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Internal 'Market Research' Program Is Yielding Successful Vidoeconferencing for ARCOvision.

While other companies are still debating whether teleconferencing is an effective tool or a technological fad, the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) is completing its second year of successful videoconferencing. ARCO's electronics and telecommunication (E&T) department, which operates a seven-site full-motion videoconferencing system linking facilities in alaska and the continental US, has received little but praise from a wide range of satisfied users.

User response to the corporation's videoconferencing system has surprised even some of its staunchest supporters. Over 90 percent of the users evaluated their ARCOvision meeting as successul, and an equal number classify the system as a good tool for business communications.

This response is coming from a vast cross-section of the firm's employees. Almost half of the management and professional personnel in ARCOvision locations (more than 1500 different employees) used the service during its first year of operations. More than 650 business meetings, involving over 5,000 meeting participants, were conducted. These usage figures don't include the numerous "demonstration sessions" held during the first year, which combined a 15 to 30-minute overview of the system with the opportunity to have an initial meeting with counterparts in other cities.

Creating the "Right" Tool

Internal market research on the potential consumers--Atlantic Richfield's management and professional personnel--and the product--ARCOvision--contributed significantly to this auspicious beginning. Armed with information about potential users and their work, the corporate culture and the technology, the design team created the "right" tool for the Atlantic Richfield "marketplate."

Like other videoconferencing pioneers, Atlantic Richfield faced a significant challenge when it first began planning a videoconferencing service as part of an effort to expand and upgrade ARCOnet (Atlantic Richfield's voice/data network). Although spurred by an enthusiastic CEO who felt videoconferencing could supersede the Boeing 747 as a vehicle for long-distance communications, the E&T department faced uncertainty on all fronts.

In 1979, no vendor could provide a satellite-based system that served both the continental US and Alaska, a basic requirement for the ARCO system. Teleconferencing had a decidedly mixed track record. Success stories for videoconferencing were so few that its very vaiability was in question. Systems installed on an experimental basis often went begging for use. Furthermore, network telecommunication planners didn't know whether they faced a basically receptive or a resistant audience for this new technology. They had no reliable reading on prospective users and how they might use video teleconferencing. Essentially, they didn't have a good handle on the Atlantic Richfield marketplace.

Nine Operating Companies

At that time, the Atlantic Richfield organization consisted of nine semi-autonomous operating companies, plus a corporate overseeing unit. The operating companies variously engaged in oil and gas development, petroleum products and services, coal, copper, chemicals, transportation, international oil and gas development, and new ventures. Major operating company headquarters were located in Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver, with some of the larger operational arms located in Anchorage, Prudhoe Bay (Alaska's North Slope), Houston (Channelview), Louisville, Independence (Kansas) and Waterbury (Connecticut). The management philosophy was, and continues to be, one of decentralization and local autonomy.

Even though the operating companies shared the orgnizational umbrella of Atlantic Richfield, there were observable differences among them, particularly with respect to their receptivity to new ideas. A communiction service intigated by corporate planners had the potential to be viewed either as a good idea or as an unwanted infringement on operating-company territory.

Videoconferencing as a "Product"

Determined to make video teleconferencing a success in Atlantic Richfield, E&T planners turned to the Telecommunications Research Group (TRG), then located at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California. Familiar with the difficulties of introducing new ideas in corporate settings, as well as the latest research on teleconferencing, TRG set about helping the ARCO team ask and answer the questions necessary to successfully design and implement an innovative communication service. It was suggested that the design team consider the Atlantic Richfield organization as a marketplace, and videoconferencing as a new product the team wished to introduce.

TRG proposed a research program designed to initiate the marketing process for videconferencing and gather detailed information about the Atlantic Richfield marketplace. Prospective users were largely unaware of the technology and of Atlantic Richfield's plans to implement it. Thus, a need to inform or create "positive" awareness in the marketplace accompanied planners' needs for information about the operating companies, the potential users and uses, and the system requirements.

Keeping in mind dual needs to create interest and gather information, the research firm started the reconnaissance with 135 management interviews to introduce the concept of videoconferencing and get an early reading on potential users' reactions and requirements.

