Satellites Help Hercules Build Mighty Integrated Voice, Data Video Network.
To be near its customers and the sources of raw materials, Hercules has locations dispersed across the United States and in many foreign countries. More than 22,000 employees work in its 40 domestic plants and 24 sales offices, and only about 10 percent are in the Wilmington area. Managing this geographically separated organization obviously requires effective intra-company communications.
In 1980, Hercules began an ambitious program to implement Advanced Office Systems technology throughout the company, and the private network services of Satellite Business Systems were selected to meet the telecommunications needs of the program. The Hercules Communications Network Service (CNS) system became operational in March 1982.
Hercules developed a three-prolonged strategy for its Advanced Office Systems (AOS) program:
To improve the productivity of professionals as weel as clerical employees. Professioanls account for one of every three Hercules employees and for 86 percent of office-worker salaries. But Hercules was typical of US industry over recent years in that manufacturing productivity had steadily increased while office productivity remained constant.
To link more closely the company's widely scattered manufacturing and sales locations, many of which are in remote areas. The goals were to decrease travel requirements and to improve communications between sites even when travel was not a factor.
To take advantage of the move to a new facility. The Hercules Plaza buildeing was constructed to provide more space and improve the corporate image, but the move also offered a unique opportunity to equip Hercules' headquarters with the latest office technology.
These requirements became the basis for three major office automation projects in the first phase of the AOS program-- voice messaging, teleconferencing and word processing.
The voice message system provides users with an electronic "mailbox" from which spoken messages can be retrieved at the convenience of the recipient. Over 2,500 professionals use this system, which allows a message to be sent to more than one person, forwarded to a third party, or transmitted outside Hercules. It also has safeguards to protect communications privacy.
Teleconferencing ar Hercules includes audio-only conferincing (by telephone) and videoconferencing to send and display pictures of people and graphics among company locations.
Word processing for support personnel was first introduced for writing letters and reports and transcribing dictation. It has since been expanded to offer electronic filing and electronic mail.
The communi cations network for all these programs and for company telephone and data communications is the Hercules Integrated Telecommunications System, called HITS. this system is build around CNS, the private-network telecommunications arvice supplied by SBS.
HITS and the office systems projects described above are the responsibility of the Advanced Office Systems Department. This department and the Computer Systems Daprtment report to This deaprtment and the Computer Systems Department report to Ross Watson, the vice president of information resources at Hercules, who in turn reports to President Alexander Giacco. Pairing these two groups at the highest level in the organiztion shows the importance place on information resources by Hercules' executive management.
According to Watson, this new structure and the strong backing of president Giacco has contributed to the rapid acceptance and expansion of information systems within the company: "The AOS program grew out of a corporate need for systems within the company: "The AOS program grew out of a corporate need for economic belt-tightening--management wanted to increase our business without increasing people and to improve information flow. In 1979 a corporate staff was appointed to look at evolving technology, to recommend how its might help control costs, and to implement the rpogram. This was not a part-time effor as it is in some onther companies; it was a small group committed full time. We also had the backing of top management, not just upper management. So our commitment was significant ealry on--we didn't think small."
The AOS group began with a comprehensive study of how people ar Hercules spent their time and how they might benefit from new office and communications technology. After examining the data and targeting specific areas for productivity improvement, the group recommended immediate expenditures on office automation equipment (starting with voice messaging, teleconferencing and word processing) and the development of a new telecommunications system to tie these applications together.
Says Watson: "We picked SBS because we wanted a system that would integrate our voice, data and image communication requirements into one transmission path. We also liked the technical features-- digital widband transmission, switching capability, dynamic capacity allocation and on-premises earth stations that we could control."
Watson believes that another significant factor in the AOS program's success is the careful way in which it was introduced to users. Early in their planning cycle, members of the AOS group met with Hercules managers and support personnel todiscuss the program and explain how it could help them. They were careful to take potential users' needs into account. For example, managers did not want the traditional working relationship between themselves and their secretaries disturbed, so the AOS group rejected the idea of setting up word-processing "pools" and instead chose to keep secretarial functions near the manager.
The AOS program was introduced in a building-block approach, starting with pilot projects in individual departments pilot projects in individual departments and gradually expanding into broader areas of the company. Extensive in-house training was provided at each state. Depending on location and requirements, the AOS group offered classes, demontrations, printed materials, audio conferences and video tapes to explain the benefits of the program and show employees how to take advantage of them.
