International HIV/AIDS Alliance cuts travel costs by using web conferencing

International HIV/AIDS Alliance, a Brighton-headquartered charity, has deployed Cisco’s web conferencing solution to reduce its travel costs and carbon footprint.

The charity, which has over 450 staff based in more than 35 locations worldwide, has also adopted Cisco’s WebEx Support Centre, enabling it to resolve computer issues remotely.

Prior to installing Cisco’s WebEX Meeting/Training Centre and Connect, AIDS Alliance used a variety of collaboration technologies that it felt had no real integration. These standalone systems included Microsoft Office Communications Server, web-conferencing and e-learning tools from Elluminate, and Polycom’s HDX8000 and desktop conferencing software for video conferencing.

Paul Higgins, head of ICT at the AIDS Alliance described the system from Elluminate as “pretty unstable”, and said that a lot of work was required on the US firewall to get the Polycom system working properly between UK and US offices.

“However, video conferencing provide impossible between the UK and our Africa, Asia and Latin America contacts and offices,” said Higgins. “The Polycom system was also difficult to use and limited us to four people in one video call. Also, the UK Polycom system had to act as a hub for calls.”

To this end the charity hopes to replace the Polycom system with a Cisco Tandberg system in the future. Its current IT infrastructure includes Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, Microsoft SQL 2008 R2 Enterprise, Microsoft Exchange 2010 Enterprise, Microsoft Performance Point 2007, Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint 2007/2010, VMWare/HyperV, Microsoft Virtualisation Manager, Cisco 5110 ASA and Cisco wireless controllers and access points.

Higgins added: “[Now with Cisco] we have an integrated system enabling us to audio conference, video conference, desktop conference and collaborate in real time on the same document. We could also chat in real time and host training courses with access to training materials.

Furthermore, Higgins said that unlike Microsoft OCS, the Cisco technology also enables the charity to collaborate with people and organisations outside the company, and optimised bandwidth means that video conferencing is available from even the most challenging environments.

Meanwhile, the charity’s IT department can provide remote IT support through the Cisco WebEx Support Centre. This is instead of giving instructions to users over the phone on how to correct any computer issues.

“We can now remote control PCs and also provide guidance, support and training to staff to prevent the issue reoccurring. We can even install software remotely and investigate home broadband issues,” Higgins explained.

AIDS Alliance’s finance department has also used WebEx to provide training to its Zambia office in the use of their accounting system, while its Planning, Analysis and Learning Unit has used the system to train global offices in the use of the charity’s reporting database.

In addition, the charity is trialling Apple iPads for accessing its publications, multimedia training courses and recording data in the field, including information such as the number of people reached and condoms distributed.

AIDS Alliance currently has more than 30 iPhones and three iPads. Pilot projects involving these devices include testing an application that enables data to be recorded when the iPad is online and offline, using iPads and pico projects to deliver training courses in remote locations, where there might not be access to electricity, and using the iPad to host WebEx meetings.

Earlier this year, Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, said it had halved the number of time-consuming face-to-face training sessions it holds for staff with the use of WebEx online conferencing tools.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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