Video conferencing to offer many possibilities

About 20 people got to talk “face to face” to four video conferencing experts from Toronto, Boston, and Calgary last Friday–all from the comfort of one conference room at the Red Dog Inn here.
Just one of its seven video conferencing centres across Northwestern Ontario, Thunder Vision Inc. and Bell Canada have brought to Fort Frances the technology to make it possible to connect local businesses and organizations to almost anywhere in the world.
Now, the Red Dog Inn is offering video conferencing after manager John Chan agreed to be a site for the company’s services.
“We felt there was a need for it in town. How else can you reach someone far away in just eight seconds?” he reasoned, adding it could save people money and time.
Chan noted video conferencing already was seeing use since becoming available last week, and parties such as the Town of Fort Frances are booked for slots in the next couple weeks.
“Hopefully, we will be able to make this popular in the area,” Chan enthused.
The Dryden-based company has been working with Bell Canada for two years to establish an efficient video conferencing network for the private sector.
“We’ve chosen strategic sites, such as the Red Dog, where any group could arrange to hold conferencing. In other places, we’re located in either hotels or training centres,” noted Vicki Scherban, president of Thunder Vision Inc.
She noted what separates Thunder Vision from any other company based farther away is its familiarity with Northwestern Ontario.
“What we’ve done is provided a bundled solution for the north. We used our knowledge in co-ordinating our sites–on a national, international, or global basis,” she remarked.
“We have 100 partner rooms in Canada, and 1,000 world-wide. And that’s where Bell comes in,” added Scherban.
Thunder Vision’s other sites are in Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Atikokan, Red Lake, and Dryden (two). All were operational as of last week as the company worked to launch services simultaneously.
Scherban stressed the role of Bell Canada in establishing and maintaining the network. “What Bell has done has made it all possible. I could not have done this two years ago,” she admitted.
“While Thunder Vision handles the administrative and marketing aspect of it, we provision the equipment, the technical expertise, the infrastructure to make it possible,” said Bernie Blake, general manager for Bell’s Northwestern Ontario division.
“We also bring the Bell brand name to the partnership–the respected service we’ve shown nation-wide,” he added.
Blake noted it’s become common for Bell Canada to form partnerships with public providers all over the country.
“We’re interested in doing more of these types of things. In Canada, and especially in a region like Northwestern Ontario, distance can soon become a non-issue in conferencing,” he said.
Thunder Vision’s $300,000 set-up at the Red Dog offers not only two large monitors but a VCR, document cameras, scan converters, and PC technology to make them useful for almost any type of presentation–from medical diagnosis to corporate marketing.
The necessary equipment was installed almost a month ago but Thunder Vision wasn’t willing to offer it until now. “We had to ensure the networks were operating efficiently, and we’ve been very successful,” noted Scherban.
Looking ahead, the Red Dog already has trained two employees to “troubleshoot” and operate the equipment during conferences.
Those on hand at Friday’s trade show included members of the OPP, Canada Customs, and the Northwestern Health Unit. To demonstrate the possible uses of video conferencing in the health and education fields, short presentations were given by Dr. Ed Brown of the Sunnybrook Hospital, Bob Sayer of ICU Technologies, and Susan Cornish and Carol McGee of PictureTel Canada.
“I think the best use of video conferencing in the region would be in the health care field,” remarked Dave Murray, executive director of the Community Care Access Centre.
Murray, who was partly responsible for establishing the 310-INFO Call Centre in Atikokan, noted it has been contracted out to book Thunder Vision conferences across the Kenora-Rainy River districts.
“Anthing involving telecommunications, we want to be involved,” he said.
And Thunder Vision may be growing larger in the future, Scherban said, as it recently has heard interest from a few communities east of Thunder Bay.
“If the volume is there, we’re interested,” she enthused.