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Squeaky clean: Colgate-Palmolive refreshes its employees with economical New York to New Jersey link.


A Colgate-Palmolive employee used to spend an hour or so commuting to company headquarters on Park Avenue.

Then, all too often, he or she would open the mail and answer a couple phone calls before beginning another commute--to the research-and-development center in New Jersey for a meeting with employees working on new products or packaging designs.

These meetings were important for coordinating Colgate-Palmolive's business activities, but for most employees they were a hassle to be avoided whenever possible. The trip to New Jersey from Park Avenue takes one hour and 20 minutes under ideal conditions. It can take two or more hours.

By the time the manager attended a one-hour meeting and returned to New York, it was time to answer a couple phone calls and begin the commute home. Employees living in New Jersey faced the same inconvenience.

Work's More Fun

Since Colgate-Palmolive linked the New Jersey research center and New York headquarters with a video teleconferencing system, an employee can attend a one-hour meeting and still have the rest of the day to work on other projects. His or her day is much more pleasant and much more productive.

Our videoconferencing systems saves money and increases productivity in a number of ways.

The company saves on travel expenses. This is significant, though not the most important advantage.

The big gain has been improved communication between the two work groups. Before, one or two people would commute between Park Avenue and New Jersey. Now, everyone involved in a project can attend a meeting in a videoconferencing room.

Before, employees were loath to schedule meetings simply because they hated the commute. Now, people working on the same project don't hesitate to schedule meetings. It takes only a minute to step down the hall to a video teleconferencing room.

Before, the tendency was to schedule a long meeting every week or every month. Now, Colgate-Palmolive employees meet more frequently for shorter lengths of time.

Before, a manager had to schedule a meeting in advance. Now, someone can call and say, "I have a problem I need to discuss with you. Could you and John meet with me now for about 15 minutes?" Because employees can respond immediately to a problem, they probably can solve it more easily and quickly.

In the old days, meetings often were canceled because of bad weather. Now, they can be held even during the worst winter storms.

At Least 20 A Month

Each month, a minimum of 20 videoconferences is scheduled between the two offices.

Our employees have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. That was the response of almost 90% of the employees who participated in a recent survey.

Typical comments: "I may never to go New Jersey again." "This is great." "This really saves me time."

When we first began using the equipment, in January 1989, we had one live unit and one spare unit. On the first bad-weather day after the system was installed, we had requests for several video teleconferences at the same time. As a result, we bought additional equipment, so now we can have to simultaneous videoconferences.

We're talking advantage of advances in technology that make videoconferencing more economical, flexible, and easy to use.

When we began looking at equipment in 1988, we found high quality would cost around $100,000 at each site, not including room renovations. No wonder videoconferencing was being used almost exclusively by Fortune 500 companies and the federal government. Because executives were the main users.

Fortunately, however, while we were still investigating equipment available, I read an article about a new technology, developed by Van Chandler and Robert Arnstein for Concept Communications Inc., Dallas.

Their initial was to develop a compression technique that would provide real-time compression.

Typically, because most compression techniques are time-consuming, the audio must be delayed, while the video is compressed for transmission. This is a problem; even a slight delay can create a stilted conversation.

The new technique users statistical compression to achieve real-time compression. Image 30 is not really a videoconferencing system, it's a pair of PC expansion boards.

One board is a video processor. The other is an audio processor. Together, they turn an IBM PC or IBM compatible into the core of a low-bandwith videoconferencing system.

It's A Money Saver

This new technology saves us a lot of money. We paid around $20,000 for each unit at each site, including extra cameras. For us, that price is reasonable--affordable enough to use video teleconferencing not only for executives but managers and professionals. It's affordable enough to allow us to buy serveral systems.

We plan to expand our videoconferencing facility to include regional sales offices and manufacturing sites.

A subsidiary, Hills Pet Products, in considering installing videoconferencing in 1990. It will include its headquarters in Topeka, Kan., and six regional sales offices in the United States.

Finally, we plan to build a videoconferencing network that includes sites in Europe, Australia, and South America. We'll probably wait until the end of 1990 to add Europe. By then, 64-kb/s switched lines should be available near our locations, so we won't have to have dedicated lines.

After cost, the next advantage is simplicity. To use our videoconferencing equipment, all you have to do is flip a switch and sit down in front of the camera. Everything else is automatic.

Even setting up the equipment isn't hard. All we did was insert the expansion boards into the PCs. Next, we connected video cameras and monitors to the boards.

This takes five minutes. Anyone who can operate a PC can handle it.

With a single camera and a small monitor, we can create a compact desktop system. Or, with multiple cameras and a 6-foot projection screen, we can create a conference-room system.

We've wired eight New York offices to accommodate our videoconferencing equipment. With a flip of a switch, people in any of those rooms can communicate with people in any of six room in New Jersey.

We can use a small room for an executive conference or a larger room if a group of people want to be involved. Wideangle lenses now include more people on the screen at the same time.

Product managers use the equipment to send pictures of new packages between the states, so employees in both offices can discuss the merits of the new design. Sure beats sending the package from one office to another.

Our system gives us 30 frames per second, a palette of 32,000 colors, and resolution of 256x200 pixels. Statistical compression helps eliminate distortion.

Acts Like Fax

Because this product is not merely a videoconferencing system but a PC expansion board, it can be use for much more than full-motion video. It emulates a facsimile machine, sending and receiving high-resolution graphics, and it sends those graphics at high speeds and in full color.

It has interactive capabilities. You can divide the screen into windows and add to a drawing during a videoconference. You can even transmit PC files from disk to disk.

We have the flexibility of being able to transmit over switched network services. You can use terrestial or satellite service at bandwidths of 56-384 kb/s.

The same features are available at all bandwidths, but motion-quality improves as bandwidth increases.

For our video link, we're using part of the reserve bandwith that already existed between Park Avenue and New Jersey. As a result, we're paying no additional cost for the bandwith required for video.

For the audio portion of a videoconference, even more flexibility is available. Because the PC expansion board provides real-time compression, you can use a high-speed phone connection instead of an audio board for terrestial transmission. For satellite transmission, however, an audio board is needed for synchronization.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Borak, Sheldon
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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