Meet you at your desk —€“ without leaving mine

September 2010 » Columns » LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY
Mark J. Scacco, P.E.

Meetings are an important, and often unavoidable, part of nearly every business. While much is often accomplished during a meeting, getting to and from the meeting is an unwelcome waste of time, money, and energy resources. Wouldn’t it be great to get all the benefits of an in-person meeting without the hassles they typically entail — to meet with others, regardless of their physical location, from any desktop? Well, you can — and it is great.

For several years, I have successfully grown my consulting firm by moving many tasks traditionally conducted in person to the virtual environment available on the Internet. Everything from day-to-day chats, real-time hands-on training, and project meetings and design review, to collaborative technical content creation is all accomplished among my local and far flung staff and our equally geographically dispersed client base. This move to the Internet has allowed us to tap the best talent in the country, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. The following are a few of the services my firm uses that you might consider exploring for yourself.

Instant messaging
One of the simplest forms of live communication is Instant Messaging (IM). A good way to think of IM is a cross between e-mail and a telephone call: It’s as instant (and potentially as interruptive) as a phone call, with the added functionality of file and link sharing afforded by e-mail. Unlike a voice-only phone call, it accommodates text, file sharing, voice, video conferencing, group chat, and more. If you haven’t tried it, you might be surprised at how much you can get done with simple IM “meetings.”

It’s easy to get started with IM. Every major Internet name you would recognize offers an IM service, including Google, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and many others — and they’re all free. But this wide selection causes a minor problem because not all services can communicate with one another. However, there are several services that aggregate all your IM accounts into a unified interface. I use Meebo (www.meebo.com). Another popular service is Digsby.com. Like the base IM services, the aggregators are also free.

Sophisticated software
While IM is good for one-on-one, short meetings, true online meetings require software with a bit more functionality. This type of application typically includes all the features of IM (chat, file sharing, et cetera) and adds functionality that enriches the online meeting experience. One main feature of this software is the ability for a large number of attendees to join a single session. The following is a list of key features and possible uses software can offer when you’re hosting a large session:

  • Screen and application sharing
  • Remote screen, keyboard, and mouse sharing
  • Whiteboard and screen mark-up tools
  • Session recording

Online meeting and collaboration has been around for a while. Below are the three services I’ve been using listed in order from lowest price and features to most expensive with most features.

  • Mikogo (www.mikogo.com) — This service is free and includes all the core functionality required in an online meeting tool. It also includes a scheduling tool for future meetings. It’s easy to install, easy to start meeting sessions, and as many as 10 attendees can view your screen at once.
  • GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com) — This service features a core functionality, with the addition of chat, VOIP, and a larger attendee limit. The fees are reasonable at about $100/month and vary according to plan. I like this service and its companion GoToWebinar for the enhanced scheduling tool, the in-session meeting controls (for both presenter and attendees), and the ease of use.
  • Adobe Connect Pro (www.adobe.com/products/ acrobatconnectpro) — This is my personal favorite for hosting large meetings and online learning sessions. Depending on your service level, you can have as many as 1,000 attendees in a single session, and there is a lot of flexibility in the modules and add-ons you can purchase to enhance the product. It offers in-session chat and also has specific Q&A panes and small group break-out sessions.

With all the recent talk about “going green” and making environmentally correct business decisions, it would be easy to say that this is the reason we use remote meetings. While that certainly is a factor, the primary reason is economics. Leveraging these technologies improves our bottom line and they probably can do the same for yours.

Mark J. Scacco, P.E., is the president and founder of Engineered Efficiency, Inc., a nationwide BIM and CAD training and consulting firm. He appreciates your feedback at mark.scacco@eng-eff.com.


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