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Companies turn to webcasting to save time, money

The ways businesses are using Web sites are changing, and that may be even more true internally than externally. Some businesses like Mississippi Power Company have extensive internal webcasting including videos for training and communication with employees.

“For training and safety, it’s a lot less expensive to offer training online compared to individually training someone or sending them to a lot of special classes,” said James R. “Jim” Allen, manager of creative production services, Mississippi Power Company. “We have an extensive number of videos on the internal Web site.”

Webcasting is defined as using the Web to deliver live or delayed versions of sound or video broadcasts. Webcasting that can be done on demand for training purposes can save a lot of time and money. Allen says the biggest benefit is that employees can arrange to be trained when they want to be trained. It can be worked into their schedule rather than the employee having to be absent from other important responsibilities in order to do training.

“That, to me, is the biggest benefit,” Allen said. “We have lots of different courses. We tell employees they need to take the online video course within this time frame, and they can schedule it themselves. That is a huge cost savings right there, plus we don’t have to send a trainer out to them. They don’t have to go to a special class and the company doesn’t have to pay for a hotel and meals. We don’t have to pull them off the job. And if you are going to do a video anyway, it is cheaper to distribute on the Web than any other way.”

The computer is also useful for keeping records of who has completed the courses. A computer program registers them for the class, and after the course the program may ask questions to make sure the information was understood. If the employee answers some of the questions wrong, the program goes back over that part of the video. After successfully passing the test, the program enters that into the employee’s record.

“It is pretty effective,” Allen said. “We don’t have to assign someone to keep up with who has received instruction because the computer keeps track of it.”

In addition to instructional videos about how to do a job, Mississippi Power also has an extensive safety library. There are also videos for the company CEO, chief financial officer or chief information officer to talk to the employee base. The company also does special event videos such as the commemoration of Katrina’s first anniversary.

For other businesses considering putting videos on their Website, either externally or internally, Allen recommends talking to someone who has experience.

“Get them to give you some pointers or show you the way,” he said. “That can help you save a lot of grief because you can make mistakes, like anything with computers or video.”

Large banks in the state are also doing a lot of Webcasting. BancorpSouth conducts quarterly conference calls with a group of financial analysts, following the quarterly release of company earnings.

“During the conference call briefing conducted by BancorpSouth Chairman Aubrey Patterson, Mr. Patterson and other senior officers discuss the company’s financial performance,” said Randy Burchfield, senior vice president and director of marketing for BancorpSouth. “In order to meet the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation FD, Reporting of Financial Information, the conference call is Webcast via the Internet. The Webcast is live coverage of the management’s conference call and can be found on BancorpSouth’s Internet site at www.bancorpsouth.com.”

The session is interactive between management and the analysts, while the general public may listen to the live broadcast as it happens. The conference is also available in archived format at the same address for a few weeks following the live Webcast.

“In addition to the quarterly Webcasts BancorpSouth conducts, our company management also participates in other financial analyst presentations hosted by certain other financial companies and groups,” Burchfield. “We find these Webcasts to be a very efficient means of distributing our communications when appropriate.”

The Mississippi Economic Council has extensive Webcast offerings on its Web site.

“We use WebEx, and have been since we started testing this approach about three years ago,” said Blake Wilson, president, Mississippi Economic Council. “They are a big outfit owned by CISCO. “The big benefit of a webcast is being able to involve folks without leaving their desks. Our mission is to build a sense of a statewide business community. Our vision adopted in 1998 and still there is to give our members a meaningful voice at the Capitol without leaving their desks. This really enables it. We have branded our member webcasts ‘MEC Connect,’ which clearly drives home the message that we are connecting folks into the process using this technology.”

The MEC broadcasts Webcasts such as discussions with MDA executive director Gray Swoope. And it also uses the Webcasts for board and task force meetings.

“These are much more interactive and enable us to broadly involve members from all over the state,” Wilson said. “The technology is easy to apply. You don’t have to be a computer whiz to do it.”

MEC started slow testing with small groups, and after outstanding feedback from both the MEC Connect Webcasts and the smaller ones, they have broadened it. MEC’s board meets regularly this way.

“Imagine being able to save a CEO a three-hour drive to attend a one- or two-hour board meeting,” Wilson said. “This is huge! We have really perfected the process and have learned by gathering feedback from participants on how to improve them.”

Another advantage to the MEC Connect membership Web calls is the ability to have people days, weeks and months later join to get the information. They don’t have to be on at the time of the call.

“This is a very strong feature, especially for those busy CEOs who want to watch and catch up over the weekend,” Wilson said. “Another plus is that you do not have to be dialed in on your phone to participate. You can multi-task while listening over the speakers on your computer to one of the MEC Connect Web calls. So if someone comes in your office or if you have to take a call, you can still listen with one ear to the Web call and multi-task with the other.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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