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Videoconferencing System Hitchhikes on Mainframe Net.

After years of wandering in a wilderness of high costs and indifferent customers, interactive teleconferencing is finding its promised market in corporate America. However, some of its biggest users are turnign out to be not top managers and sales executives, but mid-level operations and financial people.

What was envisioned mainly as a replacement for costly, time-consuming physical travel by "outside men" pursuing sales or other new business relationships is becoming a boon to the inside men of far-flung corporations, whose day-to-day dealings with colleagues in other cities have always been bedeviled by inadequate communications.

Inexpensive Enough for Daily Use

The new teleconferencing, like so much in office life, is computer-based. It's inexpensive enough to use every day in working meetings because it uses existing mainframe communication links, and it's practical because it can put spreadsheets and other PC-generated images and information on the electronic conference table, rather than just picutres of Joe Toledo or Jan in Phoenix.

Among state-of-the-art examples of low-cost, shirtsleeve-oriented teleconferencing is the Inforum system that American Video Teleconferencing Corporation developed in conjunction with the Traelers Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Last October, the International Teleconferencing Association recognized the development of the Inforum system with the 1985" Award for Technological Achievement."

Excess Mainframe Capacity Used

Implemented in August of 1984, it was the first commercial teleconferencing system designed to use excess capacity on an in-place IBM mainframe computer network as its primary transmission medium, rather than buying new transmission capacity on a permanent or on an as-needed basis.

The system, which currently connects Travelers offices in Hartford; Orlando; Norcross, Georgia; and Naperville, Illinois; and is being installed in five more locations, satisfies the "shirtsleeve" criteria by allowing graphics, text and spread-sheet presentations prepared on personal computers to be shared among teleconference locations, with changes in spreadsheet and other data displayed in real-time.

But even the least-expensive and most-functional system migh not be truly practical for in-house, day-to-day applications if it required a special operator or extensive training to use. The Traveler's answer to this problem is a touch-screen terminal programmed for plain-English, menudriven operation at every teleconference point. This has made it possible for any user in the network to initiate and control a teleconference with any othe rusers, with little or no training.

Usage Factor of 74 Percent

The fact that each teleconference is virtually free in terms of added transmission costs also tends to encourge usage. The bottom line is that, in the first year of operation, Travelers reported an overall usage factor of74 percent, orapproximately 130 hours of teleconferencing per month.

The sucess of the teleconferencing system for Travelers indicates that high trnasmission costs, daunting control systems and the lack of a personal computer interface need not inhibit the growth of interactive video teleconferencing for many multi-city corporations that previously many have written off the use of teleconferencing as a day-to-day communiations tool.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lewis, Neil
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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