Total Produce is one of Europe’s premier fresh food producers, operating across more than 100 locations in Ireland, the UK and the continent. Its annual turnover is €2.5bn.
The company was already well used to videoconferencing as a practical alternative to the cost involved in travelling, not to mention the journey time for executives for what could sometimes be very short meetings. “We had been using it for years because we are very spread out across Europe. We had it so long that it was time to look at our videoconferencing strategy,” explains Joe Fallon, IT director with Total Produce. The choice was to pay several thousand euro for videoconferencing units in each office or to evaluate internet or cloud-based video services.
A service delivered via the cloud removes the need to invest in expensive hardware or software licensing and the service can be used on demand. Telecoms charges are very reasonable and are applied on a per user basis according to usage. “I was a little bit sceptical, but we tried it out and it worked a treat,” says Fallon. Total Produce deliberately opted to take a gradual approach to adopting the new videoconferencing system throughout the company, says Fallon. Positive word of mouth rather than managerial order will determine when people decide to upgrade, he adds, since this will increase its chances that it will be positively received and widely used.
Having evaluated several options, Total Produce chose CompleteView from Complete Telecom, the managed network and telecoms services provider. This service uses the internet to deliver videoconferencing to any PC, Mac or high-definition in-room system. According to Fallon, the system is simple to set up and users can be easily added or removed. Currently, Total Produce has four sites in Ireland actively using the system, along with eight locations across the UK and others in Holland, Sweden and Italy. The company expects to extend the service to 15 locations by year end. As part of the agreement, whenever Total Produce wants to add a new site, Complete Telecom guarantees a turnaround time of eight business hours, without IT input, lengthy implementation timescales or up-front cost.
The company has made significant savings in travel costs and boosted staff productivity in the sites that have already been using CompleteView. Unlike the previous videoconferencing system, which needed three ISDN lines per site and also involved the costs of a call to the country in question, the CompleteView system is priced per minute, per participant. The older systems also required separate conference rooms, whereas now the equipment connects easily to a standard laptop.
Total produce has a software development team based in Birmingham and while Fallon still visits regularly in person, the videoconferencing system makes contact much easier and more frequent. “We can manage better, as opposed to just cost saving,” is how he describes it. “We get information quicker and if there’s a problem, we can have a conversation with the group within minutes.”
There were a few initial snags with the video equipment, as different types of microphones and speakers sometimes led to echo on calls. “Once we standardised on the camera and a small, integrated speaker and microphone that connects to the USB slot, with that the problems disappeared,” says Fallon.
Neil Wisdom, sales director with Complete Telecom, points out that while using video in place of face-to-face meetings requires a cultural shift in organisations, there are not only cost benefits and but improved business continuity even in the face of recent airline disruptions or unforeseen events that restrict travel.
Fallon adds that the call and video quality on CompleteView is of a higher standard than free online tools, which wouldn’t have been suitable in a business environment. “You don’t get clipping on motion and sound like you do with the free conferencing systems, and you don’t have to ask six people to hang up and then restart the call. If that’s happening, it’s unacceptable. The quality is very impressive. Obviously, it depends on your bandwidth but I’ve even done calls from home over a DSL connection,” he says. “I wanted it to be that you just click on it, and it just works.”