mm383: Blast from the Past! No. 21

May 18, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our early days, originally posted August 29, 2007, one of our series called, over-ambitiously, Web Conferencing Week. The entire group can be found on its own page elsewhere on this site.

WCW006: Quiet before the storm

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Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

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mm352: Blast from the Past! No. 11

April 19, 2008

The MUDGE family is on vacation this week. We don’t know that we’ll be able to restrain ourselves from blogging during the entire span, after all the grandMUDGElets go to bed pretty early, but without access to our files, and WindowsLiveWriter, for this week only, when we feel that irresistible urge to blog, we’ll treat blogging like we do (sigh) exercise: we’ll just lie down until the feeling goes away.

But, the Prime Directive of Blogging reads: Thou Shalt Blog Daily! So shalt we.

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

lhc250x46_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our early days, originally posted July 22, 2007, one in our series called, over-ambitiously, Web Conferencing Week. The entire group can be found on its own page elsewhere on this site.

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WcW002: Web Conferencing Week – On Location

In our first venture in this direction, WcW001, I described the week just past as filled with unusualities (coined in this space tyvm; if I use it 500 more times, think that it gets added to anyone’s dictionary?), and described one. Here’s another.

Only a few times in the five years I have been plying my trade at the HCA, have I been asked to conduct business outside the friendly confines of the navel of the known universe, our dual expansive campuses and its outlying but nearby satellite sites.

But, Wednesday afternoon I received voicemail from one of my most frequent clients, the sales training functionary for one of our most important product families, asking that I assist Friday at an all-day session emanating from a hotel near the airport.

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mm350: Blast from the past No. 9

April 17, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

The MUDGE family is on vacation this week. We don’t know that we’ll be able to restrain ourselves from blogging during the entire span, after all the grandMUDGElets go to bed pretty early, but without access to our files, and WindowsLiveWriter, for this week only, when we feel that irresistible urge to blog, we’ll treat blogging like we do (sigh) exercise: we’ll just lie down until the feeling goes away.

But, the Prime Directive of Blogging reads: Thou Shalt Blog Daily! So shalt we.

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

lhc250x46_thumb21155

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our very earliest days, originally posted July 14, 2007.

mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

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WcW011: A week in the (professional) life

April 10, 2008

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Web Conferencing Week

All right, it’s been a lot more than a week since the last of this series appeared. Actually, about 26 weeks. Ouch!

It’s been a time.

Began this post with the aim of sharing what’s been a roller-coaster of a week. So, we’ll try that, but read on beyond the quotidian carryings on to see what’s really underlying the lengthy delay between what I had hoped would become a more predictably episodic series.

Wearing all of my hats this week.

Teaching. I teach web conferencing to my fellow employees; ran some numbers the other day. 650 classes of one to two hours duration; more than 3,900 participants collectively in 5-1/2 years. This is harder than it sounds (you scoff: one to two hours!). All of these classes are conducted on line via the web conferencing product that I’m endeavoring to teach, together with a telephone conference call to provide the audio.

Rather like the radio, in that you are performing for people whom you cannot see, and whose only impression of you is what they hear, and the static slides they see on their computer screen. Takes a great deal of emotive energy.

I’m pretty good. My feedback surveys say so. This week, I’ve taught two regular classes, and two more special one-hour rather more free-form sessions directed at participants in our pilot of the new, much improved version of our product that we’re endeavoring to roll out to full production in less than three months. This is a heavier load than usual, due to the pilot, and there still is one more pilot session scheduled for tomorrow morning as I write this, together with three more early next week, along with the two regularly scheduled ones.

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WcW009: A Marathon for the Tsar

October 18, 2007

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Web Conferencing Week

Despite MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, sometimes he has to work his royal butt off.

Today was such a day. Let’s take a look at the after-action report provided to his team:

The executive VP of HR (reports directly to the CEO of HCA [Heart of Corporate America, MUDGE‘s employer and thus not its real name]) conducted the third of his global all HR staff videoconferences (the first two were Ireland,  October 2006, and Argentina last March) from Singapore.

These ambitious meetings included videoconference feeds to major sites, and Sametime web conferences for sites where video was unavailable, and even for those sites where video was available outside the largest venues, Sametime furnished the presentations, which were never placed on camera.

