National Geographic is using 15 LifeSize HD videoconferencing systems to help it act green and increase productivity

National Geographic is using HD videoconferencing with 15 LifeSize systems to help it act green and increase productivity; users find that meeting with LifeSize HD VC is  like going in person to another executive’s office

15 November 2010. Maurice van Sabben, president of National Geographic Television International, explains how HD videoconferencing with 15 LifeSize Room systems is helping National Geographic act green and increase productivity.

This story is adapted from an article in CIO Connect, Summer 2010 distributed by LifeSize Communications.

Sabben says: “I get to work for a company that’s commercial and that also wants to inspire the conservation of the planet.” In his day-to-day job, he deals with areas of business development, content rights and licensing.

Sabben has helped lead National Geographic’s introduction of video conferencing technology. The approach – based on LifeSize High Definition video communication – has reduced travel, while keeping in-tune with the organisation’s desire to promote conservation.

“I was travelling to Washington at least once a month,” says van Sabben, who says he now crosses the Atlantic possibly once a quarter and estimates that he has already saved $15,000 from his annual corporate travel bill.

Of course, some conversations will still need to take place face-to-face; new business relationships, for example, demand you get a real sense of the human being, says van Sabben. And the aim of being near-to-reality is also important for virtual collaboration. “The exper ence has to be like TV or people get annoyed and it stops being fun. The system is basically like going to another executive’s office – and that’s how we use the technology,” he says.

“All the senior management team takes advantage of automatic answering, which means you actually have more conversations with your peers. The approach is actually liberating – you get away from relying on email and with the press of a button, you can see and talk to the person in question.”

The video conferencing system has also created significant productivity benefits. Van Sabben – who reports to the chief operating officer and chief executive – has weekly online meetings with the rest of the global senior team.  The system allows executives to divide the screen and demonstrate PowerPoint presentations and video.

Van Sabben gives the example of a recent interaction with a US-based production company. The organisation wanted to meet with van Sabben and his team to discuss a number of issues. Rather than all meet in one
location, the two groups were able to discuss challenges online and view the video through the conferencing system.

In total, National geographic uses more than 15 specially-fitted LifeSize Rooms and other collaborative technologies, including the LifeSize Networker connectivity system. “It’s a very versatile piece of kit,” says van Sabben referring to LifeSize technology. “At the moment, we’re using the system to get more people in front of each other. Video conferencing makes it easier to have interaction between remote teams.”

Future initiatives around conferencing are also being considered. As bandwidth capabilities continue to improve, van Sabben is keen to see how collaborative technology could be deployed on-the-move. Mobile conferencing, for example, might allow explorers to send high-quality video messaging from the field.

Video conferencing is far from being National Geographic’s only green initiative. The organisation, for example, closes its 2,000-strong Washington head office every other Friday, allowing employees to work from home. The approach allows the firm to cut power demands and put new priorities on the work/life balance.

“Some people were sceptical at first, especially individuals in a commercial function. But now – after three successful years of the project – everyone can see the benefits,” says van Sabben.