Published in the March 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Interest in Internet telephony (Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP) continues to accelerate exponentially as the technology improves dramatically and the costs continue to decline. Profiled in past issues of TFM, VoIP has the potential for significant positive results in conference center and training room applications.
Business people in general—and corporate employees in particular—are now more mobile than ever before. For many, the workplace can be almost anywhere an employee has access to the Internet, company databases, and telephone service.
“The current culture allows people to free themselves from the office as the only place where they can be productive,” according to Trex Morris, national director of real estate services at New York, NY-based Ernst & Young. The convergence of telecom and computer technologies makes this possible, he concludes.
Technology At Work
With so many employees on the move, it is important for companies to provide secure access to whatever information and technology is needed—wherever it may be needed. What may be more important, however, is the ability of employees to work on their own projects, agendas, and other assignments in conference rooms specially outfitted with integrated computer and communications capabilities. This is where VoIP and WiFi technologies are key.
These same technologies also apply to scheduling remote audio and video conferencing. This can enable employees in many locations to participate in training sessions, conferences, lectures, and other learning opportunities that emanate from a single location.
The culture of corporate mobility and integrated IT and telecom technologies allows facility managers to schedule usage of conference rooms. As a result, corporate office space can be used in an economically beneficial manner. Certain technologies can save companies big dollars and offer an enhanced collection of services at the same time.
For example, OnBoard software from Agilquest, of Richmond, VA, helps manage existing conference and training rooms more efficiently. By monitoring reservations and canceling them in real time when plans are changed, the system frees up rooms that have been put on hold.
In another example, Cisco Systems (which offers the CallManager IP telephony system and converged wireless network products) tested CallManager with OnBoard in its Manhattan offices in the implementation of an integrated workplace. The goal was to determine the costs and benefits of the technology.
The theory was that the benefits of technology networks for productivity, organizational effectiveness, and cost savings could be extended to its real estate assets. Cisco used the term “4th Converged Network” (or “4CN”) to describe this tightly integrated technology and real estate infrastructure of voice, data, video, and real estate.
The theory proved to be true: Cisco reported its potential savings from this combination of technologies could amount to approximately $1 million to $1.4 million annually. The technology would allow the company to reduce the number of shared workspaces by 50% to 60%. According to Cisco, this approach successfully addressed the management of conference rooms, shared offices, moves, and business continuity.
The Return Of Hoteling
Conference room use of VoIP represents, in part, a return to the practice of hoteling. Popular several years ago, this concept allows individuals to share office space with a number of other employees, since many desks are unoccupied at any given time. The return of this concept is in part due to improved technology, but it is driven even more by the accelerating culture of employee mobility.
As an example, Equity Office Properties Trust, a Real Estate Investment Trust based in Boston, MA, now uses a combination of hoteling and traditional office space availability. This arrangement enables its mobile employees (engineers, managers, and the sales force) to operate within a hoteling model; meanwhile, desk dependent employees (receptionists and accountants) retain dedicated office spaces. This system allows employees to plug into any Equity Office network nationally and access their own phone number and e-mail.
Facility managers looking to keep up with these trends need to stay abreast of emerging technology. This will allow them to budget for network expenditures and use existing resources to remain competitive. Here are some important considerations and guidelines:
Assess current network and voice infrastructure. Determine technological, corporate, and business goals for conferencing facilities and solicit the assistance of network convergence specialists. There will need to be a thorough understanding of each element (voice, data, security, virtual private networking, and wide area networking).
Check cabling infrastructure. Base level infrastructure may need to be upgraded to make use of—or even support—these newer technologies efficiently. This may mean an investment in new voice and data cabling, station jacks, and patch panels.
Evaluate network infrastructure. Network related hardware and software upgrades are also an important consideration—one that could ultimately have the greatest impact on staying ahead of the curve. This may also represent the largest cost. Timing is one of the most important elements regarding this type of upgrade. Equipment purchased today has a technological shelf life which may quickly require an upgrade to support a newer technology. Moreover, equipment purchased too late may end up putting the facility at the tail end of the trend.
Test telecom infrastructure. The facility’s telecom infrastructure must have adequate capacity. This is necessary in order to support additional analog voice lines, circuit switched networks, and copper or fiber capacity as the facility’s technology needs grow.
Select the proper security. Security represents little in the way of tangible value until a breach occurs (or worse yet, an event goes undetected for an extended or even unknown period of time). An investment in security, be it physical or voice and data network related, should be carefully approached and calculated in the budgeting and deployment of any system, converged or otherwise.
The use of converged VoIP for conference and training room purposes has great potential. With greater flexibility, potential for productivity gains, and opportunity to maximize Internet resources, the next generation of conference and training centers may help facility managers reduce costs and increased contributions to profitability.
Skorka, an expert in Internet telephony, is senior vice president of New York, NY-based Custom Design Communications, a systems provider with experience installing VOIP systems in a wide range of commercial, industrial, and institutional organizations. For details, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.