The first of two sessions, the live one, was conducted from conference space in Singapore by the VP HR and some regional colleagues, and began at 4:00pm local time. Tech call was 3:00pm, which translated to 2:00am this morning for your Sametime moderator.

Since the video feed didn’t have slides to cue from, and we were in our home office, we arranged with the event producer to have her on the phone cuing us with a signal for the next slide. We had been furnished a now obsolete script, which apparently had been much modified since last Friday when she emailed it to us just before stepping onto a plane to wing her and the crew 22 hours to Singapore.

We were simultaneously monitoring the audio conference, to be sure that the Sametime audience could hear the speakers and this extra step proved important, as the telephone conference people needed to be told to use the feed from the video conferencing bridge (somewhere in the U.S., I believe); getting this straight delayed the beginning of the conference by a few minutes.

So we spent the meeting with one headset (connected to my home land line) listening to the speakers from half a world away in the audio conference, and my Blackberry’s Bluetooth headset in the other ear getting next slide cues from the producer, and later, relaying some questions received from the remote audience via Sametime’s Public Chat to the representative of HR Public Affairs who was coordinating in Singapore and who read out the questions to the speakers.

The only disappointment to an otherwise successful meeting (and it was completely successful as far as the client is concerned) was due to the heavily graphic-intensive nature of the latter part of the presentation, which consisted of about 34 high resolution picture postcards of Singapore, as a backdrop to an interview between an HR executive and a local client. Because of those graphics, and the fact that the connections were in Europe and especially many sites in Asia, response to Next Page signals was delayed by up to two minutes, instead of the 23 seconds allocated. Because these were generic photographs, not much was missed when so many slides needed to be skipped due to the delays.

Among the 38 Sametime connections were participants in the UK, Taiwan, the Philippines, a couple of sites in Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Seoul, our home county, Norway, Ireland, Madrid, Hungary, Bangkok, India, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Some of these were large videoconference and ordinary non-video conference rooms with many participants, watching the video and/or the slides via our web conferencing feed.

There was serious talk earlier this year (I even had an itinerary sent me by Corporate Travel) of sending me with the crew to Singapore, as it was believed that the technical challenges required a Sametime expert on site. I admit that I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing an exotic locale on HR’s dime, but also was affronted: Sametime is a tool meant to reduce travel expenses — what kind of example would be set if they sent the Tsar himself across 13 time zones and put him up for five, five-star hotel nights for two 1-1/4 hour meetings?

The fact that cooler heads prevailed, and kept me in the U.S. turned out for the best, as the first communication from the event producer at about 2amCDT (yes, 2am — a very groggy Tsar indeed took her call) was to let me know that she could not get a consistent Internet connection from the meeting room, and was never able to connect to Sametime from there. Imagine the frustration if the person tasked with moderating the Sametime meeting couldn’t get a connection!

The 10amCDT meeting, for which your correspondent was in place for a technical check by 7:30am, was a rebroadcast of the earlier meeting for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. It was also a complex meeting, as it consisted of the recorded videoconference that had ended less than 6 hours earlier packaged and sent electronically to the video conference bridge, for forwarding, plus a live video feed from the meeting center in Singapore for questions from that second meeting.

The recorded and live video was received in AP6D Cafeteria, and several other sites in the U.S. (California and Ohio) and again Sametime provided the slides for the video (outside the main venue) and for people connecting from their desks or conference rooms without video. the video conference bridge also fed the Sametime audio conference.

Although this meeting was technically complex, again with the event producer (now the shoe was on the other foot, with this second meeting beginning at 11pm in Singapore) cuing the slides for the main venue to a graphics technician, and yours truly controlling Sametime to follow those visual cues, it all went quite smoothly, and the heavily graphic slides had no difficulty advancing on time, apparently due to the more robust network connections in the Western Hemisphere.

Great credit goes to the very able technical people on site here: Larry the enterprise videoconference expert; Steve , working the presentations; and especially the highly competent and extraordinarily calm (in the face of today’s countless last minute bombshells) audio technician, Eric. Thanks guys!

There were 79 connections to this second meeting, from Colombia, Mexico City, Venezuela, several sites in California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Peru, Ecuador, Massachusetts, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and New Jersey, among others.

Fascinating what’s happening to the heart of corporate America. It’s globalizing with a speed that might cause whiplash. Look at the above lists of meeting participation for both sessions.

