Tools for meetings without needing to travel

Many librarians have shared with us the immense efforts they undertake to support geographically distributed branches. Jim Lynch, the Computer Recycling & Reuse Director forTechSoup’s GreenTech Program recently posted about saving money on travel, and I thought his throughts were worth a re-post.

From Jim's post:

During these lean times, every organization I know is looking for cost-cutting ways to work more effectively. With new computer-based conferencing tools, it is now possible to dramatically decrease the amount of travel and still have the meetings you need to conduct. The cost saving for this is obvious, but the environmental savings are also dramatic. According to TerraPass, a 1,300 round-trip flight for one person uses up 580 pounds of CO2 – equivalent to just over half the carbon footprint of an average US resident per year in terms of the amount of garbage they generate.

If you have a computer network with a server, and you have employees or volunteers in different locations, you might check out Microsoft Communicator. Microsoft Communicator offers an affordable way to do robust online collaboration and conferencing with others in your organization who are in different locations or time zones using a range of communication tools.

The software has an array of features, which include instant messaging, phone conferencing, desktop sharing, and video conferencing. Microsoft Communicator integrates with Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others. The basic idea with MS Communicator is that you can see who is on your computer network and you can get a hold of them in a variety of ways, regardless of where they are.

The software takes some technical IT skills to set up since all communications between the end-users is done through Microsoft Office Communications Server software that must run on a server computer, but is relatively easy for end-users to operate. For instance, you can start a multi-party conversation using instant messaging, phone, or video by selecting multiple contacts at once. You select multiple names in your contact list and right click to choose an option such as 'send an instant message,' or 'start a conference call.' It also has automatic audio and video detection, so you can quickly add USB devices such as telephone handsets, headsets, speakers, microphones, and Web cameras. End users can also control their incoming communications alerts, set automatic call forwarding, set their status light, and route all incoming calls to voicemail.

I've started a TechSoup.org forum discussion on Microsoft Communicator user experience for video conferencing if you'd like to share your experiences or read about how others have faired.

As I mentioned above, Microsoft Communicator works in cooperation with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, which runs on a single server and can support up to 5000 users. It includes Software Assurance that includes 24 hour phone support, training, and IT tools that help you deploy, manage, and migrate the software as needed.

TechSoup Stock carries the family of Microsoft Communicator software and eligible nonprofits and libraries can request them for the following prices:

The admin fee for eligible nonprofts and libraries for Microsoft Office Communications Server Standard Edition is $40.00.

The admin fee for each Microsoft Communicator client license is $2 per user.

The admin fee for MS Office Communications Server 2007 Enterprise Edition is: $159.00.

Help the environment and save a few bucks on travel by using tools like these.

---

Thanks for the tip, Jim! You can find the original blog post on TechSoup's blog, here: http://blog.techsoup.org/node/727