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Video Phones Meeting Tobacco Firm's Need for a Teleconferencing System.

As telecommunications manager for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, the nation's third-largest cigarette manufacturer with sales in excess of $2 billion, James Cronin keeps up to date on the marketplace so he can bring in new technology to better meet the company's needs.

While recently reviewing the telecommunications traffic between Brown & Williamson's Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters and its major manufacturing facility in Macon, Georgia, he wondered if there might now be a cost-effective way to transmit video images between Louisville and Macon. His previous studies had indicated that a freeze-frame video/graphics conference room would cost approximately $175,000 per site. Added to that cost would be $6,000 to $7,00 per month for a dedicated (leased) circuit.

While attending the Global Teleconferencing Symposium sponsored by AT&T Communications in Washington, DC, last March, Cronin learned about the Photophone offered by Image Data Corporation of San Antonio, Texas. Photophone is a desktop, self-contained video telephone that uses a regular dial-up telephone line and costs less than $10,000 per site. Says Cronin: "The timing was just perfect for me. Here was the technology I needed, at a reasonable price."

As the vendor's first customer, Brown & Williamson saw an applicaton for the video telephone in sharing information for timely and efficient problem-solving and decision-making. Prior to installation of the system, engineers and designers were constantly traveling the 480 miles between Louisville and Macon to hold short but important meetings about design and producton issues.

Easy to Use and Easy to Move

The video telephone not only is easy to use, but easy to move as well. Brown & Williamson engineers can carry the unit (aout the size and weight of an electric typewriter) from room to room and plug it into any telephone jack. Engineers in one location focus the camera on a particular quadrant of an engineering drawing and press the send button. Now both locations are able to see what's being discussed and each can modify the drawing accordingly.

Cronin sums up the advantages of the video-phones system this way: "More people are able to be involved in the decision-making process and we're able to use subject-matter experts as they're needed. The entire process is more efficient."

In addition to looking at ways that video telephony can meet other needs of the organization, such as sales and marketing, Brown & Williamson is exploring use of the video phone's auxiliary ports. By attaching a large-screen projector andVCR to the video-phone system, larger groups of people are able to participate in meetings and those meetings can be recorded for review at a later time.

Additional Cameras Can Be Used

Additional cameras attached to the system allow the company to conduct videoconferenced meetings at a fraction of the usual cost. One camera focuses on the topic being discussed while the other cameras periodically pan the room for reaction from the participants. Because color isn't a necessity, Brown & Williamson is developing a videoconferencing system to meet its needs for about one-seventh the cost of a typical videoconferencing room.

Having taken advantage of an easy-to-use, low-cost technology to meet the company's evolving needs, Cronin offers this recommendation to other telecommunications managers:

"Re-examne the cost-effectiveness of videoconferencing for your company. You may have closed the door permaturely. There's now technology that brings videoconferencing in line. Take a look again. You'll be surprised at how low the costs have become."
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Earon, Ann
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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