This week I'm travelling to Cumbria in the north of England to discuss the issues they face collaborating and communicating across one of the most geographically challenging areas of the country. Like most NHS trusts consultants and staff spend lots of time travelling between the different locations, often to meet with colleagues. This not only costs in terms of time and money but also has an impact on the environment.
One of the things I'm intending to talk about is of course Office Communications Server and its use in Healthcare. One of the first things I tend to show is the ability to connect to colleagues and peers quickly moving from a Instant Messaging conversation to an interactive voice/video conversation. People are always surprised how easy it is to add additional parties to the conversation by simply dragging them into the conversation window. This is fantastic for multi-disciplinary teams to be able to connect and communicate effectively.
One of the things that invariably comes up during these conversations is the use of video conferencing. Many Trusts in the UK have made significant investments in these technologies - but typically these require specialist hardware, networks and dedicated rooms. The biggest challenge however is that it forces people to move to the appropriate facility to access. Our model is very different in that we bring the technology to the user so that they can communicate with colleagues and peers on their terms and time-scales.
To assist me I'm taking along one of the new Roundtable devices. For those that haven't seen them - they look like the picture on the right. The Roundtable is a new web-cam having 5 cameras and 5 mirrors to give a 360 degree view of the room. Its simply a usb device that plugs straight into my PC. Using active speaker recognition people see a panoramic view of everyone in the room as well as a close up of the person speaking. So a great scenario for this is when you have a real meeting at a trust location and two or three people joining the meeting either from home or another location. The Roundtable makes any room a video conferencing room...
As well as being being able to see and to speak to people Office Communications Server offers the ability to share information whether that be a set of slides, pictures, desktop applications as well as collaborative tools such as white boards and polls.
In addition Office Communications Server meetings can be recorded making this an ideal environment for providing training - basically if you miss the meeting you can access the recording at a later date.
The other key element of Office Communications Server is the ability to connect to people on the telephone. Lots of people in healthcare have invested significant sums in IP telephony and whilst there are obvious benefits in rationalising to a single network all it means for end users is a new fancy telephone on the desktop. With Office Communications Server we break down these barriers in communication connecting users on PC's with users on the telephone (whether its an IP phone or not). So if I receive an email from a colleague as they are online I can use instant messaging or make a voice or video call to their PC. If they are not online I can call them on their desk-phone or their mobile. Don't worry if you haven't got IP telephony today with the addition of an IP bridge Office Communications Server will talk directly to your existing PBX.
I personally use one of the new usb telephone handsets connected to my PC as I don't have a traditional desk-phone anymore. This type of device works really well for me as I spend a lot of time on the telephone and like the feel of a handset (I guess I'm just old fashioned that way!) There are lots of alternatives though such as headsets, web-cams ands speaker phones.
In fact Microsoft has developed, along with a range of partners, a new breed of IP telephones which runs Office Communicator right there on the handset. These devices are Internet enabled so I can take one home, plug it into my wireless router and all of my phone call conversations are routed to that device securely over the Internet.
We also have a version of the office communicator for mobile devices. this means that I can be online to colleagues and peers on my mobile device as well as on my PC.