An Audio-Teleconferencing System Does a Big Job for Baxter Travenol.
"For companies to be efficient, they have to be problem resolvers, and they have to be able to do this much faster than their competitors. If we can resolve problems faster, while maintaining high quality levels, our product will be less expensive, our product will be better, and we will maintain our competitive edge," states George Beck, manager of telecommunications at Bexter Travenol Laboratories, Deerfield, Illinois.
One of the tools Travenol has chosen to sharpen that competitive edge is audio teleconferencing. In may instances, the company has found that teleconferencing can speed up the decision-making/problem-solving process in an efficient, cost-effective manner.
Engaged in the development, manufacture and sale of a diversified line of medical-care products and related services, Travenol is committed to quality and innovation in every aspect of the company. With its products and services being used by hospitals, blood centers, clinical laboratories, dialysis centers and patients at home in over 100 counties, and with manufacturing facilities in 17 countries, communication is, be necessity, a major consideration.
Began Researching Systems in '70s
Travenol began researching teleconferencing alternatives in the late '70s, spurred largely by early claims that teleconferering cuts down on travel costs.
"We trucked around the world visiting various companies that had been involved in some type of teleconferencing," Beck recounts. "We found that some were using slow-scan videoconferencing, some were using full-motion videoconferencing. From that point on, our position has been that we would involve the company in teleconferencing, but on an ever-expanding basis. We would start out with the lowest cost possible and then work our way up through full-motion if, in fact, that was applicable to our needs. We wanted to see what the company reaction was in terms of teleconferencing itself, and whether there was any positive financial impact.c
The company's first audio-teleconferencing room were installed in 1982 at Baxter Travenol facilities in Deerfield and Round Lake, Illinois, and Brussels, Belgium. Although teleconferencing didn't cut down on travel expenses, it proved to be an invaluable tool as a time-saver.
As Beck explains: "Let's say you have a production problem. Production is not just one engineer's responsibility; there may be other departments involved, such as quality assurance and quality control. There may be a mechanical engineer who knows a particular machine. A teleconference brings all those people into a room where they can has out their half of the problem with the distnat half's. In this way, they can resolve a number of issues before any necessary travel is done.
System Saves Money and Time
"As a result of teleconferencing, instead of one engineer traveling to North Cove, North Carolina, and then coming back to say, 'Gee, I should have brought you with me,' they could have gone together. That doesn't save on air travel, but it does get the process of the decision done quickly and the problem gets resolved faster. It saves money and time, and gets the job done."
But the benefits of teleconferencing weren't immediately apparent, being masked, according to BEck, by problems with the teleconferencing equipment originally installed. Travenol's audio-teleconferences were plagued with audio feedback (which made it necessary to lower volume levels to insufficient points), clipping and echo, system noise, and an especially irritating, tinny-sounding audio reproduction quality.
Ability to Interrupt Needed
"Also, there was no ability to interrupt," Beck points out. "Once someone dominated one end of the conversation, the other end was literally held hostage. We couldn't have an effective meeting if someone talked and talked and talked and just wouldn't stop. It was a problem.
"I think we'd have had more usage at that point if we'd have had a better system. We realized that the quality of the system caused an inherent problem in usage, and therefore usage of videoconferencing was dropping."
The telecommunications department at Travenol knew that if the audio-teleconferencing program was to prove effective, it would have to motivate people to teleconference, even when other alternatives were available. So, the search began for a high-quality audio-teleconferencing system. That search led to the installation of the Shure ST6000, which includes an automatic microphone system.
"We needed a system with the ability to allow a flowing conversation between two locations. When I say 'flowing,' I mean just as if everyone were sitting in the same room," Beck says. "We now have the audio quality we needed and we've had an increase in our use of teleconferencing."
