SPAR saves time and money with video conferencing

By Danny Palmer
16 Sep 2013 View Comments
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Like many businesses, SPAR, the international grocery chain with 2,500 UK stores, found last winter tough.

Not necessarily because customers weren't visiting the stores in the snow, but because the poor weather meant that SPAR UK executives, who need to travel to distribution centres from Cornwall to Dundee, often found that conditions prevented them from making meetings.

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That made things difficult, says Roy Ford, SPAR UK's retail IT controller for the IT & data department, because SPAR is "a business with a meeting culture", adding that video had been considered by the company before, but the cost was deemed too great.

SPAR holds more than 50 executive meetings a year, which involve representatives from five regions travelling cross country.

"Video conferencing has been on the horizon for a number of years, but every time we looked at it it's been cost prohibitive," he said. However, with so much disruption caused by the cold and icy weather, SPAR decided to take another look at video conferencing and Avaya's cloud-based Scopia solution was selected.

"Lots of our senior meetings were disrupted with people stuck in stations and not able to make meetings," says Ford. "So it came to the table again and Avaya was out there with a cost-effective way of installing video conferencing into the business, because it had a relatively low start-up cost and it was scalable."

SPAR had examined a number of video conferencing options and almost took the plunge late last year, before deciding to examine lower cost options, which is where Avaya came in, says Ford.

"Over the years we've looked at lots of solutions and in 2012 we'd narrowed it down to another provider. But it was still talking about £200,000 for installation," he said.

The Avaya bid, in contrast, came in "at less than 50 per cent of that", with a low start-up cost too.

The system, Avaya Scopia, was adopted primarily to avoid the kind of meeting disruption SPAR grappled with last winter. But it's also helped improve the organisation's efficiency all-year round.

"It makes meetings more efficient because what normally happened was an agenda would come out and people would wonder what things meant, but waited until the meeting to ask. Now we have a culture of a pre-meeting, to go through the agenda and all it requires is a call," says Ford.

"You start turning a two-day meeting into a one-day meeting which changes to making a decision rather deferring things until the next meeting because you need to gather more information," he added.

That, according to Ford, has helped reduce the number of overall meetings the organisation runs, freeing up SPAR staff to concentrate on more important things instead.

"Immediately we've got back six man days on six teams of 12 people, as they're only travelling every other month now. In the intermediate month, we're having a video conference," said Ford. "This alone will eventually ensure that it pays for itself.

"Just by pencilling in the savings of flights and accommodation and not taking into consideration people's time, we believe the return on investment is under 18 months."

SPAR UK is only a few months into using Avaya Scopia, but international branches of the company are already deploying similar video conferencing systems in order to reap similar benefits when it comes to saving time and costs.

"We're part of international SPAR, and lots of our other SPAR countries are putting video conferencing in. So we're seeing the need for some of our senior executives to fly to Amsterdam and other locations actually being reduced because of video conferencing," said Ford.

Ultimately, Ford sees video conferencing becoming an integral part of business at SPAR UK, something helped along by its simplicity.

"We've got 50 people in this office alone with two-thirds of those who'll need to use it at some time. It really is as simple as going into your lounge, turning on your TV, selecting the channel for the conference you want to join and it happens," he said.

"The more people that get confident in using it, the more it'll be used and the more it'll become an essential part of our kit," Ford concluded.

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