Management Open to the Concept

TRG brought back essentially good news. Atlantic Richfield's management seemed open to the idea of "electronic meetings." They were intrigued with the possibilities, yet cautious about embracing the idea without a better feel for how it would impact the way they worked. In spite of the fact that videoconferencing had been justified using a travel-displacement rationale, most interviewees stressed the positive rather than negative aspects of travel. They weren't adverse to eliminating some of their travel (long trips for short meetings, trips to locations with particularly difficult access, and trips to Alaska in the winter, for examples), but, in general, travel substitution seemed an "unwise" marketing theme.

Atlantic Richfield manager were much-more intrigued with videoconferencing's potential to improve or enhance communications with remote locations. What excited them about videoconferencing was the potential to do things that currently were impossible or impractical to accomplish. Managers readily highlighted the benefits of better communications with people and projects in remote locations. Conversely, only those at the highest organizational levels got excited about a reduced travel budget. Interviewees were quick to point out basic system requirements for success. Most importanty, the system had to closely approximate face-to-face communications. It also had to be reliable, very easy to use, unobtrusive, and flexible. Designing a system that would be "transparent" to users seemed a must. Busy executives wanted to be able to walk into the room and meet. Users also wanted a room that felt like a typical ARCO conference room, not a television studio. Security was another precondition for success, because much of the work within ARCO (such as oil-lease bidding) involved highly sensitive materials.

Planners Set Design Parameters

This initial reading provided system planners with design parameters that remained in effect throughout the system's development (easy to use, reliable, flexible, secure, comfortable, like other Atlantic Richfield conference rooms, and as close as possible to face-to-face). These preferences ran counter to many earlier videoconferences designs, which provided users with total control over cameras and other system components but were not particularly easy to use. The design team concentrated on developing a "continuous-presence" mode of presentation (everyone in the room can be seen simultaneously), rather than the voice-switched options (with the camera focused on the person speaking).

Interviews Supplied Insight

Beyond providing the project team with initial design concepts, these early interviews supplied valuable insights about marketing this new tool. Early mass-media articles on Atlantic Richfield's plans to introduce videoconferencing stressed travel savings and the estimated costs of designing and implementing the system. This led to user concerns about costs: Was this a wise investment? How much would it cost to use the system once it was installed? Would videoconferencing costs be subtracted from their travel budgets? Would att travel be eliminated? Potential users also worried that videoconferencing would be just another executive toy. They were concerned about access and scheduling. Executive bumping or preemption would seriously jeopardize the "usefulness" of this new tool.

An alert was sounded. System planners had to take greater care to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Creating positive predispositions toward videoconferencing during the design phase was an important first step toward building a ready market for the service. Ensuing publicity and talks with potential users downplayed system costs and emphasized using videoconferencing to replace undersirable or nuisance travel.

While system planners directed their attention to the technical issues associated with providing a full-motion, color videoconferencing system with life-size images, TRG set about painting a more-detailed picture of potential user groups and how they would use videoconferencing. This detailed rendering of the Atlantic Richfield marketplace was accomplished through a random-sample survey of 980 management employees from the different ARCO operating companies. The sample design provided representation for all locations under consideration, for all the different job types, and for the different management levels.

Research Sparked Involvement

Good market research can spark interest and involvement on the part of the eventual consumers. The in-depth research survey of employees certainly did. An overwhelming number (87 percent) of the sampled employees returned the 12-page questionnaire. TRG even received calls from employees who hand't received questionaires, wondering why they weren't included. Many respondents took the time to elaborate on how they would use it, what kinds of graphic support they'd need, and what other locations should be considered. Others offered suggestions about internal marketing, training, and the need to support usage over the long haul.

The survey results revealed wide support and genuine interest in the concept of video teleconferencing. Differences in why and how various management and job-type groups perceived their work environment and intended to use ARCOvision were also evident.

For example, engineers projected the most use of the system. Their heavy travel schedules and a feeling that they were spending too much time traveling strongly influenced their intentions to use the service. Employee-relations personnel wanted more face-to-face contact with those in remote locations. Their projected use was highly influenced by how easy the system would be to use and how much detail (facial expressions, for example) they could see. Production personnel were highly influenced by the problem-solving nature of their work, the number of visitors they received from other locations, and the amount of time pressure under which they worked.

Motivational triggers also varied for the different management levels. Lower-level managers were motivated by the desire for better communications with remote locations, while higher-level executives were motivated by having an easy-to-use alternative to travel. Job-type and level profiles developed from the survey results permitted ARCO room coordinators to tailor their introductory demonstrations to the needs and interests of the different user groups.

