Toronto firm cuts conference call costs with OCS

The distributed approach to projects at Toronto-based engineering firm Morrison Hershfield Corp. is markedly different from the on-premise, single-office tack of previous years. A recent move to unified communications technology has eliminated a monthly $3,000 conference call bill and allowed the firm to harness internal talent.


With 15 offices and 700 staff across North America, the company offers engineering services for infrastructure like roads, buildings and cell-phone towers. In recent years, undertaking larger projects required that the work be more widely distributed across geographical locations from a client and internal skills perspective, said Alec Lorentiu, associate and director of information technology and corporate administration.


“When you have a project meeting with a client who is 1,000 miles way, you’re not going to fly the project team to the project site necessarily,” said Lorentiu.


Using internal talent across the firm’s multiple locations also meant that external skills would not have to brought in following a lengthy process of sourcing and interviewing, said Lorentiu. Being highly responsive and flexible towards clients, he said, is a huge benefit to the business.


“If you’ve got a resource (internally) and he’s available to join the project in three days, your response time changes dramatically,” said Lorentiu.


Morrison Hershfield worked with Toronto-based CMS Consulting Inc. to deploy Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS), followed by Microsoft Office Communicator in 2009.


Lorentiu estimates that through live meetings, video conferencing and instant messaging, the firm saves $50,000 to $100,000 a year in air fares, hotel and a third-party conferencing service.


Alex Chan, vice-president of business development with CMS Consulting, said Morrison Hershfield is not unlike other organizations looking to get efficiency out of their staff by deploying new technologies like instant messaging and videoconferencing.


While stagnation and fear of costs can make organizations reluctant to deploy “full-blown” OCS, customer interest is piqued by the collaboration channels the platform offers, said Chan. “But they find a huge draw to look at instant messaging as a communication tool that saves time and energy playing voicemail tag and can cut travel costs and add a more human element,” he said.


Health care, too, appears to be coming onboard OCS, said Chan, given the workers’ irregular hours and diversity of location.


Lorentiu admits the change to unified communications and distributed projects hasn’t been without cultural challenges. While the collaborative capabilities have seen quick uptake among the younger engineers, he said the older generation initially fretted over having to manage the scattered manpower. Plenty of lunch-and-learns, training and sharing individual success stories helped, said Lorentiu.


Up next, Morrison Hershfield is looking into outfitting video cameras in meeting rooms and integrating clients’ third-party vendor technology with OCS.


Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau 

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