The construction industry has been particularly hard hit by the recession in the last few years. First residential construction slowed then commercial projects started dropping off. Fortunately, like many other segments of the economy, the construction industry is beginning to recover, albeit slowly.

Construction can fall under many different categories. It can consist of building single-family homes one at a time or it could be building out huge housing developments with hundreds of units. On the commercial side, it could be a single office building or a skyscraper full of new offices. Whatever the project at hand is, the process requires many of the same steps. Initial drafting and design, client review, project management, construction, billing, punch lists and more.

Many construction organizations are turning to video conferencing and unified communications solutions to help streamline the process. For many of these organizations, this technology has become another tool in the overall construction of any new project. There are several key areas that are particularly helpful for a construction organization when using video conferencing:

Initial Project Design and Review
During the early phases of any construction project architectural blueprints are created to outline the overall project. These plans are extremely detailed and created by a highly skilled architect. Reviewing these documents used to require in-person meetings or expensive shipping of large document tubes around offices. Now, thanks to high-definition video and document cameras, these plans can no only be reviewed in-depth over video but annotated and revised.

Connect with Remote Construction Sites
It’s not abnormal for a company to have multiple projects in progress across the country and the world. Keeping in touch with multiple sites can become time consuming and cost prohibitive. Video, especially with smartphones and tablets, allows the main office to easily check in with remote teams. Additionally, thanks to the portability of these devices, it is possible to “walk” around a construction site with the PM to review progress and address any potential issues. Video can also be utilized to connect the architect back into the project for any revisions or clarification of a project design.

Customer Review
For home builders working directly with customers it is important to deliver a first class service experience. Customers who are building or renovating a home have a lot of decisions to make. Once they have decided on the layout of their home, they need decide on even the smallest of details like the door knobs! Video kiosks can be setup in model homes to provide customers with additional information and allow them to connect back to the home office as well as any vendors involved. Imagine how powerful it would be if your customer has questions about a particular countertop and you could connect them right to a product expert at the manufacturer!

Within any industry, video conferencing can provide many additional advantages. Travel cost reduction and increases in productivity can be realized across all areas of a construction organization. With a fragile recovery in place, providing the best customer experience and keeping costs down will result in projects that are on time and more profitable.

Additional Resources:
Portable Video Conferencing

Each U.S. city and county is unique in its climate, population, and character. This diversity lends itself to innovative uses of technology by city governments that aim to improve life for its citizens. Metropolitan areas are using video conferencing solutions to create processes that are more efficient, and they are accomplishing this in ways that are as unique as the cities themselves.

Here is a snap shot of some of the ways video is being used in towns throughout the country:

New York, New York: OATH (the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings), is an independent agency that handles disciplinary cases for New York City. Its health tribunal deals with violations to the city’s health code and other laws affecting health. OATH’s main offices are located in Manhattan, so restaurant owners from outer boroughs who receive tickets for violations must travel to the city to have their cases heard. The agency’s commitment to providing fair and timely public hearings led it to seek a more convenient and accessible alternative to these hearings.

OATH opened a Staten Island office to better accommodate Staten Island residents. However, inspectors based in Manhattan still had to travel and were unable to attend if they were busy with other hearings, which resulted in the need to reschedule. Video conferencing technology was the key to making the new Staten Island location convenient for all participants; video was integrated into the hearing, connecting inspectors in Manhattan to a judge and respondent in Staten Island. Based on the success of its video system OATH is now looking to expand the use of video to agency locations in all five boroughs

San Antonio, Texas: The San Antonio Municipal Court offers video conferencing services from an Oak Ridge location to citizens who have received traffic tickets or notices of other violations. Live, interactive video conferences are held with the Judge. Those eligible to use video are those wishing to plead guilty or nolo contentre, choose not to be represented by an attorney, and are prepared to pay fees/fines as ordered by the judge.  “Video court” is offered on a first come, first serve arrangement; no prior scheduling is needed.

City of Orange, New Jersey:  After a suspect is arrested for an indictable offense, The City of Orange Municipal Court holds preliminary proceedings. Preliminary proceedings include arraignment and the setting of bail where appropriate. Video conferencing is now available for use in this arraignment process. When used in this manner, video conferencing creates a safer environment by removing the need to transport prisoners and saving tax payers money in the process.

Nashville, Tennessee: A bill in the final stages of debate in Nashville would allow local school board members of Knox County to attend meetings via video conference. This provision would provide greater flexibility to those board members who otherwise would not have been able to attend meetings because of the need to travel out of the county for work or family emergency. The use of video would allow board members to more easily do their jobs.

San Diego, California: The U.S. Department of the Interior is using video to cut down on its employees’ extensive travel. By increasing the number of meetings that are held over video, the government aims to save on travel costs and reduce its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the route between San Diego and Sacramento ranked as one of the 25 most frequently traveled cities by DOI workers; video is one tool that can create a more efficient process for local government workers to meet.

Kern County, California: Kern County is so large that it can take several hours to get from one area of Kern to another. Now, instead of traveling long distances to get legal questions answered, Kern residents can use the video conferencing system at the Kern County Law Library to speak with law librarians. The library installed a video system that is easy to use, reliable, and high quality to maximize the user’s experience. Based on the positive feedback it has received, the library is looking to expand its video conferencing capability.

Additional Resources:

Video Conferencing & Telepresence Solutions for State and Local Government

The essence of effective project management lies in communication – conveying goals, updates, and other information among the many parties involved.  While the type of projects that need to be coordinated may vary across industries and company departments, all project managers must accomplish set goals within a specific timeframe. To accomplish this, project managers utilize the collaboration tools that are available to get the job done; these include email, instant messaging, and audio conferences.

