Videoconferencing can save customers money in ongoing overheads and travel costs, as well as slash carbon emissions in the drive for green IT, if the experience of public sector services provider Amey is any guide.
Two years ago, Amey engaged BT as the reseller to phase in a videoconferencing set-up, delivered as a managed service. According to Keith Sexton, director of health, safety, environment and quality at Amey, videoconferencing so far saves the organisation £180,000 on business travel and 40,000kg of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
That is in an 11,000-employee company that manages vital infrastructure and public services at 200 locations around the UK, with 80 per cent of its carbon footprint caused by travel and transport activity.
“We have an internal target to reduce our carbon. But if you look at the type of clients we bid for, about 80 per cent are government or quasi-government organisations. These clients expressly ask us what we are doing about our carbon footprint and how we will fit in with the overall governmental savings,” said Sexton.
While video conferencing is not the primary way for Amey to reduce carbon emissions, it has contributed significantly mainly by enabling staff to have routine meetings over the airwaves rather than having to get in a car or plane and go there.
“We did make the decision last year that we would try to reduce our emissions by 10 per cent and we are now on track to do that,” Sexton added. “If someone in Cumbria wants a contract review, people haven’t got to drive an hour and a half across the Lake District for a meeting.”
As employees and business partners became more comfortable with using the videoconferencing system, it was likely that savings would increase further in coming years. Travel reductions also improve worker health, safety and work-life balance alongside productivity and communications, all of which Sexton sees as key.
BT’s deployment included the installation of several Tandberg Edge MXP 95 systems, 1700 MXP desktop telepresence LCD monitors with HD cameras and Tandberg’s Microsoft-compatible Management Suite.
Jeff Prestel, general manager of the video business unit at BT Conferencing, said: “High-definition video and telepresence are taking conferencing to the next level. Our focus is on implementing tailored end-to-end enterprise solutions that are easy to use, reliable and cost-effective.”
Prestel said that socially responsible organisations are striving to advance their businesses while reducing environmental impact, and telepresence or HD videoconferencing has become a key tool.
With telepresence, organisations can see participants’ facial expressions in business discussions and negotiations without having to travel. Launching a meeting is like making a phone call, and people appear life-like and life-size.
Sexton said HD was crucial for user acceptance of videoconferencing. Many users were familiar with older videoconferencing systems with jerky imaging and poor sound and were sceptical about using the new system as a result. But once they had used the new HD telepresence hardware, their views had changed.
Ease-of-use issues had also been virtually eliminated, especially once a system had been set up with all the usual locations. So you could dial, say, the Glasgow office, with the press of a button.
The VMeetings feature lets staff schedule virtual meetings and register attendees through the Amey intranet. This allows them to calculate overall costs and carbon savings using figures and calculators that are accepted by the UK government.
“We use the Defra web site,” Sexton said. “It gives you carbon emitted per passenger kilometre and so on. If the government did not step in to try to provide those calculations, it would be like comparing apples and pears.
Steve Banks, head of IT at Amey, said the service seemed reliable.
“We liked the look and feel of it from the start, and it has enabled an integrated system to be managed for what are now nearly 50 systems around the country,” he said.
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