SPAR UK turns to Avaya video conferencing to cut meeting costs

High street grocery chain hails cost benefits of video conferencing.


High street grocery store chain SPAR UK has credited cloud with allowing the firm's IT department to finally push ahead with its video conferencing deployment ambitions.

The company has five distribution centres dotted about the UK in Cornwall, Belfast, Dundee, Preston and the West Midlands that oversee the running of 2,400 SPAR stores.

When we took that to the board, they thought we had missed something off the figures because it was so much cheaper this time around.

In the past, the firm's executives tended to spend a lot of their time on the road, travelling to meetings at one of these five sites, at a great cost to the business.

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For example, these offsite meetings would incur travel and accommodation costs and would also take their toll on the attendees' work-like balance, explained Roy Ford, SPAR UK's IT controller.

"We have a lot of senior executives travelling to a central point or host distributors for meetings and these will be, what we believe to be, in excess of 50 meetings a year," he explained to IT Pro.

"Now, this is fine in the good weather, and everyone likes a nice trip out to Dundee or Cornwall, but as the weather hits us in the latter part of the year, this gets disrupted."

To get round this, Ford said he asked the company board to consider signing off a video conferencing technology deployment project on numerous occasions, with little success.

"Every year [for the past six years] I put a proposal to the board, and it always gets a good reception when it's snowing...but when we get round to May and the new financial year starts, they've forgotten about how hard it was to arrange those meetings [because of the weather]," Ford explained.

"I did get to a point in 2011 where I just thought, this is never going to happen in our business.'"

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The deployment costs had also proven to be a bit of a drawback for the board, as at one point Ford had been quoted a price of more than 200,000 for the project.

However, Ford claims he was able to bring down the project costs significantly by teaming up with networking firm Avaya and selecting its cloud-based, real-time collaboration video conferencing tool, Scopia.

This resulted in the projected deployment costs coming down by more than 50 per cent, because the cloud-based element meant the firm no longer needed to invest in a costly infrastructure overhaul.

"The only investment we really had to make was in the screens and the camerasand when we took that to the board, they thought we had missed something off the figures because it was so much cheaper this time around," Ford said

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The first deployment took place in May 2013, and was completed across all five of the company's distribution sites within six weeks.

"We had a few teething problems, unrelated to the Avaya technology, where the networks weren't set up properly," said Ford.

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"Then we gradually started off with one or two [sites] talking to each other in preparation for meetings to now where we're actually having a number of meetings between all parties on a regular basis.

"We don't see this as replacing meetings. That was never our intention. What we want to do is make our meetings we have to have more efficient," Ford added.

All in all, the return on investment for the project is expected to be less than 18 months, and the company is now looking to encourage wider usage of the technology within its business.

"[Some areas of the business] believe in face-to-face meetings as being the only way of doing things, and for that reason we will always have [in-person] meetings," he said.

"That being said, it is working andhas helped to reduce the time out of the office by half."

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