Conferencing bridges distances

When Fusepoint Managed Services, a managed Web hosting and IT infrastructure service provider, opened its second office in Mississauga, Ont., in 2002, the firm’s 90 employees suddenly found themselves spread out across Canada with thousands of kilometres between them and no way to meet face-to-face like they used to when they all worked at the firm’s Vancouver location.

That’s when finding a software tool that would enable employees to share information quickly with their colleagues in other parts of the country turned into a top priority, said Stephen McWilliam, Fusepoint’s manager, partnerships and alliances.

Almost half of the employees remained in Vancouver, while the rest relocated to the Toronto area, with a few moving to Montreal.

“Between our technical people in Vancouver and our executive team in Toronto, we needed open communication on almost a perpetual basis,” he said. Employees needed a virtual collaboration tool that wouldn’t force them to sacrifice the personal nature of an in-person meeting — especially in training or internal meeting scenarios.

Being a high-tech company, Fusepoint’s employees were not shy about trying new technologies, and they began experimenting with different collaboration tools. “Everyone had their own favourite tool,” said McWilliam. Some preferred Microsoft’s NetMeeting because it was “something people understood and was free.” Others tried Genesys Conferencing’s integrated Web, voice and video conferencing services, or WebEx Communications Inc.’s Web and video conferencing offerings.

For the sake of simplicity, Fusepoint decided to pick one conferencing tool and stick with it. “We ended up dumping NetMeeting because it was too tough to work with our security system …. We had people not being able to log in; we got hung up on firewalls,” McWilliam explained.

He said the firm also wanted to train its employees in only one technology instead of having to deal with different tools. “Speed is important to us; we can’t spend the first five minutes of every meeting teaching someone how to use a tool.” There were many new employees coming onboard at the time as well, so the ability to archive virtual conferences was another key feature Fusepoint was looking for.

McWilliam said Fusepoint found those features in Genesys Meeting Center, an integrated conferencing platform that combines audio, video and Web conferencing into a single interface.

Tony Terranova, Genesys’ vice-president of product marketing, called the tool a “truly integrated product” in comparison to some of its competitors. “If you look at some audio conferencing companies, they have to partner with (Web conferencing providers) to get the Web portion” of the meeting. “They are two different platforms — they require different passwords to get in, and if you need help you need to go to different help desks.”

Likewise, online conferencing providers supply the Web portion of the meeting, but not the audio. “When you think of a meeting, you think of both the audio and Web portion. At Genesys, it’s one meeting, and should be considered as one integrated meeting.” Once they set up an account, users receive an e-mail, as well as a card and user guide, a dedicated toll free and local number, and a link to the Web where they can start their conferencing session. The system is reservationless, meaning the user can access the account 24/7, Terranova said.

When Fusepoint employees meet for training, they now have a PowerPoint presentation open concurrently with Genesys Meeting Center. “Everyone is looking at it as we’re annotating it in real time,” McWilliam said.

“The feedback we get is that it makes so much more sense than e-mailing a presentation and saying, ‘Now go to the next slide.’”

Fusepoint’s salespeople have also latched onto the conferencing tool. To bring its partners and customers up to speed on its services, the firm has two choices: “We either have to have a perpetual road show or some other communication tool,” McWilliam said.

Choosing online meetings for initial partner and customer education sessions has saved Fusepoint both money and time. “If I had to go and do road shows all the big eight cities in Canada, it would take two weeks, but by Web I could do it in an hour…Now we’re using those travel dollars not to do training and internal meetings and demos; we’re using them to do business.”

McWilliam said the technology will not replace face-to-face meetings. “People do business with people and at some point there has to be a face-to-face meeting, but this is just a means of making that face-to-face more productive.”

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