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How Hewlett-Packard Speeds Projects, Cuts Travel Costs via Videoconference Network.

Hewlett-Packard is among companies that have installed a network of private two-way, full-motion, color videoconferencing rooms. The installations employ the VTS codecs from San Jose-based Compression Labs that operate over a T1 communications link at 1.544 Mb/s.

Beginning in late 1983, VTS 1.5 systems were installed at HP sites at the Information Networking and Data Systems Divisions in Cupertino, California, and the Computer Peripherals and Software Support Divisions in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Boise, Idaho. Recently these units were upgraded to VTS 1.5E models.

The company has established a policy that, in principle, allows any site that wants a room to install one according to established technical specifications. Anyone at HP who wants to use the facility has access to it, provided the requested time is available. The decision to install a videoconferencing facility at a site is made by the local division manager. In addition, an executive vice president may suggest a location that warrants a videoconferencing room.

The corporate construction group will design a room based on set company standards for the videoconferencing environment, such as room dimensions, furniture, lighting, electrical power, air conditioning, and other requirements. To provide top-quality video and ensure technical compatibility with other sites within the network, HP has a list of approved video equipment. It includes such items as the codec, switching equipment, monitors and cameras.

Operated as a Profit Center

The company has taken an interesting approach to financial administration of the facilities; once the cost for the initial installation of the room with all its equipment (considered capital assets) has been set aside, the operational expenses are not covered as part of the overall corporate budget. Instead, each site is operated as an individual profit center, which means it has to be self-supporting on a day-to-day basis. As a result, each room is rented to cover the cost of the telecommunications network, such as transponder and satellite time, as well as administrative expenses.

The rooms are being used heavily. To attract more first-time users, no rental fees were charged during October 1984. The Cupertino facility was booked for 105 hours during that month--roughly two-thirds of all business hours. Room use still reached 70 hours during November, when the regular fee was imposed. Due to the holidays, use in December and January fell slightly, but since has averaged 60 to 70 hours per month.

In Fort Collins, demand for the room is just as heavy; often four or five conferences are scheduled back-to-back, filling an entire business day.

Two-way videoconference applications include project team meetings, executive-management staff meetings and division reviews. An important benefit is the increase in communications between the engineers. Due to the convenience of having easy access to the videoconferencing facilities, project team members meet more frequently to discuss technical issues and problems as they arise, which accelerates the development process.

Jim Hodel, manager of the Video Transmission Group, sees major benefits in "the regular discipline of reviews of materials" and the opportunity to make immediate decisions. In addition, the savings in travel expenses are considerable. According to Hodel, "The network will pay for itself if HP can save just one meeting in eight involving travel from various locations across the country."

To decrease transition time between meeetings and make use of the videoconference rooms even more efficient, a new feature will be added to some of the sites--a "green room." At facilities currently under construction in Palo Alto, California, and in Bristol, England, a waiting area will be set up adjacent to the actual conference room, where people may assemble and prepare for their upcoming meeting while the previously scheduled videoconference is still in progress. Consequently, much less time is required when in the conference room to get the meeting under way, and the room becomes available sooner to the next user.

Not only is access to each conference facility easy, but also its use. First-time users are usually ready to conduct a conference after a brief five-minute orientation. At each location, a staff is on site to coordinate the use of the rooms.

To design, install and maintain the facilities, a staff of three people is responsible for video transmission. They are part of the Corporate Telecommunications Department in Palo Alto. One of them, Ray Brooksby, handles the network management. He worked with Bob Coackley, former research and development manager for the Information Network Division, on the initial room design, including the room controller (see box for details).

HP decided to design its own room controller because it wanted a device that was more visually oriented than the mechanical controllers available at the time.

"We wanted the controller to be basically transparent to the user," states Jim Hodel, "so its operation would not distract from the meeting. We did not want a device that required a separate operator, akin to a technical director in a television studio."

Instead, Brooksby, with the assistance of Roger Malmrose of the Telecommunications Group, took an HP150 personal computer with a touch-sensitive screen and designed a controller program for it, which was implemented by Malmrose and others on the software engineering staff. Upon insertion of the program disk into the computer's drive, the screen display is turned into the actual command center to control camera operations.

Care was taken to provide as many capabilities as possible from the main menu without confusing the user, and at no time are more than two menu levels involved. Most users never leave the main screen and, according to Hodel, 90 percent of all users seldom switch camera positions; they set up a long shot to cover the usual one to three participants and only switch cameras to show graphics.

The controller also may be used on-line to transfer files from a disk in the associated drive of the computer in one room to that in the other room, via an RS-449 link at a transmission rate of up to 19.2 Kb/s. Future enhancements will allow the computer's screen display to be transferred onto the main screen.

Two-way cideoconferencing has worked out well for Hewlett-Packard and the outlook for future expansion of the network is very positive. The company is installing two additional rooms, one at corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, the other at the firm's United Kingdom facility in Bristol. The latter will be HP's first international two-way videoconferencing link, using the company's turnaround gatteway at Andover, Massachusetts, where another room is planned.

With this network in place, signals from Fort Collins or Boise will be transmitted to Palo Alto via a domestic satellite on a C-band, while the Cupertino room will be linked to Palo Alto via a microwave T1 carrier. Signals from any of these four sites will then be transmitted from Palo Alto via a domestic satellite on a Ku-band to the gateway at Andover and in turn sent via Intelsat/IBS on a Ku-band to Bristol in Great Britain.

Beyond that, Brooksby sees the potential for five more rooms, but, as he puts it, "The sites will decide on their own if and when they want to install a facility. The only requirement for them is to adhere to companywide technical guidelines to ensure compatibility."
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Saylor, Antoinette
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1985
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