Video conferencing system provides reliable, green communications to multi-site university system

Hosted video conferencing has enabled effective, time-saving communications for the multi-site California state university system.

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Video conferencing is providing organizations across the globe with a green solution that reduces the need for corporate travel. Many organizations of late have introduced company-wide travel bans to counter the soaring cost of air travel and hotel stays -- but organizations that have multiple office locations and remote workers still need employees to meet frequently. Video conferencing allows employees to meet regularly, in a virtual face-to-face environment, eliminating the need for frequent travel in many instances.

California State University (CSU), Fresno, needed a solution that would allow administrators, professors and students to communicate effectively across various geographical locations. Travel, even driving from site to site, can consume large amounts of valuable time and is increasingly expensive with the price of gas soaring. The university's original goal was to make faculty and experts accessible to students and the wider community, which had in the past proven to be a challenge.

Dr. Timothy M. Stearns, holder of the Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies and executive director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CSU Fresno, thought video conferencing could be a viable solution but needed a system that could reliably support multi-party interactions at an affordable price. He decided the Lyles Center would focus on deploying desktop video conferencing capabilities to enhance remote learning (e-learning) and allow research to be reviewed face to face.

"Our role," Stearns explained, "is to assist faculty, staff and students in their pursuit of entrepreneurship and innovation, and to extend this ethos into the community. With a multi-acre campus and links into local colleges across our region, we're focused on finding innovative ways to better achieve this outcome."

Having assessed multiple systems, the Lyles Center at CSU Fresno eventually opted for Avistar Communications Corp.'s fully outsourced hosted video collaboration service. One of the key selling points for Stearns was the hosted structure, which allows infrastructure management and technical support to be fully offloaded. The price was also right, with the cost per seat, per month averaging no more than a smartphone.

Entrepreneurship education is unique, in that many students are not just completing coursework, but are also required to start and run their own ventures as class projects. A student who has a full course load would find it difficult to also juggle the travel and meetings needed to support his entrepreneurial pursuits. The key to ensuring success for students and the whole university community is effective communication.

Stearns said he believes video conferencing is an essential tool in building a community that supports entrepreneurship, noting, "Effective communication is fundamental to delivering quality in education, and our video conferencing system closes the gap between instant, yet inadequate email or phone interaction and desirable, yet time-consuming in-person meetings that usually require travel. The social network that it facilitates allows educators to improve their effectiveness."

The Lyles Center now operates 50 Avistar seats, enabling University staff to meet face to face and collaborate on data through multiparty calls that are connected with a single click. This has created new efficiencies, improved social interaction and reduced travel needs and costs. It also directly supports the university's educational mission. Students working on a research project within a group do not have to extensively analyze each other's schedules to find an agreeable meeting time. Desktop video conferencing capabilities allow students (and faculty) to participate in effective meetings without having to travel to campus and find an open room. Without all the time spent in transit, meetings can be more productive and convenient.

With Avistar Communications' desktop video conferencing, Stearns saw the ability to achieve high-quality communication between multiple parties -- without hassle. Information can be gathered or disseminated with the efficiency that is inherent to face-to-face communication. Video conferencing capabilities support quicker decision making, and keep key staff fully in touch, regardless of their location.

Keeping travel to a minimum with video conferencing is what Avistar Communications chief marketing officer Stephen Epstein lauds as the basis for the company's "Green Workday" initiative. The goal of the program is to reduce travel by having employees not commute for one day per week, and instead use video conferencing to communicate with colleagues and clients. Doing so, Epstein says, will reduce harmful carbon emissions by up to 20%.

While more and more enterprises are embracing eco-friendly technology and instituting 'green' corporate policies, Stearns said the Lyles Center at CSU Fresno did not originally choose the Avistar Communications' solution for its environmental benefits, but instead considers the solution's eco-friendliness an added benefit to a solution that is already receiving high marks.

This was first published in October 2008

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