McDonald Jones Homes is the largest residential home builder in the New South Wales region. It offers an extensive range of housing options to suit every need and budget, including project and architecturally designed homes, house and land packages, and ready-built homes. From its origins in Newcastle the company has grown steadily, fuelled by the State's increasing population and an incessant demand for additional housing. Today, homes built by the McDonald Jones team can be found as far north as Port Macquarie and south in Goulburn.
The company employs 200 people spread across offices in Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Tamworth and on the South Coast.
A little over a year ago McDonald Jones managers and staff found they were travelling between the company's offices up to three times a week for meetings with other staff, clients or suppliers. Greg Smith, McDonald Jones IT Manager says, “It got to the stage where we thought there had to be a better way rather than spending three to four hours in a car just to attend a one hour meeting.”
Smith recommended the company deploy a video conferencing solution that would allow staff and managers to come together for meetings without physically leaving their offices. He says, “If you look how much it costs for a general manager, an operations manager or a director to spend four hours in the car, it makes sense to buy video conferencing. Among our staff we have people who sometimes need to go the south coast for a meeting and it takes nearly two days out of their time. With video conferencing we could see there would be time savings and money saved due to people no longer having to travel backwards and forwards.”
Smith had foreseen the need for video conferencing some months earlier but the solutions he'd looked at were prohibitively expensive and far too bandwidth-intensive. “Our main selection criteria were cost, bandwidth usage and ease of use, because a lot of the guys in our organisation are carpenters, builders and tradespeople. They don't use technology every day so if we wanted them to use video conferencing, it had to be no more complex than using their TV remote at home. Our other c onsideration, given we are in regional centres, was how easy it would be to get support,” he says.
It wasn't until he talked to Telstra and was introduced to the LifeSize family of high definition video conferencing solutions that he realised video technology was in fact within the company's reach. With the help of local LifeSize business partner and video conferencing specialist, Modcoms, Smith arranged a visit to Telstra's Sydney Experience Centre to view and test LifeSize equipment.
Smith liked what he saw and commissioned Modcoms to design a system for McDonald Jones Homes. Within a matter of months, Smith had received management approval and the equipment was deployed. A LifeSize Room 220 system, enabling up to eight simultaneous calls, was installed in head office and two slightly smaller models were placed in the Sydney and the South Coast offices.
Smith managed the deployment with occasional support and advice from Modcoms. The roles have continued to this day. “Modcoms have been there whenever we've needed support. They always get answers to our questions straight away,” Smith says.
From the time the LifeSize system was installed, the number of staff and management trips between offices began to decline. Smith explains, “Video conferencing is used for our regular Monday morning meeting which brings together around 25 or 30 people from the three offices. It's also used for OHS [occupational health and safety] meetings, workflow meetings, ad hoc meetings and on site queries.”
“The main benefit is that important staff members are no longer spending so much time uncontactable, on the road.
The other benefit is that we're able to join the sites together. People get much more out of a conversation when they can see the person they are dealing with,” he adds.
From a technical perspective, the ability to adjust the system's audio and visual quality has allowed Smith to ensure usage does not negatively impact the company's bandwidth or budget. “The picture is crisp and clear, and the voice quality is also very good,” he says.
Smith plans to extend the system by introducing the LifeSize ClearSea mobile high definition conferencing solution over the next few months. This will allow staff to connect to the video conferencing system using mobile devices such as Apple iPads, iPhones and Android™ devices.
“Anyone will be able to be part of the video conference. Tradespeople can be on site and if a query arises they can simply call the office, hold up an iPad to show the site and ask “is this right?”, he notes. “It's important to us to know that we can upgrade, add other devices and bring more offices in when we need to.”
McDonald Jones Homes' business strategy is to continue expanding into regional centres. By far the majority of developments will involve greenfield sites, usually situated an hour or more away from any of the company's offices. Smith believes that video conferencing – using a combination of mobile and room based systems – will be an important tool for easing communications difficulties and will help to maintain a cohesive company culture as the company grows.