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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Want to go green AND save green? Go videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing has become many companies’ preferred meeting method for countless reasons: it’s faster, easier, and saves more money than travelling, especially when it’s only needed for a short time during the day. However, there’s one more advantage to the “virtual meeting” initiative: saving the planet.

Besides its obvious cost cost-related benefits (if you need a refresher on those, please see here), videoconferencing is one of the truly greenest technology on the market. Since its creation, videoconferencing’s primary purpose has been to decrease unnecessary business travel, including distant meetings between employees and/or clients. Although being able to communicate from your respective offices saves companies and individuals both time and money, it also reduces pollution and helps keep the planet clean. Consider this: the average American commutes 18 miles each way to work, and, assuming an average 23.4 miles per gallon in their car, consumes 1.5 gallons of gas per day. This equates to producing over 5,154 pounds of carbon dioxide in just one work week! You can imagine, then, the amount of pollution created by one roundtrip flight or several 2-3 hour car trips per week.

Videoconferencing brings all of the capabilities of a meeting right to you, so your cross-country visits with the corporate office or a new client don’t produce any more energy than what it takes to run your presentation system. Many companies are required to supply the federal, state, or local government with an environmental impact statement outlining their business practices; including videoconferencing capabilities instead of regular business travel further shows your commitment to keeping the environment save and pollutant-free.

Interested to see how your current business plan is impacting the environment (and your bottom line)? Check out the Tandberg Business Advantage Calculator to see what you can save by investing in videoconference technology.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Green A/V technology: saving money and the environment

In recent years, the ‘go green’ concept has revolutionized nearly every industry and has pushed companies to make sometimes drastic changes to their business model, whether it’s adding more eco-friendly products to their offerings or just revamping the way they use waste. Most recently, several of the audio visual industry’s biggest players in lighting, presentation, and wireless communication systems have developed state-of-the-art products and services that help companies decrease their impacts on the environment while still increasing productivity.

One of the largest sources of energy waste for most companies involves their facility lighting. All of us are guilty at one time or another of leaving an empty room’s light on, and many office spaces are actually “overlit”, leading to increased energy costs, higher demands on local energy supplies, and in turn an increase in carbon emissions as more energy is created. Lighting controls integrator Lutron Electronics, for example, created the EcoSystem line that includes occupant sensors to determine when lights are no longer needed in a space, personal lighting controls that allow employees to change their light settings from their PC, and daylight harvesting software that adjusts electric lighting based upon the amount of sunlight in the room.

Draper Inc., a solar control and projection screen manufacturer, produces screens made from GreenGuard certified materials that do not release potentially harmful chemicals into the air over the course of time. Although these fabrics were originally created for use in schools, they work well in any office space, especially where employees may have asthma or strong allergies. Using a projection system in lieu of a large monitor or LCD panel also helps decrease energy usage because projectors take less electricity to run and are more likely to be shut off by employees once a presentation is completed. Even digital signage solutions are becoming more energy-efficient: many monitor manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi, are creating panels with built-in scheduling features that allow their operation to be put on a timer to prevent them from running constantly.

So how exactly do “green” technology products benefit the environment? The US Department of Energy reports that generating 1 Megawatt hour of energy leads to the burning of 810 pounds of coal and releases over 1 ton of carbon dioxide. Commercial lighting also produces heat that, in summer months or warm climates, must be replaced with cool air by the air conditioner. With more sensitive lighting control and less light usage, the space’s air conditioner works less and also uses less energy. And that’s not all: studies have shown that being able to control their own lighting surroundings can increase employees’ productivity by up to 7 percent.

Cutting your energy usage saves you money, too. Besides using less energy and therefore incurring less costs from the energy company, decreasing energy consumption during peek demand hours may actually earn you rebates from your energy company. This practice can also help prevent blackouts, similar to the one experienced in the Northeast region of the country in 2003. And nothing impedes productivity more than an electricity shortage! It’s not difficult to get your company on the road to greener practices (and pastures): all it takes is a little commitment and the right AV equipment, and you’ll be a regular Captain Planet in no time!

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Service and maintenance contracts: a look at why they're worth every penny

When you make the decision to add or upgrade audio-visual equipment for your business, it’s no secret that you’re making a considerable investment of your company’s hard-earned capital. Naturally, you’d want to protect that investment and receive the greatest return as possible. For this reason, some systems integrators (such as electronic evolutions, for example) offer extended service or maintenance agreements on their products and services that can save you hundreds, if not thousands, on repair costs. But as budgets dwindle and the value of every dollar spent comes under scrutiny, you might be feeling tempted to decline purchasing or renewing these programs for your own equipment; however, doing so can be much more costly than you think.