Indeed, saw a quote in Business Week at lunch today (sorry, too tired to root it out guys) where the CEO of Intel wondered whether his company could really be called an American one any more. Wow!

The really good news: this meeting wouldn’t have worked at all without Sametime providing the presentation slides, which it did for every video conference room except the originator in Singapore (for the first meeting) and the local meeting venue (for the second). And the presentation, with its heavy graphics, wouldn’t have been successful without using the Sametime Whiteboard, although for the earlier Asia/Europe meeting I believe that network connectivity in Asian sites limited performance.

A wise developer from IBM Lotus, Sametime’s vendor, once characterized his product as the world’s best network sniffer. In other words, if there’s even one narrow bandwidth connection in one’s meeting, Sametime will react in an attention-getting fashion, as it waits (and waits and waits) for handshake signals from each node in the call, as it sends out its graphic content.

But, all in all, the day’s two high profile meetings (sort of career limiting to disappoint the top executive in HR!) went well; the web conferencing infrastructure, so ably maintained by MUDGE‘s overtaxed coworkers, behaved itself. Sigh of relief!

Later the same day (this day! It will be shortly before 9pm when this gets posted, on this day that began for MUDGE with a cell phone alarm beeping at 1:40am) we spent considerable time writing the above report to the team, and then met a commitment to teach a 90-minute class on web conferencing.

The class had been scheduled several months in advance, in the expectation that the Singapore adventure would occur next week; a corporate bigwig changed his mind — what a shock! — but I didn’t feel I could reschedule a class that people had been registered for for many weeks.

The class, one of three taught this week (average is 8-10 per month) was conducted for five students (via a web conference, of course) two of whom were connecting from home offices in Washington state and Florida. Ah, the power of collaborative tools!

A marathon for the Tsar, indeed. But even a curmudgeon can earn himself a smile, if not other royal trappings, for jobs well done.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW002: Web Conferencing Week – On location

July 22, 2007

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Web Conferencing Week

In our first venture in this direction, WcW001, I described the week just past as filled with unusualities (coined in this space tyvm; if I use it 500 more times, think that it gets added to anyone’s dictionary?), and described one. Here’s another.

Only a few times in the five years I have been plying my trade at the HCA, have I been asked to conduct business outside the friendly confines of the navel of the known universe, our dual expansive campuses and its outlying but nearby satellite sites.

But, Wednesday afternoon I received voicemail from one of my most frequent clients, the sales training functionary for one of our most important product families, asking that I assist Friday at an all-day session emanating from a hotel near the airport.

Sent off a memo to the contact that had been specified, detailing the logistical arrangements that I would require (broadband access, a phone connection for the web conference’s accompanying telephone conference call, a second phone line and phone for monitoring purposes, sufficient power connections, table/chair near the audio technician, etc), received a quick response including the name and contact information for the event handler at the hotel. A quick call to this person confirmed that all would be as required, and her smooth and professional demeanor actually filled me with confidence that it indeed it would.

So, Friday, instead of trundling out to the navel, etc., trundled instead to the vicinity of the airport, to a very nice and upscale hotel, the likes of which grunts such as yours truly work at, but surely can’t afford to stay at.

After the usual flurry of activity around finding the venue, and locating the key contacts among people with whom one has spoken but never before seen (and no one wears red carnations to identify themselves any more — why is that?), located the hotel employee audio technician who was handling the event and, after at my request he arranged the switching out of his equipment table for something large enough for the both of us, began setting up.

The main problem in the morning during the run-up to the start of the broadcast sessions was the speed of the internet connection I was furnished. It seemed that everyone in the hotel was competing for the same not-so-broadband connection, and I found this to be somewhat crippling as I dealt with last minute changes to the presentation.

And, by the way, wireless was not an option. Not only did my laptop not detect wireless access in the room (although others PCs did, so that was a limitation of my equipment), but it is my hard experience that, for a very network-centric application such as a web conference, the flaky nature of most wireless connections is toxic.

As with most web conferencing applications, Lotus Sametime uses two major modes to display information to those connecting to it: screen sharing and its whiteboard. Screen sharing is the simplest mode: whatever the person sharing is doing on her desktop shows up within the screen sharing window in the instance of all participants’ internet browser connected to the meeting.

The meeting room whiteboard is not as simple to use; it requires prior setup to load (or, in Sametime nomenclature, attach) whatever presentation files to be shown. The value add for this setup requirement is that most presentations transmit throughout the network much more efficiently, since the information to be transmitted is cached on the server (i.e., while the current slide is shown, the next one is being loaded into memory, and the previous one remains available).

