SAS implements IP-based video conferencing for UK healthcare and education specialist

Posted on Tuesday June 9, 2009

London - SAS Global Communications, an international provider of managed and professional network services, has successfully completed the first stage of a project to upgrade and extend the video conferencing facilities of the Cambian Group, one of the UK’s largest providers of long-term specialist care for health and education. The initial implementation enables fixed-cost video conferencing between the company’s headquarters and twelve regional schools and hospitals.

With a rapidly expanding business, including over thirty UK locations and more than 1500 staff, the Cambian Group had, for a long time, seen video conferencing as a logical device for reducing travel between sites and was keen to extend its use nationwide. The company had previously installed an ISDN-based Polycom system at seven schools and two administration sites, including its Hammersmith headquarters, but found it expensive to run and limited in functionality - being able to connect with just one site at a time.

All the same, extending the system had a number of implications for Cambian’s IT function, which is predominantly outsourced, so the company needed to ensure that any large-scale implementation of video conferencing technologies would include third-party management and support.

Subsequently, despite compelling drivers, it was not until Cambian needed to move its headquarters that a decision was finally made to upgrade its video conferencing technology. However, group IT manager, Paul Follan, had been working on a solution for some time with the company’s long-term services partner, SAS, and was ready to roll-out a proof of concept to key education sites in a matter of weeks.

The new solution, which again incorporated Polycom technology, offered fixed-cost video conferencing based on IP. For its delivery, SAS upgraded the video conferencing equipment at Cambian’s headquarters and installed a bridging unit to allow concurrent conferencing with multiple sites; the bridge was also configured as a gateway device to enable connectivity with both IP and ISDN conferencing units.

“One of the benefits of sticking with Polycom was that SAS was able to adapt our existing hardware for use on IP,” said Follan. “This was great because it meant we didn’t need extra financial outlay at those sites.”

The Polycom firmware in units at another eight sites was reconfigured to connect to IP and ISDN circuits were decommissioned. SAS also implemented BT Business Broadband circuits at each site, terminating the circuits with Cisco routers to secure connectivity.

Fresh installations, with BT broadband , Cisco routers, new Polycom video conferencing units and flat wall-mounted plasma screens were carried out at a further five sites; all of which were added to the central configuration and a standard set of procedures was applied across the system.

Circuits, routers and video conferencing units for all offices are now monitored in real time from SAS’s network operating centre (NOC) in West Sussex, where support staff also have the ability to access and control the system centrally if any intervention is required.

“SAS has proved an able partner over the years so it gives me comfort to know it is now proactively managing the availability of our video conferencing infrastructure,” said Follan. “It’s also a huge benefit to have SAS maintaining our global address book because it means that even as we grow there’s nothing for our end-users to do.”

In all, the project took approximately four months to complete and whilst, there are still a number of sites waiting to be connected to the system, Cambian is already enjoying some of the benefits.

“Having a fixed cost for line rental and bandwidth means that staff can now spend as much time as they want on a video conference without creating further overheads for the business,” said Follan. “It also means that Cambian can afford to provide cross-communications between sites for all levels of staff, which has got be good for productivity and probably for motivation too.”

In the next stage of the project, SAS will install an additional bridging unit at regional offices Cambian is opening in Stoke-on-Trent. Currently, it has three video conferencing implementations ongoing with the company and a further two installations scheduled for commencement by the end of September.