In the A/V industry, there are typically two types of contracts offered: service contracts and maintenance contracts. Service contracts cover repairs, replacement equipment, or any issues that stem from installation or technology problems; maintenance contracts, on the other hand, typically provide preventative measures, such as routine equipment cleaning and testing or systems calibration. Because each contract supports different issues and routine maintenance by a professional can sometimes prevent problems, it’s recommended to invest in both.

Maybe you’re skeptical of the actual value of an A/V service agreement, so let’s take a look at an example: at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, you go to your boardroom to prepare your set-up for tomorrow’s big meeting when you notice that your projector has stopped working. The meeting in question is at 8:30 am Wednesday morning, and you need that projector up and running for your sales presentation. So you call your A/V installer and ask them to fix the problem. Two service technicians arrive at 5 pm, rental projector in hand. After spending 30 minutes on the phone with tech support, it is determined that your projector is in working order, but your video source is not. This non-standard problem requires the techs to be at your site for 6 hours to fix the problem and install the loaner projector while yours is sent to the manufacturer for repairs.

Now, assuming these industry-standard charges from the installer for labor and materials, let’s take a look at your total bill:

Rush Service Charge (equip. needed within 8 hours; $250/hr/tech): $3000
After hours fee (after 6 pm, $200/hr/tech): $2400
Shipping fees for repaired projector: $240
Rental fee for loaned projector ($235/day, 3 day minimum, plus overnight shipping): $705
Unit repair (warranty expired): $1200
Re-Install of repaired projector ($125 1st hour, $95/hr/tech 2+ hrs): $600*

Total amount with no service contract: $7675

*This assumes that it will only require one technician and only 6 hours, before 6 pm, for re-install.

Wow, that’s a lot of cash for one faulty projector! Now, let’s assume instead that you were proactive and enacted a service agreement on your projector and take a look at your costs:

Unit repair (warranty expired): $1200

Total amount with service contract: $1200

So you’ve seen the cost benefit to having a service or maintenance contract. But what about the time, and even potential earnings, saved through these agreements? Picture the above scenario’s important meeting as being one with your “number one prospect for the year” or “executives from corporate headquarters” and you’ve got a potential dilemma on your hands. Having a non-working projector or an equipment malfunction may mean a less-effective presentation or no meeting at all, which can lead to lost sales or a less-than-ideal first impression on your company’s key decision-makers. If you’ve got a maintenance or service agreement similar to the example above, however, your down time is greatly minimized and your meeting can carry on as planned with your attendees none the wiser. How’s that for life-saving?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Teleworking makes productivity possible anywhere, anytime

Teleworking has developed into one of corporate America’s greatest assets and biggest fears at the same time. Giving employees access to work from anywhere at anytime can be unsettling to some managers who want to stay in the loop and under control. But have no fear: remote workforces and teleworking, when implemented correctly, have the ability to empower your employees and increase your bottom line with minimal setup time and investment.

First, let’s be clear: “teleworking” and “telecommuting” are not exactly the same thing. Telecommuting specifically involves a company’s allowing employees to do their jobs from home for any amount of time; teleworking, however, extends to allowing workers to conduct business from any remote location, whether it is in their home, at the airport, or in a client’s office before a meeting. Developing a telework strategy for your business involves giving your employees the tools they need to maximize productivity regardless of their location, and thanks to advances in our field, that extends beyond the traditional company laptop and cell phone.

There are a number of key technologies that have enabled telework to become a successful strategy for many businesses. A VPN (virtual private network) allows remote users access to company files and databases through an Internet connection, making any needed information instantly available. Integrated communication devices such as videoconferencing giant Tandberg’s Movi enable workers to hold face-to-face video chats with supervisors and clients, increasing productivity by making communication more natural and allowing for a hands-on managerial approach to employees working remotely. Teleworking strategies increase productivity by creating work opportunities during down time, such as sitting in the airport or waiting for an off-site meeting to begin. It also makes all online files immediately available to any remote worker, so coming to a meeting unprepared will never occur. And studies have shown that being able to work remotely means working more often: teleworking employees are more productive than their in-office-only counterparts because they’re more likely to log on past regular business hours.

Although the immediate benefits of a telework strategy are clear, there are also ways that teleworking can save your business. The American Red Cross estimates that as many as 40% of small businesses who experience a disaster, such as a fire or a tornado, never reopen; by enabling your employees to continue working in other locations while you focus on rebuilding, however, greatly increases your company’s likelihood of survival during a difficult time. Also, teleworking protects your most valuable asset of all: your employees. As winter approaches, inclement weather can temporarily shut down company operations, create a perilous commute for workers, and even strand employees during business travel. With a successful telework program in place, employees can continue to work regardless of their location and whether your office is open for business.