The automatic microphone system continuously analyzes the acoustic environment of the room where it's used and automatically adjusts to chaning audio conditions. As a result, sound levels and quality remain consistent from talker to talker, meeting to meeting. Microphones turn on automatically when addressed within a 120-dgree angle of acceptance. Sound sources outside this acceptance angle won't turn the microphone on, regardless of their loudness. This feature eliminates the need for push-to-talk buttons and other cumbersome controls. The microphone also turns off automatically when the speaker is finished.
"The equipment is more of an on/off operation. You just adjust your receive volume," explains Phil Newcomb, Travenol telecommunications manager for the operations department.
When a group at Travenol needs to use the teleconferencing equipment, it reserves a time for the room. Cathy Smith, Travenol telecommunications analyst, explains the simple procedure for getting a teleconference started:
Important: Disconnect when Done
"We meet whoever has reserved the room at the scheduled time. We make sure the moderator understands how to use the remote unit, and also the facsimile equipment that's in the teleconferencing room. Mos importantly, we want to make sue that whoever is using the equipment knows how to disconnect the telephone line, which only involves pushing a button. We always check, though, after a meeting is finished, to make sure the line has been disconnected and we're not still being charged for the call."
The system will accommdoate up to six conference microphones and the unit's built-in power amplifier will drive up to three tabletop loudspeakers. Additional microphones and loudspeakers can be added.
While the audio equipment is designed for simple, straightforward operation, It includes a variety of controls, connectors and logic terminals that permit operation in a number of additional sophisticated modes. These exapnded capabilities include chairman override (allowing a designated microphone to override all others), channel priority (permittine one microphone to override another in a predetermined order), and filibuster capability (allowing aonly one microphone on at a time). Plus, with the addition of a video-switchrer interface and a commercially available video switcher, the teleconference system will provide user-programmable, voice-activated camera switching for videoconferences.
Microphones Need No Adjustment
"People don't just sit rigidly in front of a microphone. Some like to lean back, some sit closer to the table. The eequipment compensates for that," explains Beck. "Someone may want to get up and stretch while talking or may want to talk about something on a chart or a board. Basically, the system eliminates all the fuss about what microphone levels should be. It makes everybody sound as if they're in the correct position in the room. One person doesn't sound like he's in Outer Mongolia and another like he's swallowing the microphone. The only adjustment you may want to make, to compensate for this or that, is to crank up the speaker once in a while."
Travenol now has four similarly equipped audio-teleconferencing rooms at its facilities in Deerfield, Round Lake, North cove and Puerto Rico, as well as a room in Brussels that, due to differences in telephone systems, uses a different teleconferencing system. Assuming that each teleconferencing room has a 100-percent use potential of 40 hours a week, Travenol experienced teleconferencing utilization at three percent in 1982. Today, the company's utilization is up to 25 percent and rising. The Deerfield room alone logs approximately 50 conferences per month, averaging more than two teleconferences per workday.
Tech Groups Use System Most
"What we do find," Beck reports, "is that the technical groups are using teleconferencing more than the administrative-type groups. Generally, administrative decisions aren't made by communities of people. Engineering decisions, on the other hand, are. Because of the raw materials, production devices and quality control involved--things of that nature--engineering decisions require a community of different people to get a technical program off the ground.
"We've done some industry surveys regarding what our competitors are doing with teleconferencing, and it turns out that we use our rooms 10 to 15 percent more than they do. Like any other communications problem, if we could expand our base--and there are some budgetary concerns here--certainly room usage would go up, because there'd be more places to talk to. To set up a quality audioteleconferencing room costs $13,000 to $14,000, not including the toom and the furniture to go in it."
Biggest Trick: Get Audio Right
According to Beck. "The equipment is expensive, but it's worth it. In the long run, whether you're doing audioconferencing or doing slow-scan or full-motion video, the biggest trick is to get the audio right. If the audio isn't right, you'e not going to have an effective teleconference. I consider our department a sales effort within Travenol; we're trying to increase productivity and improve communications. Starting out cheaply, with an inferior system, will only lead to the failure of your teleconferencing program--people just won't accept it."
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|Date:||Feb 1, 1986|
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