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Flexibility key to a/v communication systems

New headquarters for International Truck features messaging system, computer training rooms, & conference center.

International Truck and Engine Logo We all know what a headache moving day can be. It's hard enough to coordinate moving a single household, but imagine moving the world headquarters of a multimillion dollar corporation. That task is now complete for International Truck and Engine Corporation, where a number of operations have been brought together under one roof in Warrenville, Illinois.

International Truck and Engine is the operating company of Navistar International Corporation (NYSE: NAV), which had sales and revenues of $6.7 billion in 2001. The company is a leading producer of mid-range diesel engines, medium and heavy trucks, severe service vehicles, and parts and service sold under the International® brand. The company also is a private label designer and manufacturer of diesel engines for the pickup truck, van and SUV markets.

Any move can have its downsides, but Director of Corporate Facilities Darlene Edwards saw the move as a real opportunity. Looking carefully to the future, she led the design of a state-of-the-art conference center that can go global if necessary, and an internal messaging system that keeps the channels of communication open to company employees. "Business needs change constantly," says Edwards, "and it's not cost effective if you don't design flexibility into your systems." Flexibility was certainly the watchword for the company's new a/v systems.

Internal messaging-an entertaining eyecatcher

One of the challenges Edwards faced at the new headquarters was getting general company information out to 1,200 employees in a way that would not be ignored. Telephone, voicemail and e-mail are great for one-to-one communications, but group broadcasts are often deleted rapidly in the day-to-day glut of information.

Messaging system monitors are located in every hall and outside all snack areas Today any International employee who steps into any hallway or visits the various snack areas will find monitors displaying internal information. It may be something as simple as the daily special at the company café or news on a local convention, but it's the kind of informational tidbit that every employee will find himself looking for some time during the day. "They had six floors of people and needed a way to get messages out that were global in nature," says United Visual's Bill Mullin. "But they didn't want to have people going to a website, using e-mail, or tying up network bandwidth for video broadcasts." The messaging system fit the bill.

The new system, using components and software from TargetVision, uses a PC-based server but converts the signals to analog video. That way they can be carried to standard monitors using low-cost co-ax cable. Edwards chose to place a TV monitor at each end of the hallway on every floor, one near every snack area, in the reception area and the main conference area. "We can use it to welcome suppliers or to post company stock quotes. It's very popular when the stocks are up!" says Edwards.

International staff create messages on any PC but distribute them via a video network Cher Olchawa has the job of programming the system on a daily basis. "It is so much fun.  I just wish I had more time to sit and play with it. You almost want to come in on a Saturday and work uninterrupted!" Olchawa says she hopes to schedule an intensive two-day training session with TargetVision this summer. Though she says "I only know about a third of what it can do for me," she has been using the system effectively based on introductory training from Bill Mullin. She does the work right at her own PC, then sends the information to another machine that broadcasts it throughout the system.

Olchawa recently attended a users' forum in San Antonio where she got plenty of new ideas for the messaging system. "Some people there had had the system for five years, some for just five weeks, but it was great to talk to all of them about how they use it," she says. "I had been updating the stock quotes every morning, but I found out the system can be programmed to update them three times a day automatically. One thing I'd like to do is put a monitor in the breakrooms at our plants. Then employees could use the system to watch mandatory safety videos while they take their break." Olchawa says several firms use their systems to help with community service projects. A Florida company raises money for United Way by letting local businesses run ads on the system. They also post information about local schools and government that employees might be interested in. She says "if there's a major news event we can even turn on CNN so everyone can watch."

New conference center more than meets the eye

Of course, the communications needs of a company like International Truck goes far beyond a simple messaging system, and so the new building includes a conference center with a multipurpose room and a training room.

Multipurpose room at International Trucks  shown divided, with airwall partially openAt first glace, the multipurpose room seems simple enough, but it's capable of far more than you might think. Two LCD projectors hang from the ceiling, one facing the front and one the back right side. Staff can configure the center as a single large conference room or divide it into two, and of course they set up furniture to fit with the day's meetings. A small closet to the side holds an equipment rack that can feed signals from CDs, VCRs, DVD players and other systems to the projectors on command. Computer interfaces are built into the floor and the walls, for use by anyone making a presentation.

The computer training room at International Trucks shown from the front A few steps down the hall is a dedicated computer training room. A nice feature of this room is a Classnet switching system, which allows the instructor to switch the monitor display from her own or any student computer to the LCD projector, to her own display or to any or all of the other students'. IT Learning Center Manager Glenna Eorgoff says the Classnet is especially useful when "a student does something creative, either creatively right or creatively wrong. Quite often that's an opportunity to work through a problem. Now instead of asking 20 people to gather around Joe's computer, we can just switch it to the big screen."

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"One major criteria I had when I designed this building was maximum flexibility," says Edwards. There are 60 smaller conference rooms at the Warrenville facility, each wired for computers and a/v, but the main conference center is the most adaptable. Because these rooms are so versatile, they are used for a wide variety of activities, from daylong lifestyle meetings to luncheons and training, even blood drives.

Handheld Crestron control panels offer easy-to-understande a/v operations. By touching the icons on the remote, presenters can control the projector, video source, lights and sound levels. "In one of our previous locations we had a little audio control booth near the conference area where I had to put an operator during meetings. Now my employees don't have to sit through a seven or eight hour meeting to keep an eye on things."

International Truck and Engine and United Visual have been doing business for a long time. Both sides are very comfortable with the relationship. Edwards says "they did come in and do a run through," but there wasn't a lot of need for training on this straightforward system. "The nice thing," she continues, "is that they continue to tweak the system until they get it right."

The center and the messaging system will continue to be tested as the company continues to grow. Edwards expects the flexibility she insisted on will be more and more valuable. But then what would you expect from a company whose motto is "The brilliance of common sense"?