Friday, November 23

HALO Video Conferencing - a review

In the past 15 odd years, I have seen perhaps about 25 odd corporate video conferencing systems. This is excluding the professional media video conferencing systems. They have ranged from the dinky desktop ones to ones which have a whole big unit sitting under a big TV, a gigantic Boeing 747 cockpit sizes remote control, etc. etc.

I have spent literally millions on these systems and frankly, if you asked me how much benefit I got out of it? I would have said that I got about 2 out of 10 and reduced perhaps 1 trip out of 1000. There were many complaints on these systems. That you had to be seated just right, too fiddly to setup, many times they would not work, it felt too formal, couldn't do it for more than 1-2 hours at a stretch, impossible to read fine emotions, etc.

But since the few months ago, I have been exposed to what I would call as the HP HALO system which we are currently implementing across the firm. I have been meaning to write a review since the beginning of the year ever since Aaman mentioned product reviews, but there you have it. It is a video conferencing system, but the difference is like that between the old rotary fixed line Bakelite phones and a modern mobile phone.

It needs a special room in every location, usually about 12 feet by 20 feet, tastefully done up in a neutral beige colour. All rooms have exactly the same decor, lighting, colour, layout, etc. You walk in and you are faced with a slightly curved table, sort of like a half of an oval table, capable of seating 6 people, in blocks of two each.

Facing you are 3 flat screens in a row, a tilted screen on top of the middle one. There is a camera on top of each of the 3 screens in a row and one on top of the desk (recessed inside the ceiling). The table has recessed microphones, connections for laptops (which can be used to display on the tilted screen). The camera on the ceiling can be used to show stuff that you draw on the table.

So you can effectively have a video conference with multiple locations (four maximum), with multiple channels, different time zones, for hours on end and not feel tired. I have done 2 days at a trot and it was ok. Don't get me wrong, it is not cheap, but frankly, if it doesn't pay off in a matter of months, then you do not have control over your travel budget. It saves a heck of a lot on CO2 emissions, tension, operational risk, etc. etc. See what the clients are saying.

And you feel just with them. You see life sized images. You joke, kid, move around, be very natural. Instead of having to move very slowly otherwise the image will blur, etc. etc. I think it has made an huge impact on senior management. On an average, I would waste 50 hours per week on avoidable commuting time (taxi to and fro airport, airport time, etc., excluding normal London commuting time).

Even if I can replace 20% of that wastage, then I have gained 1 full working day in the office (roughly!). The chaps have great business cases, so they can work out the savings for you. Just a word of warning, you need loads of training, communications and senior management pushes to make sure that people use it, if not, then it is a nuclear powered paper clip. Best is to start with top management meetings and then get them to action to push them down. That's what we did, got the top management hooked and then slowly moved down the chain.

But then, its very futuristic. See here for what I compared this with very favourably. If you can get away with it, do get a demo at least.

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