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S. Ann Earon, Ph.D.
Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI)
124 Thomas Lane
Manahawkin, New Jersey 08050
S. Ann Earon can be reached at 609-597-6334 or Email: AnnEaron@AOL.COM

The word videoconferencing is quickly becoming a common term for many people. Yet others are wondering when it will be a success, and some are questioning why their systems are not being used. Videoconferencing is a new way of doing business for many people. However, it is unrealistic to assume that once a system is installed users will immediately flock to use it.

One way of looking at videoconferencing is to equate it to a personal computer (PC). When PCs first entered the marketplace no one was expected to immediately sit down and use them to solve all business problems. Instead, most users found a learning curve associated with the hardware and with each software package. The same holds true for videoconferencing. Users look at a technology that will improve productivity, increase the use of subject matter experts, and allow meetings to be held when needed. These are all factors that are difficult to quantify and place a dollar value on. Yet many users have discovered that videoconferencing is a business advantage.

How is a successful videoconferencing system implemented? The answer is by concentrating on the human factors as well as the hardware. Let the business needs drive the technology, not the reverse. There are seven important steps to successful videoconferencing:

1. Needs Assessment

Begin by conducting a needs assessment to determine how potential users of the system presently conduct business. A needs assessment will provide data needed to develop an economic justification showing what the system will cost and what its rate of return will be for the organization in terms of dollars and other, less quantifiable benefits. It provides input into the system design phase by identifying key locations and functions to be served and the specific equipment to meet the needs. A thorough needs assessment assures that once a system is installed, it will be used effectively because it is designed to meet the requirements of the organization. A needs assessment also provides input into long-range plans for eventual system expansion.

Consider what happens when a needs assessment is not conducted. A high tech firm decided to install several videoconferencing rooms at the suggestion of its management. When the rooms were not being used, a study was conducted to find out why. The study showed that users needed extensive graphic capabilities, not existing in the videoconferencing room. Video was nice to have, but didn't meet the need. The video systems have been enhanced with additional graphics features and the rooms are in constant use. Think of the time and money that could have been saved if a needs assessment had been done prior to installing what someone perceived was the equipment needed.

2. System Design

The system design is based on information obtained during the needs assessment phase. Specific equipment is selected to support the identified needs, and facilities are selected, designed, and constructed. It is important to take into consideration the impacts of acoustics, lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), room location, and furniture selection and placement when implementing videoconferencing. Lack of attention to any of these issues can negatively impact the quality of a videoconference. It is important not to design the system before the needs assessment is completed or to ignore its results. It is not uncommon to hear that an organization installed a particular videoconferencing system because the chief executive officer heard that another organization had the same type of system.

3. System Management

Once the appropriate system is designed it is important to consider how it will be managed. Will users call one central number for reserving the facilities? Will someone be responsible for each site and available at any time to provide assistance to users? System management deals with all aspects associated with reservations and room operations. The videoconferencing system should be easily accessible to all potential users. It is also important to be sure the facilities and equipment operate properly.

Consider developing guidelines for room operations. These guidelines are a ready reference for individuals wishing to use the room and a permanent copy should be placed by the equipment. A separate user guide should be available for participants to take with them.

4. Internal Promotion

An often overlooked problem is how to be sure the system will be used once it is installed. The answer is an active, ongoing promotion campaign. If users are not made aware that a videoconferencing system exists and how it can be used effectively there will be little usage. Users need to be told how and why they can benefit from videoconferencing, and the promotion effort must be ongoing to ensure a continued and growing level of usage.

To do this, consider using a variety of media. People react differently to different types of media. Posters, flyers, memo pads, travel inserts and other print material may appeal to one type of person which another reacts more favorably to computer presentations and videotapes. Hearing about the successes of others often causes people who have not used a system to try it. As users find new applications for the technology, it is important to promote these applications. A promotional effort is closely linked to user training.

5. User Training

Presently, most vendors provide technical, maintenance training and general user training to help users understand how to operate the system. Unfortunately, one important aspect of training is frequently overlooked -- application training. Organizations are repeatedly finding that usage of a videoconferencing system often drops once the initial newness has worn off. Many videoconferencing systems have been installed with one particular application in mind and no forethought given to future uses of the system. Developing potential applications along with conducting a needs assessment will help users prepare for ongoing system use.

6. Usage Tracking

A usage tracking system will provide valuable information for evaluating the effectiveness of a videoconferencing system and for monitoring room and equipment use. This system also will monitor system utilization over a period of time, help to determine system strengths and weaknesses, and gauge user satisfaction.

Information gathered by a usage tracking system also will provide the data to develop justification for the current system and for future expansion.

Consider the following areas of usage tracking:

A successful usage tracking system, with sufficient data collected, will make expansion of a videoconferencing system easier to justify.

7. System Expansion

Based on the success of the initial system, expansion of the system will need to be addressed. The development of a guideline for system expansion is undertaken in this phase. Many organizations have found a guideline particularly useful for educating other organizations about how to successfully implement a videoconferencing system. The guideline not only provides a step-by-step process, but also provides common definitions and suggestions for avoiding potential pitfalls.

A system expansion guideline might contain the following chapters:
It is time for vendors and users to consider all the elements needed for a successful videoconferencing system. Costs are dropping and the number of applications is increasing. Using videoconferencing is an advantage, because it improves the ability to meet, wherever and whenever. S. Ann Earon is President of Telemanagement Resources International Inc. (TRI), Manahawkin, N.J., a 23 year old management consulting firm specializing in marketing, communications, and training with an emphasis on all aspects of teleconferencing (audio, audiographics/multimedia, video and streaming).