While these communication devices can work well, projects that utilize video are more likely to be completed on time and on budget. Video is a valuable tool for project managers because it facilitates face-to-face communication among numerous remote parties, often simultaneously. When paired with a managed service that specializes in making video easy to use and reliable from any device, all members of the project team can check-in and meet from almost any location with internet access.

The following are some of the ways actual project managers say they use video to get a job completed on time:

Start the process:  In the beginning of a project, all remote parties join the kick-off call via video. The project manager goes through the proposal with all levels of project staff and stakeholders so that everyone understands and agrees upon the deliverables. In addition, the processes needed for achieving the deliverables can be established. Video helps all parties get better familiar with each other, and establish rapport from the beginning.

Meet with the client: Communication is not only important internally, it is vital to maintaining a good relationship with the client. Video delivers a face-to-face meeting experience, and provides the sense of control clients need to be assured that all is going according to plan. When any issues arise, video aids the discussion, as it can be used in place of an in-person meeting at a moment’s notice.

Access remote experts:  Remote experts and consultants that are needed for additional service, support, or consultation can be readily accessed without the time and expense of flying them to the company or client’s location. Video also facilitates connecting to outside vendors and agencies in multiple locations.

Training: At any point during a project additional training may be needed on equipment or software. Video provides the ability to deliver on-the-spot training to numerous participants at the same time, bypassing the usual scheduling conflicts that arise, and thereby keeping the project on schedule.

Video is a valuable collaboration tool that helps project managers streamline processes and get results.

Effective project management is the hallmark of any organization. Whether its implementation of internal or external projects, proper process and engagement must be followed. The Project Management Institute is an organization that exists solely to advocate for project management and project management professionals. To learn more about gaining certifications and the organization as a whole, visit www.pmi.org.

Shopping can be therapeutic. From browsing clothing chains for the latest fashions to searching for the right tools in do-it-yourself hardware stores, the act of shopping can be relaxing and even fun. Sometimes we shop for things we don’t need because we like the experience; the layout of the store, the decor, or a courteous staff member.

In challenging economic times, brick-and-mortar retailers face more competition than ever, so the pressure is on to stand out from the crowd and get customers back in the door. To get an edge, some retailers are turning to video conferencing solutions on the sales floor or behind the scenes to improve customer service, assist in merchandise management, and enhance internal communication.

Video conferencing, when paired with a cloud-based managed service, creates realistic, in-person meeting experiences that translate well to the retail environment. Retail is all about the face-to-face, personalized exchanges that cannot be replicated with online shopping or catalogs. Video improves the in-store customer and employee experiences in the following ways:

Access to remote staff – A customer in a consumer electronics store may have a question about a new computer software application that can best be answered by an expert in a remote location. Or, the details of a product may need further clarification, but in a different language. Video is the ideal way for customers to get the right answer right away, while not having to leave the store’s premises, or engage in an impersonal audio call with a call center. In addition, the store saves money by not retaining specialized employees at each physical location.

Inventory management – When video is used among employees at disparate corporate locations, internal communication is greatly enhanced. One of the most delicate and important components of any successful retail establishment is an effective strategy for inventory control – keeping the right balance of products in stock at all times. With face-to-face communication among the staff at warehouses, corporate locations and store sites facilitated, there is a real opportunity to create an efficient inventory strategy, and store revenue may increase as a result.

Store connectivity –Employee turnover is a major concern for retailers. In addition, operational efficiencies can make or break any major chain or even mom and pop shop. Video can be used to effectively improve store operations and relations by creating in-person meeting experiences that unite a diverse and dynamic employee base. In addition, video can be used within and between retail branch locations to facilitate team meetings and create new employee incentive programs. Video also can provide headquarters with faster access to sales reports and employee information.

The right video conferencing solution can provide immeasurable benefits to retail establishments looking to gain a competitive advantage and attract customers. When video calls are managed by a third-party that specializes in making video equipment easy to use, the investment in technology quickly pays for itself with the revenue from happy customers that enjoy shopping in your store and keep coming back for their quick shopping fix.

Here we are on the Friday before Father’s Day. In this case, it’s my first Father’s Day as a dad. My son was born just a few months ago and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing being a dad. I have learned so many things since the little guy was born!

  1. Changing a little boy’s diaper requires you to be far more agile than I ever realized.
  2. Diapers are not as foolproof as once thought.
  3. Eight hours of continuous sleep is about as likely to happen as winning the lottery.

Despite these lessons, it has been an absolutely amazing time. What I really didn’t expect though, was how video collaboration would work its way into these early days of parenting. Recently a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, was home watching his recently born child. Said friend was not as “active” of a participant in child care as one would hope and on this particular day his wife was out with friends.

At around 2pm my phone beeps with a text. “Are you around? Help!” I quickly pick up the phone and call him. Apparently, my friend is unable to figure out the finer points of a diaper change. Really? Apparently his wife always handles it and he didn’t think to ask when she went out. So I say, let me show you.  I fire up my iPad and connect to him via video. He’s on his smartphone and I quickly show him (with my son as a model) how to appropriately change a diaper. Crisis averted. Or so I thought.

About an hour later, he calls me back on video. “What about bottles?” Again, I’m dumbfounded.  And because I’m somewhat of a mean guy, I decide I need to share his incompetence with another friend.  So I quickly set-up a cloud meet-me room so the three of us can all meet over video and my other friend can see just how desperate this guy is.  Ha. I’m terrible, I know.  We successfully help him through the bottle and the crisis ends, again.

In all seriousness, it was amazing how video permeated through a casual Saturday at home. It made me realize just how ubiquitous this technology is becoming. I believe the key lesson learned here, for me anyway, is that video gives you the power to stay connected with business colleagues, family, and friends while providing the means of making fun of those you love most!

Happy Father’s Day!