Survey Suggess Modifications

The baseline survey also suggested two network modifications tht would improve the system's utility. On the basis of current travel and communication patterns, as well as employee projections of use, system planners were advised to add Chnnelview (Houston). Conversely, little support was demonstrated for a potential New York City node, so this node could be dropped.

Just over 300 of the survey respondents were interviewed via telephone to get a better picture of the kinds of meetings that potential users were willing to videoconference. The emerging profile indicated that travel-based ARCO meetings averaged about eight participants, with over three-quarters of all meetings involving 12 people or less. Company meetings are typically supported with a variety of visual aids, including viewgraphs, slides, chalkboard, geophysical maps, written documents and computer printouts. The meeting profile directly influenced design of the room and facilities, including how many seats to place in the room and the range of graphic aids.

Knowing the "market" pays off. More than 40 percent of the firm's managerial and professional employees tried ARCOvision in its first year of operations and only a few indicated they wouldn't be back again. Since the system was launched in the fall of 1983, usage has climbed steadily, excepting seasonal drops during vacation and budget preparation periods. Planners understood potential users and their meeting requirements so well tht they were able to provide a "product" that proved highly useful right from the start.

Conference Rooms Standardized

ARCOvision conference rooms are standard at all locations. A rear-projection system with two large screens mounted side by side gives participants a life-sized image of people at the other conference location. The televised images are full-motion and in color. Also, the rooms are equipped to transmit a full range of graphics, such as 35mm slides, overhead transparencies, facsimile, and full-color graphs and charts. A writing board is also available. Under the continuous-presence mode of operation, all participants in the room are shown seated across the two screens. They system may also be voice-switched so that the camera focuses only on the speaker. This option is rarely used and was included primarily so the system could interface with AT&T's publicly available rooms.

The "selling of ARCOvision" began with a mass-media send-off. Members of the press were given walk through tours in each conferencing site and intercity press confereces were held, such as Los Angeles reporters interviewing Philadelphia officials via ARCOvision. The result was a good deal of both national and local coverage. Articles also appeared in ARCO's internal newspaper, annoucing the opening of the system and how to arrange demonstrations.

The planers also produced two video tapes to help market the network internally and support usage. The first tape described ARCO's communication history and entrance into the world of video communications and gave a brief overview of the system. This sometimes-humorous tape was used as part of "brown-bag" seminars offered at lunchtime to ARCO employees. A five-miute tape explaining how to use. ARCOvisio features was also produced. The "how-to" tape, available in the ARCOvision waiting rooms, was usually played before each meeting durig the early months of the system's operations.

Poster compaigns emphasizing the advantages of videoconferencing over travel, the easy-to-use nature of the system, and videoconferencing's value as a decision-making tool were used periodically at all ARCOvision locations. Users were also given ARCOvision pins to mark their first videoconference, a popular practice that still continues today.

Special Promotional Efforts

Internal marketing continued throughout the first year of operations with such promotional efforts as a contest at holiday time with a videoconference for family and friends as the prize, and a slogan contest for ARCOvision coffee mugs. The mugs with the winning slogan, "Keep Productivity in Focus," on the front and "I use ARCOvision" on the back, are awarded for five uses of the service. Also, employees are continually reminded that a new long-distance communications option is available.

Each ARCOvision room is staffed by a conference coordinator who handles conference scheduling, routine system troubleshooting, and internal marketing. Carefully selected for their ability to interact successfully with management personnel, the network coordinators have been instrumental in making users comfortable with meeting via video and encouraging repeat usage. They serve as system advocates in their respective locations, seeking out new users and following up with reminders to "old" customers of the service. The coordinators' demonstration sessions have been an extremely successful marketing tool. The system is demystified, potential users get comfortable quickly, and usage is encouraged through "success stories" passed on by the coordinators.

ARCOvision users credit the coordinators with getting videoconferencing off to a good start. Early feedback forms were overflowing with comments about the helpfulness and importance of the conference coordinator.

The system's real market test came during the first few months of operations. It was important to make a positive impression on the system's initial users, because both good and bad news travel fast. As planted, ARCOvision did make a good impression on its first customers, who were pleased with what they experienced and were also able to provide valuable feedback on how to make the new service even better.