Bill Phile, manager of network services for AOS, took a personal role in intorucing the satellite communi cations system. at each network location. "I was present when every earth station site became operational, so that I could hold orientation sessions for that location and all those hubbed into it," he explains. "We gave an in-depth course to PBX operator-attendants and a less complex class to general users. Our main goal was to train voice users, but we also had a separate presentation for videoconferencing users."
Hercules has worked with SBS since the inception of its )aos program to develop an integrated communi cations system that can fulfill both present and future needs. The CNS system that is the basis of HITS transmitss integrated, alldigital voice, data, and image communications at high speed among earth stations located throughout the country on Hercules premises. Figure 1 (map of first page) shows the nine earth-station locations now operating; completion of the tenth earth station, scheduled to begin operating this year, will end the first phase of the AOS program. Hercules facilities that are not collocated with an earth station are linked to the nearest one via terrestial access lines.
Each earth station, called a Network Access Center (NAC), communicates with all the other earth stations in the network through an assigned satellite transponder. The network interconnects with Hercules and other common carrier equipment such as PBXs, access lines, videoconferencing systems, computers and office automation equipment. The SBS network control center in McLean, Virginia, monitors network performance, provides usage statistics and permits Hercules to initiate changes.
The HITS network has a good reputation among Hercules users for quality and operational reliability, and AOS Director Jay Kocher credits well-planned coordination between the reponsible groups wihtin both Hercules and SBS as an important factor. A centralized Network Services Operator (NSO) ar Hercules serves as the focal point for problem reports from users of network services at every company location. The NSO relays necessary information to the sbs service bureau and also directly to the local SBS field engineers, enters each report into an automated tracking system, receives periodic status reports from SBS and notifies users upon trouble resolution. The NSO also works with SBS field engineers to coordinate circuit and equipment testing and to schedule routine maintenance.
Of the phaseover from land-based to satellite communications, Network Manager Bill Phile recalls, "We had a unique starting point--no formal network. That has some advantages, in that we didn't have the complications of migrating from one system to another. Our goal was simply to get each network location operational as soon as possible."
The absence of a previous network also meant that Hercules had few communications traffic statistics on which to help SBS base a network design. According to Phile, "Our basic philosophy was to overbuilde, rather than underbuild, and then to cut back later if necessary. As it turned out, our initial estimates were very close--we have made some adjustments but not a lot. The overall design guideline was to guarantee user service, not total economic optimization, at the beginning. The end result has been a high percentage of call copletions, which equates to user satisfaction."
Earth-station locations were chosen for videoconferencing as wellas voice traffic requirements. Phile explains, "We simply would not have been able to to highspeed videoconferencing without a satellite network. Hercules has remote (non-metropolitan) locations. Of our 17 videoconferencing sites, only four have terrestial 5l-kilobit-per-second service available."
Hercules assigned SBS the responsibility for providing service extensions between Hercules earth stations and other network locations. Ross Watson calls this "a very wise decision on our part. To provide our own access lines, Hercules would have to build a larger staff of communications experts to manage such a sophisticated private network in a multivendor enviroment. We don't want to do that. Our strategy is to have SBS manage this activity for us."
Voice service currently accounts for the majority of network traffic at Hercules. Since the network became operational, voice usage over the satellite system has increased at a rapid pace. The average number of calls per month has more than doubled from 1982 to 1983, increasing at a rate of over 15,000 a month.
User reponse to the new voice service has been especially favorable in the regional manufacturing plants and sales offices. Bill Phile explains why: "Before the network, in order to make a long-distance call people at most locations had to queue up for one or two WATS or tie line that were manually controlled by a PBX attendant. That sometines meant long periods of waiting and priority-bumping. Because of the cost at each location, we had to limit the number of lines. With the network, it is cost effective to have enough capacity at the earth stations for near-peak usage periods. So HITS has shortened the waiting time to seconds; people just 'dial 8' to communicate with customers or other Hercules locations. The users also like the speed and convenience of station-to-station dialing" (seven-digit dialing directly from desk to desk anywhere in the network, as opposed to calling through a central PBX attendant, as in the prvious terrestrial system).
The HITS network carriers a significant amount of off-network voice traffic in addition to traffic within the network. Least-cost routing for off-net calls is handled, in a sequence specified by Hercules, by the SBS satellite communications controller (SCC) at each earth station, rather than through a front-end switch. Thus, least-cost routing is provided for all network users, not just those with a sophisticated electronic PBX.
