CIO says video conference switch pays business, user and ecological benefits

When you have thousands of staff distributed across several geographies, all needing to align regularly and collaborate according to project needs, you not only have a logistics nightmare, you have budgetary and environmental issues.

This was a major consideration for Mark Leonard, Executive Vice President of Colt Technology Services Group and the man in charge of the Infrastructure Services Unit (ISU) which, in 2011, resulted from the blending of network operations, managed services operations, technology and IT into a single unit. (More details here.) This silo-removal operation was designed to streamline internal services, providing customers with an integrated network and compute service.

As part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team, Leonard was all too aware of the environmental and practical impacts of unnecessary travel. Within his own organisation of three thousand staff spanning 13 European countries and India, he could see distinct humps in the travel budget and set about addressing them, along with making sure that the technology platforms - especially the data centres - could run as energy efficiently as possible.

The drivers were many but Colt's diligent approach to CSR meant that the company was culturally well-disposed to the changes that Leonard wanted to implement. He also removed a lot of friction from the acquisition and use of laptops and other computing devices. All of these actions resulted in environmental benefits as well as creating internal efficiencies and smoothing information flows.

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In 2010 he started to consider, in his words, "How to make communications more effective, to reduce the travel requirement and reduce the dependency on email, which is a very flat medium. We needed to get people talking more."

The answer to this was to implement a video conference strategy. Rather than a full-blown telepresence approach, the company invested in its own Tandberg switch which could service any user environment from a video conference suite to an iPad.

In the first round of implementation, his team analysed the travel routes of employees, siting the majority of conferencing units where the travel spend was highest. India, Germany and Barcelona (where the international customer centre is based) benefitted from multiple installations. Other countries implemented one at its main location. The money for this came out of the central travel budget.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the result was a reduction in travel budget and an increase in videoconferencing use. But maybe less obvious is the increase in frequency of vital conversations and the massive time savings from not needing to travel.