Julie was beaming as she entered the restaurant and walked to my table. “Great to see you, it’s been a while!”
“Yes it has”, I said, “we’ve left it too long. How are you doing? What’s new?”
In addition to successfully completing a major installation, she was thrilled that she was now able to work more collaborativelly with the other half of her team in Calgary. When they’re doing white boarding in Toronto, the folks in Calgary can now see what’s going on, they’re not just staring at a speakerphone on their end. “Aha, so your customer finally sprung for a video conferencing room,” I said. “Nope”, she replied. “They’re letting you use Skype?”, I guessed. “Heavens, no! The machines are locked down, we couldn’t install it if we wanted to, and anyways it’s non-standard software”, she said, “but what I’ve got works just as well, and it doesn’t matter what meeting room I’m in. Let me explain”
Her solution was rather simple, making use of inexpensive off-the-shelf products. Here’s how it worked.
At the Toronto end, the meeting room required a conference phone, a network connection, a laptop/PC and a video camera. At the Calgary end, everything but the camera is required. The camera wasn’t anything fancy, it was in fact a rather aged Logitech laptop video cam. And she had collaborative meeting software (GoToMeeting, but WebMeeting or Webex will also do). Enable the video cam. Point the camera at the whiteboard. Select as large a window as possible to fill the laptop screen with the videocam picture and still maintain clarity. Start a web meeting at the Toronto end, have the other participants join in the meeting. Share the desktop. Enable the conference bridge on the telephone. The participants accept the meeting, you’re in business. If there are several attendees in a meeting room, connect the PC to a projector and it’s almost like they’re actually there.
Hmmm, I commented, now if you had only two sites in the meeting, you could video conference between the two sights by building a second instance of this setup, but reversing the Toronto/Calgary roles, the receiver now becoming the originator for the first site. And, because the equipment is not bolted to the ceiling or the table like in a special video conference room, you could do this from any meeting room where you had a network connection. Very interesting!
Julie continued, “And, with this little camera, every time we’re on GoToMeeting, I can pan the camera around the room and let the attendees see who is at that end. I can give the other end control, they can turn their camera around the room, and we can see who’s there. It helps team building, putting a face to the name. Yes, Skype would be simpler, but…”
Lesson learned – be creative, use a lot of simple components that you probably already have, just put them together to make it work.
“And look at my new iPhone”, Julie said, ” I can make a video phone call, just like the Jetson’s cartoon. Amazing, we often have stuff for ourselves that’s so hard to get for the office. Anyways, let’s eat. What’s good here?”