And though the idea of conferences is nothing new to Pizzeria Uno, the video component they now have through AccuConference is easing business communications on several fronts, according to Alan LaBatte, Uno's vice president of information systems.
In the past, Uno had used AT&T Conferencing as an operator-assisted conference tool, but that option offered little hands-on management of conferences without an operator's help, and it proved costly.
"We had been doing audio conferencing for a long time before we started with AccuConference," LaBatte said. "We originally went to AccuConference because of cost savings. We were looking for a more economical way to do our audio conferencing."
Along with saving money, LaBatte said, Pizzeria Uno wanted more control over the management of conferences, something the company didn't have with AT&T. He said the company wanted to have greater control over when conferences start, who can join, and what other materials can be used without having to rely on operator assistance for use of features and functions. Now, he said, calls and videoconferences can be created through a Web interface.
"It was much more cost effective for us to run our calls on our own without an operator and use the Web tool that allows the conference moderator to take questions and manage the whole call process," LaBatte said. Along with adding some question-and-answer features, video capabilities also let call participants and moderators implement other visuals -- PowerPoint presentations and other graphics.
"In the past, they were strictly audio calls," he said.
More recently, Uno began including actual video for calls. The company now does two monthly video calls, one culinary lead call moderated by the executive chef, and a bar lead conference call moderated by the director of beverage. In addition, there are daily calls, operations calls, and quarterly investor relations calls. Some videoconferences can have more than 200 participants.
LaBatte said that having 200 end users relying heavily on the real-time essence of video caused some concern that the company's current bandwidth would not support so many concurrent video sessions. But those fears have subsided.
"There was concern that we don't have enough bandwidth in all of our locations to get the type of quality video that we would like," he said. "We're working on some things to up the bandwidth in some of our restaurant locations."
Bandwidth considerations aside, LaBatte said that the videoconference system requires very little management overhead.
"We're using this over our regular network connection that we have in all of our restaurant locations," he said. "There was nothing specifically done … to do this. It's really just utilizing the network that's already in place for other reasons and using it for Web and videoconferencing."
Although he can't put a concrete number on the cost savings achieved since switching to AccuConference, LaBatte pointed out that it is cheaper than the former AT&T solution and also saves time. And time is money.
"It became a feasible way of doing these kinds of events for the restaurants," he said. "Certainly, we saved over what we were paying using the AT&T service when we were doing the audio conferencing, and the … price that we pay now is much lower."
In many cases, a videoconferencing solution is difficult to quantify with ROI, according to Jim Black, AccuConference's CEO and president.
"It's hard for them to put a price on what they're gaining because it's putting everybody on the same page," Black said.
LaBatte added: "It's important that we do communicate to everyone and they're all hearing the message at one time and it doesn't need to be repeated. Certainly, there are time savings of doing it with the conference calls."
Being Web-based, LaBatte said, the system allows users to attend conferences from home, a hotel or any other location.
"It's the ability to communicate with these large groups of people in really an economical way where we can do calls with 200 people or more and do that in a cost-effective way, and do it one time rather than communicating these messages over and over in smaller groups," he said.
In the few years Pizzeria Uno has been using enhanced videoconferences, LaBatte said, user feedback has been positive.
"Originally it was just the audio, then the Web and now it's video," he said. "The video is by far the most well-received feature of the conference call. It really allows for that visual effect that takes place by having the executive chef actually cook something or show something on the videocast that everyone can see and actually take questions and answers. That live interaction with someone is fantastic."
Black said AccuConference allows end users to customize their systems, letting them add features they want, whether they be recording or other functions.
"We gave the tools to a company like [Pizzeria Uno] so they didn't have to have a dedicated operator on the line all the time," Black said. "And we gave them the ability to run a call with 200 folks with questions and answers where you could hear everyone speaking when they needed to speak."
This was first published in July 2007