Video Conferencing: Our Powerful New Collaboration Tool

Date Posted: 9/11/2014

“Lights, camera-- meeting!” The Texas Annual Conference is leveraging new technology to conduct virtual meetings, saving significant dollars in travel expenses and time across our expansive geographic boundaries. Learn how easy, affordable, and practical this tool will become in the months ahead.
District Superintendent Rev. Bill Taylor can attest to the famous saying that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Since he travels from the outermost point of the conference some 200 miles to the conference office, he personally experiences the ‘bigness’ and therefore has a Texas-sized level of excitement about the newest communication tool being tested this month. Cameras, microphones and high-tech whiteboards have recently been installed at the Texas conference office to create a video conferencing hub that will save significant time and money on travel.
Notes Bill, “I believe I have driven 139,296 miles since June 2008 in pursuit of my duties as the North District Superintendent which translates to some 2,786 hours in the car, so this video conferencing will not only save me time and gasoline but it will be a considerable financial savings to the Texas Annual Conference.  Am I excited?  Very!”
As TAC Information Technology Manager Ivan Krowl explains, “This initiative came from Bishop Huie because 1) the technology is available and 2) it makes sense due to the enormity of our conference.” He adds, “By saving gas and hotel expenses alone, the system will very rapidly pay for itself. Participants can join the meeting from where they are and with our multipoint video camera, it will be almost like sitting next to each other.”
The system allows up to 250 users to link in. The meeting room set up will allow visibility to see participants around the table and hear who is talking, and remote attendees (except for Ipad users) can even see the whiteboards. “Generally speaking, people with 4g phones and an internet connection should be good to go,” he adds. He admits this system will take some getting used to, and that some would rather attend than feel like they are missing out, but that all will learn as they go.
The Center for Missional Excellence was one of the first to conduct a meeting of the Missions Committee, with half of the members in the room and the other half tuning in from afar. When staff training on the system is complete, other groups will find ways to save time and money by using this technology.
Rev. Jon Thornsbury of FUMC, Canton shares, “It is so helpful for those who minister and live in communities that are a distance from the Houston area to be able to use the new teleconferencing system at the Conference Service Center.  I was able to conference with TAC mission committee originating in Houston but also with individuals in Crockett and Nacogdoches while I was in my office located in Canton.  It was very easy and there were no issues or problems during the session. It would appear that the technology is easy to use and is an effective way to bring together the many voices across a very large geographical conference. As a pastor I am appreciative, as the technology allows for me to provide input and be a part of important discussions, but does not pull me away from the local church for a significant period of time. And most of all, after the teleconference I was home for dinner with my family!
First-timer Challenges
According to Ivan, the system is compatible with Office 365 and Link software, and anyone with a camera, microphone and speakers can join a meeting. “Some folks may not be comfortable setting up to do a call, so I would suggest we do some pre-meeting tests in case it takes a few tries,” he says. “Everyone’s settings and configurations will be a bit different, but the District Offices will also be conference hubs if someone prefers to join a meeting from there. On occasion, there might be a situation where the internet or upload speeds are not strong enough, but so far, our tests from all of our District Offices are going well.”