Besides normal long-distance calling, HITS supports the Hercules Voice Message System (VMS), which is being rapidly expanded. A sender gains access to VMS through a standard pushbutton telephone. The message by speaking directly into the telephone. The message is digitized and stored on a computed disk for later access by the recipient, who will hear the message just as it was spoken. Messages can be entered or retrieved 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The voice message system was pilot-tested in 1980 and 50 corporate-level managers and was so enthusiastically received that 1,600 more users were quickly added. The system has now grown to over 2,500 users who send about 50,000 messages a month. About half the usage is local, within corporate headquarters; most of the remaining usage if is from regioanl locations via the network. Hercules employees who are traveling or are unable to use the network can reach VMS by calling in over the public telephone system.
Ross Watson calls the voice message servie "one of our most successful programs. VMS saves so much time and inconvenience by overcoming the realtime barrier. Before we had the satellite network, it was not cost effective to provide VMS to regional locations; now the incremental cost to do so is virtually zero. If we tried to take VMS away now, there would be a real employee outcry!"
Hercules feels that communication is ideal for videoconferencing because of its broadcast capability and its relatively low cost and wide bandwith compared to leased or switched terrestrial lines. Since the HITS communication resources are not dedicated to any particular link, transmission costs are incurred only during an actual videoconference.
Hercules has 2j operational videoconferencing rooms, including five in the headquarters building, 18 at other US locations and one overseas (in London). Additional locations will be installed within the next year.
The videoconferencing system was begun in a color still-frame mode, in which "snapshot" television pictures of participants, graphics, documents or product samples are transmitted periodically. Eighteen of the conferencing rooms communicate via HITS at 56 kilobits per second (kb/s), allowing for 12-second throughout of images. The remaining locations multiplex four standard telephone circuits for 19.2-kb/s transmission, which provides a new image every 35 to 40 seconds.
Full-motion videoconferencing will be piloted at selected locations, as an adjunct to the less-expensive still-frame system. According to Jay Kocher, each method is particularly suitable for different kinds of meetings. High-level meetings requiring constant interaction and reaction to subtle body language benefit from full motion, while technical meetings using many charts and documents may be more appropriate for still-frame. "We will definitely use both for the foresseable future, because still-frame requires less bandwidth and most of the system hardware can handle either type. We need both kinds of videoconferencing, just as we need both telephone and face-to-face meetings."
The Hercules videoconferencing rooms appear very much like anu other conference room, and in fact they are used for face-to-face as well as videoconferences.
Each room currently houses five color video cameras, two color monitors and a control panel that allows the user to switch between cameras and transmit images. Three of the cameras are focused on the conference table, a fourth is positioned on a document stand and another rests on a movable tripod for coverage of flipcharts, a blackboard or objects out of range of the other cameras. The three central cameras and the monitors are contained in a custom-designed cabinet that can be placed against or built into a wall, so that the equipment remains unobtrusive and contributes to a businesslike atmosphere.
Each videoconferencing room on the HITS network can be conneted point-to-point or multipoint (broadcast or interactive conference) with the other room s via an SBS Selector 500, which provides automatic dialing and establishes the type of connection required (point-to-point or multipoint). The selector also provides both local and remote testing/diagnostics. Hercules converted to the selector system early in 1983, replacing an earlier method that used associated voice circuits to control the connections.
The selectors are connected with the SBS NAC either through limited-distance modems (for videoconferencing rooms located in or near the same building) or through 56-kb/s digital circuits leased from the telephone company. In the latter case, an SBS Selector 300 at the NAC performs interface conversion and clock recovery between the telephone company interface and the SBS "native" interface standard.
Alan Ramsey, teleconferencing project manager at Hercules, believes that the variety of features available with the selectors have encouraged a wider range of videoconferencing applications, from shirt-sleeves working sessions to educational presentations to fully interactive sales meetings between regional offices and headwquarters. Their testing capabilities also lend a high degree of confidence in the system, ensuring that there will be no surprises just before an important conference. AOS personnel in Wilmington check the functioning of each remote selector and verify the performance of the satellite links each morning before the videoconferencing network is used.
Says Ramsey: "The Selector 500s have greatly simplified setting up the communications for videoconferencing; it used to take us about 20 minutes to set up each conference and now it takes only five. The test features are also very helpful--before that we were flying blind. And from the user's viewpoint, the multipoint capability is a significant benefit."
As in all the phases of the AOS program, Hercules has invested in user training, promotional activities and performance evaluation as well as in equipment for its videoconferencing sytem. When videoconferencing is introduced at a new location, an orientation session is held for potential users to discuss benefits, demonstrate the use of the equipment and allow users to practice operating it. A 10-minute video tape featuring a Hercules vice president explains the company's commitment to videoconferencing, suggests appropriate uses and describes the successful experiences of others. The tape remains at that location for subsequent viewing by new users.
