Polycom videoconferencing system
a time and
Travel costs are a big-ticket item at a company with the global reach of Chicago
Rawhide. Chicago Rawhide is a worldwide provider of seals for big and small engines,
whether automotive, aeronautic or industrial in nature. Through its
affiliation with Chicago Rawhide Europe and Chicago Rawhide Asia-Pacific,
CR America has offices, factories and warehouses in Germany, Singapore,
Italy, Japan and across the United States. Managers and staff around
the world must communicate on every aspect of the business.
It’s only in the past few
years that companies like Chicago Rawhide have considered heavy travel costs anything
but an expensive necessity. But as videoconferencing systems have become
more affordable and the technology easier to use, companies are finding
that a few hours in a videoconference is a whole lot more workable than
a plane trip half way across the world.
Travel and decision making
Though travel is expensive,
the real savings from videoconferencing at Chicago Rawhide is not the
cost of plane tickets or hotel rooms. "The real benefit,"
says Steve Lillie, Director of Information Systems,"is that all
information can be sent electronically." Chicago Rawhide’s widely disbursed
research, manufacturing, sales and engineering staff must coordinate
their activities somehow. If an important decision must be made, the
telephone often falls short. It’s hard to tell what people are really
thinking if you can’t see their faces, and it’s hard to share a lot
of information by voice alone. One solution is to get on an airplane,
but that eats up time as well as money.
The problem is pervasive
even within each country. Lillie says that many of Chicago Rawhide’s plants are in
small towns, two hours from the nearest airport. Flying in, then driving
to even a relatively nearby plant will often eat up half a day, before
even the first meeting can be held. It doesn’t help that manufacturing
is becoming a game of responsiveness and quick development. The company
needed to cut out some of the delays and costs of constant travel without
sacrificing the advantages and nuances of meeting face to face.
Videoconferencing system is the solution
The answer for Chicago
Rawhide was Polycom’s modular videoconferencing system, a sophisticated
unit that combines codec, camera, microphone and remote control with
a variety of programmable functions that make it easy to use. The
company decided to invest in 14, including three multipoint units
for the company’s major headquarters, in Illinois, Germany and Italy.
The multipoint systems include a built-in conferencing bridge, so
that a headquarters can serve as the hub for calls linking up to four
Lillie says recommendations
and product demonstrations by United Visual’s Mike Maturo helped them
decide this was the system that best fit their needs. "We wanted
a system anybody could use," says Lillie. "Something we
could set up and not have to call for help every time we used it.
The Polycom is very user friendly."
technical support United was able to provide was also a factor in
the decision. United’s Paul Knutson configured each unit before shipping
it to the field, and he provided a liaison to the various telephone
companies, in case of any problem with the ISDN lines. Once the systems
were in place, Knutson held 15 training sessions for the 200 or so
employees who would be using the technology. People
from almost all departments—manufacturing, sales, quality engineering
and others—learned how to program the system, use the remote control
and how to act in front of the camera. "You’re a little self-conscious
at first," says Lillie. "Paul was very helpful. He’s really
knowledgeable about his subject."
The company also bought
three 3M Ideaboards, one for each of the headquarters, to be used
when staff make presentations during a videoconference. Anything someone
writes or draws on the board is instantly transmitted to a personal
computer, from which it can be printed, e-mailed or faxed to the other
locations. The Ideaboard is particularly useful in an engineering
company like CR, where ideas are often easier to draw than to describe
Though the systems are
new, Lillie and other CR staff are very happy with them and their
new ability to communicate. For example, CR’s Hobart, Oklahoma plant
has begun manufacturing a part previously made in Germany. Now, instead
of flying people back and forth to solve transition problems, engineers
from the two facilities have been able to conference with each other,
asking questions and getting the answers on the spot.
And that’s the point of
the Polycom systems at Chicago Rawhide. Although they can cost-justify
the systems with what they’ll save on travel, the real benefit is
instant communications. Lillie and other CR managers are confident
that videoconferencing will keep the many arms of their company in
touch better than they’ve ever been before.