Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble wants to be the most collaborative company in the world.
That's a tall order for an US$83 billion company with operations in more than 80 countries. But telepresence -- the life-size, high-quality, virtual conferencing capability -- is helping to make that goal a reality.
P&G is an early adopter of Cisco's TelePresence systems, which were unveiled in October 2006. P&G began evaluating telepresence in 2005, however, as a way to foster more collaboration among its far-flung employees.
"We started a journey in IT to provide some modern tools that will enhance collaboration," says Laurie Heltsley, director of Global Business Services at P&G.
P&G was introduced to telepresence by HP and its Halo systems and studios, Heltsley says. But the company didn't start kicking tires until late 2006/early 2007, after Cisco entered the game.
"We agreed to do a 90-day sprint" with Cisco, Heltsley says. "We installed four TelePresence units in four locations around the world, captured some business data and made the decision to move forward."
In October 2007, P&G "put the accelerator down" on telepresence and now has over 40 units installed worldwide in what the company calls video collaboration studios, Heltsley says.
"So it was a fairly long journey and exploration with some different kinds of challenges depending on technology," she says.
P&G selected Cisco over HP due to speed of deployment, Heltsley says. P&G could turn up more studios in more locations in less time than with the Halo systems, she says.
But the Cisco TelePresence systems were not without challenges. The systems require between 9Mbps and 15Mbps of bandwidth.
With a huge and mature Cisco router and switch networks, P&G has scores of Cisco IOS software releases and versions deployed, most of which predate TelePresence. Bringing all of those IOS versions up to speed and then conditioning each link between TelePresence studios was a long and drawn-out process, Heltsley says.
"We had to shake down a few network issues here and there because it is quite network intensive," she says.
"Most people assume that these technologies are just network capacity constrained or in need of significant network capacity. And while that's not totally untrue, what we found was that it was more that outside detailed scrubbing of the path between point A and point B to ensure the equipment is up to date, it has the most current level of code. All of those details, down to the wires in the wall and the jacks in the wall, we had to scrub that entire path on a point-to-point basis essentially 43 times. That can be quite tedious. And in the course of doing that you uncover all kinds of little surprises and little nuances.