Besides equipment operation, users often need training in how to use graphic materiasl for videoconferences. Because of video resolution characteristics, visual aids are usually more effective in a format and type seize different from that of an in-person meeting. Ramsey's group has established graphic standards for videoconferencing materials and sometimes helps new users with practice presentations to determine what works best.
At each Hercules location, several videoconferencing coordinators are identified to receive training on equipment setup and operation, troubleshooting and scheduling. They can also help introduce videoconferencing and promote the network until users become familiar with it. Additional company promotion comes through periodic demonstrations, articles in company publications and a quarterly videoconferencing newsletter.
Ramsey believes in maintaining close contact with users. "You can't just put in hardware and expect it to be used. Proper training is a good start, but we try to maintain a constant rapport with users through internal selling and responsiveness to their needs."
To permit a continuing evaluation of the system, each videoconference chairperson is asked to complete a short questionnaire at the end of a session. The AOS group uses these responses to gather statistics about the duration and purposes of videoconferences, how much travel may have been displaced and how users perceive the system.
Ramsey reports that most users respond positively to the videoconferencing questionnaires. "Ninety-five percent say the purpose of their meeting was achieved--we get very few negative comments. The most common request is for full motion."
The Hercules videoconferencing system was originally cost justified on the basis of time and travel savings, and these expectations have been realized.
However, Hercules also wanted other benefits from videoconferencing, and those have occurred as well.
When the old plant-mananger style of administration was replaced by a functional management structure, more coordination was needed between production and marketing divisions. Top management also wanted closer relationships between headquarters and the outlying locations. Videoconferencing is helping to accomplish this goal. Cross-country discussions on pricing, planning, sales development, inventory control, production scheduling, training and problem solving are common.
Robert Leahy, Hercules vice chairman, creidts videoconferencing with improving management effectiveness. "It solves the characteristic problem of communications among diverse business centers and functional groups, and it encourages prompt and timely decision making. Videoconferencing has proved to be an increasingly valuable management tool."
Hercules' Computer Systems Department operates the corporate computer center in Wilmington, a large data center in Magna, Utah, and many smaller data centers at plant locations and international istes in Canada, Mexico and Western Europe. The computing facilities installed at the Wilmington center include two IBM computers (a 3081 for production and a 3083 for development) and peripheral storage devices, tape drives, high-speed printers and communications controllers.
The system supports over 1,000 displays, printers ad remote-job entry (RJE) terminals and communications protocols including SDLC (Synchronous Data Link Control), BSC (Binary Synchronous) and asynchronous. Transmission speeds range from 1.2 kb/s to 56 kb/s over private-line terrestrial circuits and satellite links.
Soon after the HITS network was installed, Hercules began substituting satellite links for terrestrial circuits. All remote earth stations now have data links to the Wilmington computer center. Applications include both interactive and batch data transmission at speeds from 9.6 to 19.2 kb/s between the host computer in Wilmington and the regional locations.
Of all the communications applications using HITS, data transmission is projected to grow fastest. However, Bill Phile says. "We have intentionally approached data very cautiously: voice and videoconferencing were where we started. We are now adding data links."
Some of the data communications applications currently operating at Hercules are described below: Others will be added on a phased basis.
Typical of the data links in operation and planned for other Hercules sites is the Oxford, Georgia, plant. There, a number of batch RJE and interactive IMS/TSO (Information Management System/Time-Sharing Option) data applications are being supported through an IBM 3705 communications controller connected through the satellite network with the Wilmington computer center. Figure 2 illustrates the configuration.
The Oxford communications controller services local and remote RJE terminals (IBM 3770) and four IMS/TSO display subsystems (IBM 3270) with 36 displays. Both the IMS/tSO terminals and the RJE terminal share a 19.2 kb/s SNA (Systems Network Architecture) satellite link. The displaced terrestrial connection had used separate 9.6-kb/s circuits for the two configurations.
The RJE terminals are used for reading cards and printing reports on plant payroll, inventory, order/invoice and maintenance. The IMS/TSO terminals handle report generation, status inquiries, message switching and displays of sales, message switching and displays of sales, customer, accounting, training and other file information.
A 19.2-kb/s digital link has been installed between the Wilmington computer center and the large Magna data center that serves the Aerospace Division. This link integrates both batch and interactive SNA applications. It also connects West Coast locations to Wilmington through the Magna center.
Hercules and SBS are working to implement a high-speed digital link that will permit data center backup and load sharing between the Wilmington and Magna centers. The bandwidth available with satellite links makes it feasible to transfer bulk data from one location to another for further processing or to duplicate certain files for security reasons. For example, at 1.5 megabits per second, the equivalent of a 2,400-foot tape reel can be transmitted in 12 minutes, as opposed to more than 31 hours over land lines at 9.6 kb/s.
