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How Beam Helps an International Branding Company Collaborate

Jeani Vance is Chief Information Officer of Prophet, a global brand and marketing consultancy firm. Hired from the get-go as a “virtual CIO,” Jeani leads the IT team in overseeing and implementing company-wide technology solutions. She “travels” to Prophet’s 10 international offices “all the time” -- via Beam -- setting the example for the approximately 300 employees who also use telepresence technology to collaborate with clients and coworkers worldwide.

We sat down with Jeani to find out why they initially started using telepresence technology, how it’s changed Prophet’s corporate culture, and how the collaborative process has evolved over time. NetworkWorld also recently explored how Beams facilitate collaboration across offices, including Jeani’s story in this piece: Beam me up and over — test-driving telepresence technology.

Q: Tell us about Prophet, and why you decided to try out telepresence technology.

A: We’re a marketing, branding, and strategy company with ten offices worldwide. We have global project teams that travel extensively for our clients. For example, I'm a "virtual CIO," and I travel to every office throughout the year. We came across telepresence technology when we were looking for ways to save on costs and also to cut down on the travel time.

A couple of years ago one of our employees saw a client using Beam, and that person sent me a video of it. I contacted Suitable Technologies, did a demo, and we were sold. We initially bought three for our large offices in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, and quickly added two more Beams for London and Hong Kong.

Q: What was the feedback when you started using Beam?

A: The initial reaction was everyone thought they were the coolest thing ever. We had people using them from day one. At first it was a handful of people, but by the third month, almost everyone in the company was using Beam… from staff to board members. We’ve even had clients join meetings via Beam, too.

Q: How has Beam affected your team’s collaborative practices?

A: We have design teams in San Francisco, New York, London and Hong Kong with people in each office often working on the same projects. On a regular basis, the designers from one office will Beam in to other locations for planning meetings, ideation sessions, etc. With Beam, you can see everything in the room -- the whiteboard, computer monitor, projector and so on -- so you don’t have to be sharing a screen. That’s important, especially for our project teams.

Q: As a tech expert, what stands out to you about the design of Beam? The UI, UX, the hardware itself?

A: The user experience is amazing. There is a camera so you can see where the bottom of the Beam is going, while the user is looking forward. It gives you the feeling of peripheral vision and emulates how we walk in real life.  

Q: Do you have any favorite fun or funny experiences using Beam?

A: Any time we promote someone at Prophet, we videotape it and share the video globally. Each manager has to do something funny or talk about the promotion. I was announcing the promotion of one of our staff in London.  I had someone record me coming off the elevator on a Beam. First, all you heard was sirens, tires screeching, and traffic sound effects.  Then I said, “Phew, that was a rough way to get here!” After I announced the promotion, I turned the Beam around, rolled back into the elevator, and the doors closed behind me. It was a super cool and fun way to promote somebody.

The other story that comes to mind is from our annual Year in Review meeting. This is a huge global meeting, where everyone is in the offices and we celebrate our success. Last year we were doing a “day in the life of an IT support person.” We created a video where we had people in London standing in line to get IT Support. They had odd things that were definitely outside of our scope, like a wall clock and a microwave…. and then had one of our Beams standing in line to get fixed, too. It was so funny and one of our favorite videos.

Q: Any telepresence etiquette advice?

A: As fun as it is, it’s not a toy. Our biggest challenge is getting everyone to park it on the charger when they’re done with it. The majority of people will "park" it, but we have some who will leave it in the room when they’re finished. We’ve been consistent with reminding people how important it is to park it, so the Beam is charged and ready for the next user.

Q: Are there any benefits from utilizing Beams you didn’t expect?

A: The biggest benefit that everyone talks about is how they feel like they are in the room. They are also treated by everyone in the meeting like they are physically present. They are never forgotten like many video conference callers can be sometimes particularly. For example, we had a big design meeting in our New York office, and our design director Beamed in from San Francisco.  

After most normal meetings, it’s common that critical conversations happen after the call. Our design director recently noted how she felt like she was there both during the meeting and a part of the conversations afterwards. She had discussions with everyone both during and after the meetings, even following them to our kitchen to continue the discussion, just like she would if she were in the office.

 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.