper.

"We have reduced air fare and hotel rooms, and substantially increased management's time on the job. But the other dimension is the ability to have meetings on a spontaneous basis, meetings that would have had to be conducted over the phone or not conducted at all," says Cooper.

Quick Payback

Geoffrey L. Fuller, director of advanced systems planning, says CSX easily recouped its hardware investment within a year. He boasts how CSX can now bring more people into face-to-face meetings at no additional cost, and younger executives can network without leaving the building.

Booking is through an operator, but a new automatic reservations system, designed by K.A. Teletech, will eventually allow users to reserve conference rooms themselves.

Also, the current system requires technicians to change digital access and cross-connect switches depending on the sites of the videoconferences. CSX expects its automated reservations system to do that automatically.

Other plans for the future include collaborative computing, in which conference participants at any site will be able to see the same screen of information from a host computer and change it; additional videoconferencing rooms at nine division headquarters sites; and business television capabilities.

Good Public Relations

CSX has used videoconferencing as a public relations tool too.

On Saturdays in December, employee families used it for holiday greetings. The labor union representing its employees has also expressed interest in using it.

The Achilles heel of any videoconferencing system is the audio, and CSX has its share of audio problems, such as "clipping." That is when the speaker gets cut off because of a noise at the receiving end.

The receiving rooms's microphones activate when they pick up a noise during a momentary pause by the speaker. So while the receiving room participants watch the speaker's lips move, they can't hear what he or she is saying.

CSX is already checking into non-clipping equipment and is confident that technological advances will soon overcome any "little glitches."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Title Annotation:CSX Transportation
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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