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Polycom videoconferencing system a time and money saver

Steve Lillie shows fellow managers the Polycom’s modular videoconferencing system 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 offices.

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."

Polycom’s modular videoconferencing systemThe 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."

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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 in words.

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.