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.

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.

Because Colt had bought its own switch technology, it was able to increase the user base several times over by offering the videoconferencing software for download to laptops and iPads. (The company provides a "Use Your Own Device" virtual desktop infrastructure - VDI. Another potential environmental saving.)

As an example of this in action, Leonard's weekly meetings with his direct reports in India, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK are held through the videoconferencing system. The participants often use their own devices from wherever they are, whether on an iPad at home over a VPN or at the office desk. This leaves the videoconferencing suite free for others to use more appropriately.

Leonard is prototyping the extension of this switch facility with partners and suppliers. He says, "We believe that videoconferencing becomes even more attractive to an enterprise if you extend the organisations you can conference with." The application can be downloaded to iPads or laptops or the company can integrate its own videoconference suite through IP access. It means that important conversations can be set up quickly and flexibly. More smoothing of information flows and collaboration generally.

It's not hard to see that Colt, as a network and compute services provider, has created something of great potential benefit to its customers. As Leonard says, "It would take away the need for the customer to build an expensive switch infrastructure. It's in the network. Our vision is that our customers will be able to leverage videoconferencing at minimal cost."

From a CIO perspective, Leonard speaks of the 3,000 people he has working for him and the vital need for regular communication. He says, "We use our switch to broadcast out at no cost. Every month we do an ISUTV magazine show. Sixty to 70 per cent of people watch it live and the remainder watch the recorded version." This is not some high-powered, expensive, studio production. It's done in the videoconferencing suite, sometimes incorporating people from other company locations coming in from their own suite or device. Other Colt business units are now following ISU's lead. Leonard is a strong believer in IT as an enabler rather than a control challenge.

When asked to prioritise the drivers for his activities, he simply replies, "The ethical piece is very important to Colt and its customers. Regulations will come in, but if you do these things well, they make good commercial sense too."

About the author:

David Tebbutt (www.tebbo.com) is a writer specialising in ICT and environmental matters.

Managing COLT services