Collaboration

When running a one-person IT shop, know when to call in the experts

When a one-person IT department is presented with a new challenge, something totally outside the realm of what might be business as usual, we should know when to tackle the challenge ourselves, learning something new in the process, and when to call in an expert who already knows the technology.

When a one-person IT department is presented with a new challenge, something totally outside the realm of what might be business as usual, we should know when to tackle the challenge ourselves, learning something new in the process, and when to call in an expert who already knows the technology.

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Some time ago, I was asked to look in to videoconferencing systems so our company could hold virtual meetings with out-of-town clients. We discussed having a couple of cameras — one on a front wall to show the people in the meeting and another camera on the ceiling that could capture the image of drawings and documents on the conference table — an interface with our company network, so we could access files from our file servers; and a large screen that could be split to show any number of views. Initially, I was pretty excited about tackling the project, even though it was something I've had absolutely zero experience with. Not to worry, however. How hard could it be to pick out a couple of cameras and a display and figure out how to make it all work?

My first stop was my favorite computer superstore to peruse through their inventory of Internet cameras, look at the wide-screen LCD screens, and pick the brains of some sales associates to get a better idea of the scope of what I need to consider. Well, other than some simple and low-cost cameras that mounted on top of a computer monitor, I didn't have much luck. They could provide the hardware to facilitate broadcasting simple Internet images, but when I talked about dual-cameras, high-powered zoom capability, audio features, split screens, and such, they had neither the equipment I needed nor a clue as to how I'd do it.

My next stop was the Internet for a bit of research. A search for Video Conferencing resulted in over 68 million hits. Surely if I reviewed a couple dozen of those sites, I'd have a pretty good idea of what I needed for my project. Well, there's actually so much information out there, that the answers to my questions remained elusive.

Perhaps I should talk to some of our clients to see what they have, so I called my counterparts at those companies to see how they do things, and they were all more than willing to share their knowledge (as I would be). I called only a few, but without exception, they all contracted the project to a firm that specialized in videoconferencing systems — none had done it internally. I had hoped to turn a $14,000 project into a $7,000 one, thereby having a money-saving feather in my cap, but perhaps it was not to be, at least not this time.

Anyway, after a few hours of research and several phone calls to other IT professionals, and not being any closer to a system recommendation and cost estimate than I was before, I decided to make the following recommendation: I think we should call in a consultant, someone who specializes in videoconferencing systems.

In the end, that's exactly what we did — and after watching the installation process, I'm glad I decided to pass the project on to others. It took two people two days to complete the installation, which involved mounting the cameras and display; routing the cables through the walls, above the ceiling, under the floor, and through the conference table leg; and completing the configuration and testing. The only thing I was involved in was providing some of the configuration information, such as IP adressing and such. What we ended up with is a very nice Polycom VSX 7000 Video Conferencing System, one that's much better and more professional than one I could have put together myself.

Although I do have a tendency to want to do most things myself, I do ocassionally pass the job on to others. This is one time I'm glad I did.

How about you? Do you always try to do it yourself, or do you contract out certain projects? And what can you share with the TR community about your experience with videoconferencing systems?

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