The final piece of the telework puzzle involves what else but investment. But you may be surprised to find that the cost to create a remote workforce is about equal to the costs associated with hiring and providing in-office technology for one entry-level staff member. VPN hosting rates are typically cheaper than traditional private networks because they can be outsourced, and once the initial equipment investment is made, there are little if any additional costs associated with implementation.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Videoconferencing saves money and streamlines meetings

Gas prices are on the rise. The cost of materials, inventory, and shipping are straining budgets to the max. So, with the current state of the economy, now would be a bad time for you to throw more money into technology, right? Wrong. Although spending hard-earned company money on “discretionary” items may seem like a crazy idea right now, businesses all across the country are currently investing in videoconferencing solutions that will actually cut down on travel expenditures and provide one of the highest returns on investment of any business expense.

Just to prove the point, let’s look at an example:

Your account executive needs to travel from your home office in Chicago to the offices of your client in Charlotte. It’s going to be a 2-day, 1-night stay with everything being expensed to your company, including a nice dinner for your client’s vice presidents. Here is a rough estimate of the charges you can expect to incur:

Plane Ticket: $300
Hotel: $105
Rental Car: $55
Food Expenses: $250
Total: $710

Now let’s assume that this (or a similarly priced) trip occurs twice per quarter for your account executive, totaling 8 trips per year. That bumps the total cost up to $5680 per year. And if you have 5 sales representatives? That means that every year, your company will spend roughly $28,400, if not more, on travel expenses alone. Over the course of 5 years, that’s $142,000 without any projected increases for growth in your company. And of course, we all want to experience growth!

With the implementation of a videoconferencing system into your company’s office, the need for those expenditures will completely disappear. Thanks to videoconferencing’s combined audio and visual feeds, you will still get that face-to-face feeling as you and your client look at each other through a television screen, computer monitor, or video projector and speak through microphones located inside the system. Most importantly, video teleconferences can involve multiple sites at the same time, meaning that several offices or clients can all participate in one meeting.

Not only does videoconferencing provide all of the necessary functions for a travel-less business meeting, but it is a quickly-implementable solution as well. Setting up the system only requires a telephone line or Internet connection to get started, making it a tool that’s available to any sized business. Dedicated videoconferencing products, such as those manufactured by Tandberg, house all of the required parts (microphones, cameras, speakers, etc.) in one piece of equipment; therefore, the system can be set up in nearly any location and doesn’t require a large space commitment.

So what does it cost? Well, most videoconferencing systems can be purchased and installed for less than what it probably costs you per year in travel expenses right now. And the best part: once the system is installed, visits to satellite offices or follow-up meetings with cross-country clients can be done from the comfort of your office without having to spend a penny to do it. Talk about a return on investment!

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Digital Signage Expo 2008

Last week, electronic evolutions attended the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) in Las Vegas. The show featured several new products that cater to the needs of the ever-expanding digital signage market. We were particularly impressed with products from our two primary digital signage manufacturer partners, Omnivex and Planar.

Omnivex, a leading digital sigange software developer, introduced its Moxie software suite at the DSE. Moxie uses the same 3D graphics engine found in Windows Vista and high-end video games, which allows it to deliver rich video content on display screens. It also can target messages to viewers based on conditions such as the weather, current events, stock market activity, etc., to provide the most relevant content in real-time. Another benefit we find useful is Moxie's fully scalable graphics. No longer do designers need to concern themselves with creating graphic layouts of different sizes to accommodate varying screen resolutions, since Moxie scales everything appropriately. The programming interface has been greatly improved for ease of use. Additionally, the Design Studio has been enhanced to allow for expanded content creation. As the product gets closer to shipping in June, Omnivex will announce an upgrade path for existing users.

Planar's iS40 integrated digital appliance is a turnkey signage solution. It includes a 40-inch monitor, an Intel-based Duo Core PC, wi-fi connectivity, and Planar's CoolSign software -- all integrated in one package. This is about as "plug-and-play" as it gets. We were particularly impressed with its ease of use and deployability -- all it needs is AC power and ethernet. CoolSign has added additional functionality such as internal processing to allow for up to 4 screens to share an image, providing video wall functionality using standard flat panel displays. Its scheduling features now integrate with Google Calendar and Outlook.

is committed to staying on the cutting edge of the rapidly expanding digital signage industry. Contact us to learn more about these new technologies in addition to interactive informational signage, entry-level and standalone systems.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

e2 project featured in national AV magazine

electronic evolutions' Kiwanis International auditorium project was featured in the Dec. 17, 2007, issue of Sound & Communications, a national magazine that caters to the professional audio-visual integration community. The feature article, titled "Trading and Sharing," outlines the auditorium's expansive AV technology support and the benefits it provides the global service organization. Learn more about the Kiwanis project in our portfolio and check out Sound & Communications' Web site for further details.