Buro Happold is a global engineering consultancy with 27 offices in seven countries. Founded in Bath in south-west England, Buro Happold has 1,500 staff worldwide and has worked on projects ranging from the O2 in London to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
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However, even the most successful business has its issues. For Buro Happold, the distance between offices and time spent travelling between them was causing problems for its workforce.
“Some see it as a standard problem of the work/life balance,” said Jason Kane, IT operations manager for the firm.
“All the commuting, travel, getting to the airport and losing those hours was an issue for us.”
Apart from the personal aspects, the travelling costs were substantial and a lot of engineers' time was spent in transit.
Buro Happold decided it needed to revamp its video conferencing capabilities to give staff some of their time back and make the company more productive. It already had a video system in place, but it was low-definition and, being only room-based, could not helping employees already on the move.
Choosing a supplier
After speaking to a number of vendors, the company opted for Polycom.
“We looked at Cisco and Tandberg before deciding on Polycom,” said Kane.
“We had an office communications server (OCS) but we were just using it for instant messaging so knew it had much more to give.
"The compatibility with OCS ended up being one of the main reasons we went with Polycom.”
Polycom provided Buro Happold with two of its RMX bridges to work as a base platform for the video conferencing service. It then provided every member of staff with their own unique virtual meeting number, meaning they could use the system regardless of location.
“Our employees can use the updated room systems to have a point-to-point call, they can do a direct call from their desk, they can even create a virtual meeting room in a Microsoft Lync window,” said Kane.
“We have provided end points, web cameras and screens with built in web cams and everyone has a headset now.”
More than 90% of staff now use the system. Last month alone, 7,500 calls were made, showing great enthusiasm from employees.
“There has been a ripple effect in adoption,” said Kane. “We have a highly skilled workforce who are often challenging us to move forward.
"With the likes of Skype – that has been around for years – and the fact they have been going to external systems, such as Citrix's GoToMeeting, meant it wasn’t difficult for them to use.
“However, we found the ripple effect because different people in different locations began to use it and the more people who used it, the more were drawn in.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Staff proved keen to use the system in ways they saw fit, rather than what it was designed for.
“The one thing I learned from this experience was in terms of communication and training,” admitted Kane. “If you try and pre-empt how users use the system, they will use it in a different way.”
“We learned that the hard way and had to follow up with a lot of lunchtime briefings, as well as spending a lot of time refining a one-page document explaining how to use it.”
He added: “The technology worked beautifully but getting people to understand how to use it and what it is for, that was the challenge and the one bit of advice I’d give is to prepare for that.”
The benefits seemed to outweigh this one negative though, with the company able to reduce its CO2 emissions, make meetings more efficient and save money in the process.
Now, Buro Happold is looking at extending the Polycom system to mobile devices, enabling employees to use it on iPads and mobile phones, as well as laptops, desktops and the room systems.
“We are trialling the iPad system with a small footprint at the moment, including the CEO, as we do see that as the next big thing,” said Kane. “We are traditionally a BlackBerry house but we are making a shift away because there are hardly any business apps being developed for the devices.”
“When it comes to bring your own device (BYOD) we don’t want to say no, so it is about taking that technology and changing the business to fit with it.”
Apple vs Microsoft
Kane and his team are currently debating whether to get a corporate iPhone contract with Apple or look to Microsoft and its new Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system, available on handsets from the likes of Nokia and HTC.
“With Windows Phone 8 sharing so much with Windows, it is quite appealing and there is no ruling out Microsoft at this stage,” he said.
As well as the mobile device route, Buro Happold are also starting to encourage their partners to use the system as bringing as many parts of the ecosystem onto video conferencing as possible will increase productivity.
“Clients are now required to have Microsoft Lync to work with us and we are immediately seeing the benefits,” said Kane.