Changes Made, Approval Climbs

System implementers were quick to act on sources of dissatisfaction. The chairs were changed, graphics capabilities improved, graphics guidelines provided, and screens altered to improve image quality along the edge of the picture. Users saw their suggestions reap results. Approval ratings climbed along with usage.

ARCOvision has been used for a variety of anticipated meetings, including project coordination and review, staff meetings, training sessions, business team meetings, information planning and service, and engineering reviews. Some corporate service groups have been able to dramatically improve their interaction with and service to remote locations. Users seem unfettered by "past research" that seemed to indicate certain activities weren't suitable for videoconferencing.

In their "ignorance," company employees have negotiated via video, presented multimillion-dollar requests for capital authorization, interviewed candidates for new positions, introduced a new boss to employees in a remote location, held daylong sessions with 44 participants coming and going as needed for the meeting, and generally given the medium a whirl for a variety of long-distance communication needs. The undersecretary of the interior met with ARCO executives to review new reporting regulations. Wall Street wizards discussed the ARCO restructuring with top management in several locations. Users continue to experiment with meeting via video, testing its limits rather than accepting conventional wisdom about what can and can't be done.

Video Makes a Difference

Does videoconferencing make a differences? Most decidedly yes. TRG's study of ARCOvision impacts adds to the growing body of evidence on the benefits of videoconferencing. Conference users report reduced travel, more-efficient meetings, better access to key personnel, moretimely decisions, and shortened project-completion cycles, among other impacts. Like other videoconferencing pioneers, Atlantic Richfield is finding both expected and unexpected consequences associated with meeting via video.

Establishing teleconferencing as part of employees' routine communications repertoire is extremely important. Regular use breeds greater comfort and satisfaction, as well as greater comfort and satisfaction, as well as greater productivity gains. Compared with evaluations from light or moderate users of the service, regular users are consistently more positive about videoconferenceing for business communications and note greater changes in travel and meeting behavior, as well as significantly greater improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.

Regular Use Doesn't Just Happen

Routine or regular use doesn't happen automatically, except in instances of dire need. Internal marketing, training and follow-up support are important factors in getting employees to internalize the availability and utility of a new communications option. Atlantic Richfield employed a variety of techniques for keeping ARCOvision uppermost in employee consciousness. These included widespread "broadcast" approaches (mass-media publicity at the opening of the system, articles in the in-house newspaper, poster campaigns), contests (free conference sessions for families at holiday time), bronw-bag (lunch) presentations, and more-targeted approaches (demonstrations, giveaways of pins and coffee mugs to initial or frequent users), reminders to specific target groups, and so on.

ARCO's CEO was right. Video teleconferencing can compete effectively with the 747. The majority of ARCOvision users feel it's a satisfactory alternative to travel, and 81 percent of the regular users note decreases in the number of trips they take. A reading taken after each conference session also indicates significant travel savings. ARCO's internal projections suggest that even a conservative estimate of saved travel costs and personnel time totals hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, officials in Alaska credit their conference room with saving $200,000 and 2,000 hours of travel time.

"Trash Travel" Can Be Eliminated

Stories related by the network's Alaska users suggest videoconferencing does away with lots of "trash travel," those energy-draining annoyance trips for one or two-hour meetings. "Traveling long distances (two or three-day trips) for one-hour meetings builds up a productivity debit that's difficult to overcome," notes one user. Key personnel are effectively out of commission for two days as they wing their way to and from distant locations. Even though some employees are able to make good use of the time spent in the air, most view it as a productivity drain.

About 40 percent of ARCOvision users credit this new tool with increases in personal efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. Eliminating "trash travel" is certainly one component of these perceived productivity gains. The ability to have more-timely meetings resulting in more-timely action is another. More-timely access to both people and information also contributes to the sense of improved effectiveness and productivity. The shorter project-completion cycles noted by about one-quarter of the users is another indicator of productivity improvements.

Several indicators suggest videoconferencing expands involvement opportunities, creates new connections and facilitates, more-timely access. "ARCOvision makes me more available," says one executive. "More importantly, it allows me to expose junior people to the action earlier and it saves me time relaying information." A majority of the system's users report improved access to the right people at the right time. Two factors probably contribute to this improved access: Key people aren't traveling as much, and ARCOvision permits meetings without having to schedule travel.

