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Stone & Webster engineers phone system to bridge continents.

Advancements in telecommunications have been remarkable when you consider how far technology has come in a few years. When I started in telecomm in 1967, I remember putting in my first hookup from Boston to New York. We used an IBM Selectric typewriter--the kind with the "golf ball."

Our first transmitting typewriter, it operated at the "incredible" speed of 15 characters a second. When we got the hookup, you could type something in New York and people in Boston could read it. Everybody cheered.

It's hard to believe that 25 years later we would be able to bring together employees, customers and vendors from practically anywhere using audio, video, fax and data transmissions.

Stone & Webster is an engineering and construction company that builds power and petrochemical plants, bridges, tunnels, sewage systems, railroads and similar projects all over the world. We have seven major offices in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, with sales offices around the world in places like France, Korea, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Because our operations bases are so diverse, we needed a system to link engineers in the field with experts in other offices on a daily basis. Our old system didn't have the features to keep up with growing demands.

We decided on the AT&T Definity Communications System Generic 1 and Generic 2. Our latest switch is a G3 System in our London office.

It is flexible enough to allow us to set up AT&T System 75s anywhere in the world. When our job is finished, we bring our equipment back home, then set it up at the next job site.

Our U.S. offices are linked by AT&T fiber-optic T1 circuits configured to create local area networks and a wide area network. We even have an undersea fiber-optic cable connecting the London office with our entire U.S. network.

These dedicated circuits enable professionals in London or any other office to transmit and receive voice, data and video. They can access our IBM mainframe in Boston, which serves as a central data bank.

Within the next year we expect to use ISDN heavily for dial-up data transmissions. We expected to get involved sooner, but our local networks were not all ISDN-compatible. It can be frustrating to wait for technology to catch up to our needs. We know the equipment we need is our there, but it's tough to get it all linked together.

The AT&T Group Video System enables us to gather engineers to view drawings and specifications and to discuss projects and proposals. We use E-mail to announce video meetings and to transmit the agenda. We usually use Audix voice mail to follow up and confirm attendance.

The video meeting works the way a phone conference call works--whoever is speaking has control of the camera and microphone and appears on the monitors in all nine offices. An individual in another office can respond--and in responding, appears on camera in all the office.

Clients can join video meetings by dialing in. Sometimes they have questions about a proposal being handled by people in several different offices. The video meeting is a time- and cost-efficient way for us to respond.

We also have marketing meetings each Monday morning and use video-conferencing for training on Word Perfect, Lotus and other software programs. I use the video setup frequently to talk to all our telecomm people to hear their problems and suggestions.

The system saves money and time because it greatly reduces air travel and allows us to bring many more people into the discussions. Turnaround time is faster because meetings are set up in a fraction of the previous time. If I had to send people to a meeting by airplane, I'd send one or two. We can have 15 or 20 people in each location participate in a video meeting.

Our field people appreciate the features our sophisticated system offers, but they seem to take advantage of voice mail more than any other feature.

Engineers travel frequently and voice mail enables them to call in from any phone to retrieve their messages. They can respond immediately by leaving messages anytime, or they can forward a message to another engineer at a different location who can handle the problem more quickly.

In situations where they need to transmit the same information to a number of people, they use the broadcast messaging feature.

On a recent project in Minnesota we had a vibration problem with a huge centrifugal fan. We broadcast a message to engineers in Denver, mechanical engineers in Boston and vibration specialists in New York, then arranged a videoconference for everyone to discuss the problem. We came up with a quick solution--without flying people in from all over the country.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Stone & Webster Engineering Corp.'s AT&T Definity Communications System Generic series
Author:Martino, Al
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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