Says Bill Phile, "Our goal is computer center backup and off-site storage of critical files. We are now shipping tapes to a backup center by truck. It will be much easier, less costly and more timely to move data over the satellite network."
Phile reports that "the satellite data links are working fine. I think the remote concentrator concept that we are using is much better than individual links for each location. The cost advantage becomes even greater at higher speeds. And, of course, the error rates are much better over the satellite network than over land lines."
Electronic mail using the Wang wordprocessing system is in the early stages of development at Hercules. Forty locations are currently linked to the system, mostly by terrestrial (dial-up) lines. According to Bill Phile, "Usage is growing every day. We are now sending over 3,000 documents a week, much faster and cheaper than through the postal service. Next we plan to begin routing electronic mail over the satellite network."
As director of Hercules' Computer Systems Department, Jim Wray is responsible for information tools that directly or indirectly affect nearly everyone in the company. From the research center, located about 10 miles outside Wilmington, he directs the personnel who operate the complex computer system and develop applications programs. Keeping the many end-users of the system happy is one of his primary goals.
"Although we haven't yet migrated all our data communications onto the satellite network, we probably have a wider range of data applications than any other SBS customer," says Wray.
Wray believes that the data applications being transmitted over the satellite network have proved successful. "The links have run for more than a year iwth very high availability, with essentially no measurable error rate, and at significantly lower cost than terrestrial alternatives. For interactive uses, we have minimized the response time degradation due to satellite propagation delay by using the remote concentrators. We are also working with our computer vendors to obtain software modifications that will further improve response time for our users. We will definitely be moving more data over the sallite."
The Hercules management committee, whose members are Alexander Giacco, Robert Leahy and four vice presidents, usually meets in private sessions at corporate headquarters. But recently a management committee meeting was held via multipoint videoconferencing with 80 participants at 14 locations.
This conference for the first time permitted a broad audience of Hercules managers to sit in on discussions and a status review of major ongoing projects throughout the company. The project reviews were presented by the planning and acquisitions department to participants at headquarters (three conference rooms), the research center, and the marketing center in Wilmington; and a regional locations in Hopewell, Virginia; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Brunswick, Oxford and Atlanta, Georgia; Terre Haute, Indiana; Naperville, Illinois; Walnut Creek, California; and Salt Lake City.
president Giacco says of this first management committee videoconference: "This marks another major step in the evolution of our management system. Although the primary purpose of the conference was to review projects, of about equal importance was the desire to demonstrate the effectiveness of the teleconferencing system to this key management group. The system provides shorter lines of communication between where the work is done and where the plans are made. It gives us direct contact with those who have the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of our investments."
Hercules started with specific requirements and developed a comprehensive strategy to meet them. The requirements were to control costs and improve productivity; advanced office systems and communications technology were seen as the improvement vehicle. The integration of voice, data and image applications into a single, cost-effective telecommunications syste.m was a logical outgrowth of the AOS program strategy--not an afterthought or an addition to an inefficient patchwork system. As a result, each element of the program has strengthened the operation of the whole.
The encouragement and guidance of Hercules' president and other high-level executives has given a tremendous impetus to the AOS program. This support permitted a full-time staff to research, plan and publicize the project from its inception; ensured adequate financing; and moved the program along much faster than it otherwise might have. As Ross Watson recalls, "Alexander Giacco had positive experiences with using information from our computer system, so he was very responsive to other technological improvements. He has really been the top supporter of AOS. That lets us plan for what is best in the long term. In some companies, everything is strictly on a cost-displacement basis--Hercules' management perceives value added as well as cost displacement."
The AOS program was planned to be modular in both scope and funding. This has accomplished two major objectives:
Top management has had periodic opportunities to evaluate progress and make decisions about continuing each phase. Such a structure makes management support easier to obtain and facilitates changes to any part of the program that might not meet expectations.
The program could be introduced in stages, rather than in a single massive change that might cause employee dissatisfaction or disruption of normal services.
The AOS program has been marked by close attention to the needs and expectations of Hercules employees. Early surveys of user requirements, the design of the system, the modular implementation plans, and procedures for ongoing measurement of user reactions have all been undertaken with employees in mind. At every stage of the program, comprehensive orientation and training activities have kept employees informed about plans that would affect them, eased the transition to new procedures and showed how employees and the company would benefit from the changes. Trhe rewards for this careful planning are evident in growing usage and high levels of user satisfaction.
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|Date:||Mar 1, 1984|
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