Regular users are more likely to note increased access to decision makers and stimulating people, as well as increased visibility for themselves in the organization. One organizational "youngster" enthusiastically related how ARCOvision enabled him to get one of his ideas into the pipeline six months before it would have been possible for him to present his ideas in person (he was in alaska and the relevant decision makers were in Texas). As a result, a new project got under way almost immediately.

Users feel meetings are shorter, more cooperative and task oriented when held via the network. They are also slightly more formal and less spontaneous, with slightly less give and take. Feedback from meeting-evaluation forms suggests users feel time constraints more strongly when meeting via video, which may account for the more-focused, businesslike nature of videoconference meetings.

In spite of the slightly less-lively nature of videoconferences, meeting effectiveness doesn't deteriorate for most (75 percent) users. In fact, almost a third feel meeting effectiveness improved as a result of using ARCOvision. Evidently, the more-task-oriented, cooperative nature of the video meetings outweighs the more-stilted interaction associated with satellite-based communications.

Meeting Options Are Increased

They system's users note both increases and decreases in meeting size, both of which are deemed beneficial. Evidently, the service permits including more people when desirable, and also having that small meeting for which a trip couldn't be justified. Videoconferencing increases meeting options, permitting people to organize meetings more effectively, both in terms of time and people. Almost one-quarter of ARCOvision meetings would not have occurred without the aid of video.

A first-time user, waxing eloquent about the system's benefits, wrote the following on his evaluation form: "Not only was this particular application financially beneficial, it allowed an important meeting to take place now, when it might have been delayed several weeks due to incompatible travel schedules."

In spite of general satisfaction with their ARCOvision meetings, users aren't about to trade in all travel-based meetings. Being there still wins out as the most-effective meeting options, but videoconferencing is a close second. The visual dimension adds significantly to long-distance communication. Whether it be a graphic aid that makes a point better than words, or the life-like images of the person(s) involved in the meeting, users feel videoconferencing has a definite advantage over the phone. That's not to say that users feel a need to conduct all long-distance meetings via video. Most are quick to point to times when audio or audiographic conferencing would suffice.

Overall, the conferencing system is considered a highly effective communications tool. "I think it has exceeded our expectations in terms of what people are able to do with it," comments Donald Walton, E&T's manager of services. "It's definitely giving us greater travel-dollar savings than we expected, and it's right about where we projected it to be in terms of usage, despite a lot of organizational turmoil in recent years."

Walton also notes that "hard" travel-dollar savings are only part of the picture. "The benefits derived from having more people in meetings, exchanging more information, and allowing younger employees such as engineers to sit in on meetings, are exceptional," he explains. "I think this is why the system has gone over so well with the users, while upper management is getting the travel-dollar savings it wants to see."

Use Expeted to Go Up in '86

ARCOvision users project slightly increased use in the coming year. Most of those who haven't tried the system and need to meet with people in the various locations indicate they will try it in the near future. Only five percent of those who tried it say they won't use it again.

Not content to rest on their laurels, conference coordinators are planning new campaigns to ensure more use and bring new users into the ARCOvision fold. Ann Cahoy, supervisor of ARCOvision services, has promised that anniversaries of the system will be celebrated with a raft of new promotional activities. She also notes the important role that satisfied users play in "marketing" the system's services. She recently awarded one of the coveted ARCOvision coffee mugs to an employee who, when her husband (also an ARCO employee) informed her of an impending trip to Los Angeles, asked: "Why not use ARCOvision?" He scheduled a videoconference the very next day and, as a result, may be traveling far less frequently.

ARCO plans several changes in its conference service in the coming year, the most notable being opening up the system to outside companies. "A lot of companies have contacted us about using the service, but we didn't pursue it in the past, due to possible common-carrier implications," indicates Walton. Thanks to a recent FCC ruling liberalizing use of industrial fixed-microwave service (used to link ARCOvision rooms with company earth stations in suburban locations), the carrier issue is no longer a problem.

At present the company is clearing up the final logistical hurdles to outside marketing of the service. "We're definitely committed to offering this service," notes Walton, who indicates that ARCO has already been selling excess transmission capacity to other firms through its Satcom subsidiary. Initial plans call for conference-room coordinators to handle external marketing of the system. However, the company is also exploring co-marketing ventures with AT&T, similar to the arrangement between the Hilton hotel chain and that carrier.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
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Author:Svenning, Lynne; Ruchinskas, John
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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