Builder outsources collaboration

There was a time, not six months ago, that Darren Soltes would cringe at the notion of having to resort to e-mail as a professional, urbane communication tool in the workplace. Soltes wanted to work together, to pool resources and act as a team in real-time.

As vice-president of business development for Homes by Avi, a medium-sized building company in Alberta, Soltes is often on the road between Calgary and Edmonton, or flying to the company’s newest offices in Austin, Tex.

“Being in Calgary most of the time, when something happens in Edmonton I had to find a way to troubleshoot problems we were working on together,” said Soltes.

Earlier this year Allstream, a division of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., bundled together a suite of collaboration tools and offered to host the services. Soltes was warmed by the Microsoft fire inside the suite’s belly.

“We’re basically an HP (for our data centre) and Microsoft house,” said Soltes. “Office Communicator integrates easily with Outlook — I can see who’s online from within Outlook — and provides everything I need: audio conference and video streaming, live meetings where I’m able to share whiteboards and desktops, and I can save the entire [instant messaging] chat.

“The best of all is the sense of presence Communicator gives. I can just get things done.

“We have 30 show homes all across Alberta and I’m able to communicate in real-time with our other offices and our customers.”

Soltes also enjoys the feel of the environment and the attitude of professionalism. “Before this, we only had e-mail. Communicator has brought back the human touch.

“People weren’t even writing ‘Dear’ in e-mails anymore, everything’s written in lower case; e-mail has become cold and the tone is often misconstrued,” said Soltes.

Combining audio and video, Soltes now relishes the high quality of online, collaborative conferencing. His choice of Web-cam is Logitech’s QuickCam Orbit, with a retractable one-foot stand and sensor-fitted roaming eye. “I can even have the camera zoom in for close-ups,” said Soltes.

Soltes added that he had skirted with the idea of using WebX publishing software for online presentations, but he had chosen Office Communicator for its Microsoft integration and functionality. Security was also a major factor in selecting Communicator.

According to Angela Hlavka, vice-president of strategic solution development at Allstream, the Allstream suite contains nine layers of protection.

Hlavka was confident that enterprise instant messaging would displace e-mail as the preferred communications package.

“We’re really at the edge of a revolution,” said Hlavka, “and what’s made that possible is the advances in security. The encryption issues around enterprise firewalls have been solved. The need for a virtual private network to encrypt data has been eliminated.”

The Sharepoint Web portal, a team meeting place where documents can be checked in and out, effectively replaces large, unmanageable e-mail attachments and can also house a calendar and contact list.

For a hosted live meeting environment, the Communications Server can carry up to 24 users at once in the IM environment.

QuickLink: 059313

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