Video conferencing removes barriers
In keeping with AU’s commitment to removing barriers, increased use of video conferencing is allowing AU staff members and other stakeholders to reach out with ease and comfort, while providing major savings from both budgetary and environmental standpoints.
Computing Services director Dave Hrenewich is excited about the new equipment that has been brought on board. “Because we are a distance organization with a distributed workforce, it is essential that we have a way to enhance our collaborative and communication capabilities,” he said.
AU has advanced from relying exclusively on face-to-face meetings, to audio conferencing, and now to the convenience of video conferencing. The use of SmartBoard technology, which allows participants not only to view presentations but also to collaborate in making them, has been another factor in this transition.
The opportunity to reduce travel costs is important, Hrenewich said, pointing to several features of the new equipment, such as the ability to screen presentations at multiple sites, and enhanced meeting capabilities (including both verbal and nonverbal communication) as factors in making travel for face-to-face meetings unnecessary.
Chief information officer Brian Stewart reports that video conferencing is now being used in about 20 per cent of AU meetings, and that percentage is expected to rise. Executive meetings are now held twice monthly via video conference and university departments are using the system for budget meetings.
Saving time and money
Even greater savings can be realized on international meetings. When university president Dr. Frits Pannekoek took part in a video conference with participants in Malaysia, for example, considerable time and money were saved. Other international connections have been made with parties in Indonesia, Puerto Rico and throughout Europe and the U.S., and still others are planned.
The system now in use is from WestGrid, one of seven high performance computing consortia in Canada. AU is a WestGrid partner institute. A fully integrated system, including multiple screens, has been installed in the President’s Boardroom at AU Athabasca, and a second system, in Room 1112 of the Peace Hills Trust Building at AU Edmonton (now known as the WestGrid Room), will be fully operational by the end of March or early April.
All 12 AU video conferencing units, ranging from small units that can be rolled in on a cart to the fully integrated systems, are Tandberg systems. They are located at AU Athabasca, AU Calgary, AU Edmonton and at the Centre for Integrated Management in St. Albert. Two additional units will be installed in the Portable Office Complex in Athabasca and the Focus Building boardroom at AU Edmonton.
A total of six SmartBoards are available among the three primary AU locations, and work to provide even more functionality is ongoing. When the Academic Research Centre is completed, AU’s video conferencing system will be expanded to include that building as well.
AU is also helping other organizations to reduce travel and time costs. For example, Alberta Pacific Forestries (Al-Pac) in Athabasca now uses AU’s system for quarterly communications with its office in Asia, and AU receives revenue for providing them access to the system. An unexpected benefit of hiring out the system in the President’s Boardroom is increased brand recognition for AU, since the AU logo is prominently displayed around the world when meetings are based in Athabasca.