Flights out, videoconferencing in at BHP

Execs trade jet-lag for cutting edge videoconferencing.

BHP Billiton executives have traded jet-lag and long overseas flights for a "very expensive" cutting edge videoconferencing system but claim it's been a stunning success.

As reported in November by ZDNet Australia, the resources giant is among the first adopters of Hewlett-Packard's Halo videoconferencing studio, using purpose-built rooms dedicated to videoconferencing.

The BHP Halo studios are installed at the company's Melbourne, Perth, London, Houston, Santiago, and Singapore offices, with a seventh being built in Den Haag (Netherlands).

The studios contain plasma monitors, cameras, audio and lighting equipment, as well as regular meeting room furnishings. BHP has 45Mbps pipes into every site delivering MPEG2-quality video.

"They're expensive, I'm not going to deny that," BHP Billiton principal architect Dr Ian Hoyle said, without revealing the exact cost. The entry-level price for a single studio is US$425,000, according to HP.

"In fact they're very expensive to run on a corporate basis. They're expensive to deploy," said Dr Hoyle.

"But we've actually done the numbers and we have seen that they are absolutely sensible economic proposition for us, given the high value of our executives that have been flying around the globe."

With many company executives often flying overseas for sometimes short meetings, BHP has been trying for a while to reduce its travel expenditure, according to Dr Hoyle.

"Long haul international flights for short meetings, traveller fatigue, safety issues, our focus on reducing and containing costs; Halo makes sense for us."

Implementing the studios was not always easy however.

"We've had a spectrum of implementation success from enormously successful to abject failure," he said.

BHP still needed to understand the limitations of Halo, according to Dr Hoyle. Meetings didn't work well when there was an uneven number of people at each location, he said. A studio can seat 12 people.

Camera and seating placement also took time to learn as they determined eye contact for participants, but were not configurable, according to Dr Hoyle.

Halo also has no mute button, an omission BHP has had to learn to live with.

"You should never make a snide comment about the other person at the other end because the sensitivity of the microphone is such that they'll hear. It's like being at a table," he said.

However, he maintained Halo had been a "big success".

"It really highlights the nuances of body language and human communication; how people truly react with each other."

In addition to Halo, BHP also uses Web cams and desktop videoconferencing products.

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