Connect The Spots: Tech Keeps Far-Flung Staff in Touch

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DALLAS-Advancial Credit Union employees have every reason to feel isolated from one another. The workforce of 150 is spread across four states, from here to Alaska.

But Advancial employees are actually strongly connected, courtesy of a cloud-based videoconferencing service that brings the 13 branches together simultaneously and cost $13,000.

Over high-def video, Houston employees share documents and collaborate at whim with employees in Alaska, said Laurelle Campbell, director of employee development at the $900-million CU.

"And we're using videoconferencing interactively by sharing desktops in committee meetings," she said. "We can annotate and save PowerPoint presentations or Internet pages to make them better. I can remote in with staff, see where they need to be coached, and help move a transaction forward."

Advancial deployed the videoconferencing solution, provided by San Diego-based Nefsis, in less than two weeks in November, 2010. "All you need is a server and any $99 USB webcam in each location, and you're up and running," said Craig Sheffield, Advancial IT business systems analyst. Audio is delivered via ACU's VoIP.

The results are "engaging," Campbell said. Remote employees can video in to the annual employee meeting at the Dallas House of Blues. Each remote group of employees is displayed on-screen at the meeting, and the meeting is, in turn, shown to the remote sites. For the House of Blues meeting, Advancial uses $250 digital camcorders plugged into laptops that host the videoconference.

To launch any type of meeting, employees click a desktop icon. The meeting is run by Nefsis web-based software and hosted by an ACU virtual server. Invitees join by clicking an e-mailed hyperlink.

Since the videoconferences rely on the "massive" network of Nefsis computers around the world, Advancial is spared the expense and trouble of installing the hardware required for multipoint, high-def videoconferencing, according to Tom Toperczer, VP-marketing, Nefsis. Such hardware includes including multichannel units, video-routers and gateway servers.

Advancial spent about $13,000 for Nefsis high-def, multipoint capabilities, said Sheffield. Other hardware-based vendors quoted into the six figures, he said.

"Nefsis balances a three-way tightrope," Toperczer explained. End-to-end parallel processing software brings to bear the core processing power for each user machine; and each branch's available bandwidth to deliver smooth video display of multiple employees and presentations. "If remote branches don't have the bandwidth for high-def, Nefsis scales it back to something usable."

Employees can click into routine meetings without leaving their desk. They can see and be seen "Brady Bunch-style" by every other attendee. "Everyone is saying 'Hi' to the up, to the down, to the left and to the right," Campbell said.

During videoconferences, trainers can see trainee body language, which helps indicate whether they are bored or confused, said Campbell. "And trainees now see they're all in the same boat and are willing to ask questions and talk to each other about their learning."

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