Spar UK says it expects to reduce costs and improve productivity in less than 18 months after deploying Avaya's Scopia's video conferencing solution.
The grocery chain, which has distribution centres in Cornwall, Belfast, Dundee, Preston and the West Midlands, said it was keen to find a new solution because bad weather during winter prevented executives from making board meetings.
These meetings and work life balance were often disrupted at a great cost to the business, according to Roy Ford, Spar UK's IT controller.
"You're expecting to drive to Dundee for what is really a one day meeting but ends up taking two days out of your life because you need travel up the night before, which is made more difficult when the weather conditions are poor," he says.
The meetings also incurred travel and accommodation costs, which "all added up".
Ford had asked the company's board to sign up to video conferencing on several occasions in vain.
"At the start of the financial year, when we are looking for budgets, it's not usually snowing and people have forgotten the issues and problems concerning meetings, so it drops down the priority list. It was fortunate this year that the bad weather continued for a long enough time to make people focus on the fact that the difficulties from getting from one regional position to another was becoming unmanageable," explains Ford.
Spar, which has more than 2,400 UK stores, looked at using quite a few video deployment kits, most of which were beyond Spar's budget, before settling with networking company Avaya.
"The most recent quote prior to this for us that delivered the same level of solution was in excess of £200,000," he says.
Avaya's cloud-based, real-time collaboration video conferencing tool, Scopia, came in at less than 50% of that amount, with a low startup cost as the cloud-base element meant Spar no longer needed to invest in costly infrastructure.
"Engineers arrived to install it and set it up and we haven't had to do anything else. It hasn't put a big strain on our technical resources," he says.
"All that's in our offices is a couple of screens and a camera."
The first deployment took place in May 2013, and took about six weeks to complete across the company's distribution sites.
"We ran one of our office briefings and also a few key points about preparation and relaxation...tips like don't keep playing with your hands or tapping them on the desk as they're all magnified when you're using them and become a distraction," says Ford.
The new solution means Spar's employees can concentrate on the more important parts of the business thanks to reduced costs and saved time.
"All we need to do is go into the video conferencing room, turn on the television, go to the directory and select the meeting room. The meeting goes ahead and everybody gets what they want out of it," explains Ford.
The system, however, doesn't come without its drawbacks.
"Sometimes you might get a bit of latency where somebody will speak and you'll see that their lips will have moved on the screen and you see that the voice takes a few seconds to come through. I'm told we can configure and improve that once the system can settle down."
And is video conferencing as productive as a face to face discussion?
"Nothing will replace that," he explains. "Our traders say they need to look people in the eye in order to judge the reaction to their proposals. But we are not doing away with meetings. We are making them more productive by allowing people to discuss the subjects before they get around the table. So the agendas are better understood, people have the opportunity to prepare what they need to do in a meeting."
Ford says he expects the return of the investment to be less than 18 months and is now looking to make video conferencing an integral part of Spar UK's business operations.