However, on the dead slow connection I experienced mid-morning at the hotel, the revised version of the presentation file I received could not load into the meeting — the process timed out. This was frustrating.

I persisted, and eventually, late in the morning, and perilously close to the noon start time of the first of the two events taking place in that room, the revision finally got loaded (I’m thinking that the contention for bandwidth on the hotel’s connection eased closer to lunchtime), and I was finally good to go. We connected the audio tech’s phone (running the interface from the room’s sound system so that all those using microphones would be heard on the phone) to the telephone conference operator, and at the proper time the event began.

Meanwhile, in this large conference room, an earlier event not requiring my participation had begun, and I had a chance to observe the participants from the tech table at the front side of the room. Well more than 100 young (everybody in corporate life is younger than yours truly these days!), attractive field sales people were in the midst of a several days long training conference. This day’s meetings were devoted to product knowledge.

Our field sales people have to know well a great deal of technical data, as well as all of the nuts and bolts of technical selling (a topic I’m certain was handled, or reinforced at least, on other days of this conference).

For most applications of web conferencing, usage is quite straightforward. The leader of the meeting connects to the Sametime server, connects his laptop PC to a projector, and uses the screen sharing mode to simultaneously project his presentation in the meeting room while making it available to remote attendees. In smaller meetings, whatever overhead is added for the web conference is minor, and whatever distraction that the electronic meeting may cause usually is minor.

However, for large meetings, that overhead and potential distraction is not acceptable. Early in my web conference facilitation experience I learned that for these types of large-scale events the best approach is to split the function of running the web conference away from the in-room presentation function.

And this is what we did for the meetings in the hotel conference center. This way, there was no spillover from the electronic conference into the meeting room itself; so had there been technical problems, or even communication from the remote participants relevant to the web conference, it would have been invisible to those in the room, and especially to the speakers, whose demonstrated technical expertise might not have extended to the web conferencing arena and whom in any event would not have welcomed such interruptions.

So, the idea is that two copies of the presentation are required: one, for the laptop PC connected to the projector in the conference room. The other, for the PC connected to and leading (“moderating” in Sametime nomenclature) the web conference.

After the energetic activities of preparation described above (and there’s always something in large meetings) things in the first, 50-minute session went quite smoothly, as did most of the second one until the last 90 minutes or so of that four-hour(!) presentation.

The last 90 minutes? Well, the second speaker neglected to mention the existence of, much less share his umpteenth and latest presentation revision with me. Turned out he had about 85 slides; I had only 67. Ouch. So I vamped as best I could (at one point I used my text annotation tool to announce that there were some new slides showing that were unavailable to the web conference).

Well, afterwards, my contact in field sales training consoled me by saying, “how many people do you think were actually paying attention in that last hour?”

And separately, the speaker apologized to me (after all, even those present in the room did not have those slides in their printed handouts) by saying, “they usually only allot me two hours.” Sigh.

But, in the larger context of the day this was minor (the organizers certainly reported so) although that could have been 5 o’clock Friday of a hugely busy week manifesting itself. But, if my customers are happy, so am I (especially if the issue in question was totally outside my ability to rectify).

Could I have anticipated a new version of the presentation? Of course, there almost always is. Could, under the constraints of time (just about 10 minutes from the end of the first meeting to the start of the second) and a suspect broadband connection (remember it took about 90 minutes elapsed time to upload the smaller revision to the first presentation) I have actually accomplished the successful update in time? Perhaps not. Sigh.

While it doesn’t really apply totally to this context, since the speaker was guilty with an excuse (had to fill a lot more time than usual — and by the way, his extended topics were interesting, to this amateur scientist, and relevant). Often, though, the last-minute tweaks that cause this practitioner of meetings so much gut-churning distress are mostly gilding the lily. So, it gives me the opportunity to roll out:

lifelesson

But, overall, a good and an interesting day. Can I apply the science I was exposed to during five-plus hours of presentations to my job, or my everyday life? Absolutely not. Was it interesting, in the context of learning for learning’s sake? Absolutely. Forty-eight hours later as I write this, can I remember any of it? Please don’t ask me that!

All told, an interesting end to a more unusual than usual week in the world of web conferencing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE