Wired and Inspired

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Maintaining an agency with multiple offices is no easy task. Top-tier technology is vital to connect creatives, who are sometimes scattered across the world, and keep them all on the same page. We chatted with some agency tech execs about the communication elements of their infrastructure and how they keep the various lines open.

Renny Gleeson, Global Director of Digital Strategies, Wieden + Kennedy

What are some of your communications tools and strategies?

From a production standpoint, we're using Basecamp's Project Path, which has been enormously helpful in managing processes forward and across multiple offices and multiple projects. It's really nice to be able to have the people you need to look at stuff get pinged at the right time and minimize the effort they have to make to provide concrete feedback. From a brainstorming/video idea, we've been using webcams, Skype video chats and iChat.

Has there been one breakthrough in technology that's affected the way you communicate?

We've been on teleconferences for actually quite some time. Portland has a huge video teleconferencing room. But the proliferation of the webcam devices—the ability to chat via Skype and iChat—has been really helpful. With the Nokia pitch, for example, we actually had rooms set up around the world with live webcams so each team brainstorms around the clock. The other team could rotate into wherever they were around the globe and be able to take a quick look around the idea walls that we've been pulling together, to refresh themselves and propel the brainstorming that was going on.

Ted Colgate, CIO, TBWA Worldwide

How has the advent of new technology affected TBWA's infrastructure?

What I've been pitching to our executive management is leveraging the power of a network. Most of our companies historically had acted as 1,500-person offices with no real connection; technology has really helped us get a handle on that. But before you can really leverage technology and give services and systems from the center out to everyone, you need to know who everyone is. So five years ago, we started identity management just to make sure we know who works at TBWA. We have something called My TBWA, which is a global site where we can create teams of people from the existing staff and even invite our clients in. Besides taking advantage of things like blogging and sharing a file, it enables us to do web conferencing using Adobe Connect and iChat—both audio and video. With Adobe Connect, we use screen-sharing, and we're excited about the new Apple technologies that are coming out.

The new operating system, Leopard, will make it really easy to share your screen. From iChat, you could just say, for example, "Share my screen with this person," and you can both be looking at the document at the same time. Other things we're looking at include collaborative document writing, which enables you to work on something simultaneously with people around the world. People tend to use Microsoft Office documents where they make a spreadsheet or a Word document and they end up e-mailing it to somebody—you have 30 copies and no one knows what the most current document is. In the future, we'll both go to a web page and be editing the same document. Google offers that service right now, but we're looking toward doing something more hosted ourselves.

Is there anything special on TBWA's technology wish list?

One of the things we're contemplating that we haven't done yet, because it's a couple million dollars, is a Cisco TelePresence. It's basically video conferencing, but video conferencing is always pretty shitty. TelePresence takes up an entire room at your different locations, and they use three 65-inch plasma monitors. They keep the wall a certain degree Kelvin and they make the table go into the monitors, so when you sit down at it, it looks like your table goes into this other place. One of the projects we're contemplating is putting one of those in New York, L.A., Paris, London and Tokyo. It's not just to take advantage of not traveling but it's the amount of time you can save and the amount of collaboration you can potentially have. It's all 1080p high-definition video. You have to sit in one to believe it—it just feels different.

Jordan Kilpatrick, VP-Information Systems, Crispin Porter + Bogusky

With offices in Miami and Boulder, what new communication tools have affected your infrastructure? The overriding direction from the principals was that we were to act as one agency and one office, really. We had to think about the barriers to communication and how you get in touch with somebody and have a face-to-face conversation with them if they're not only down the hall but 2,500 miles away. We knew that that had to involve some remote presence-type technology. So the easy answer was formal video conferencing. We use Polycom just because it's the easiest to get and they're a major vendor. They have solutions at all price points and capabilities. You can literally install software on your computer, get a webcam and then participate in full-blown web conferences from your computer, or you can go all the way up to having auditory-emphasized meetings and video conferences between multiple sites.

If the client shows up in Boulder but we have to have somebody in Miami, that's where the formalized thing came from. We quickly realized that wasn't going to be enough, because of the investment involved. They're very expensive, so we went downscale with nontraditional kinds of things. We make extensive use of iChat and iChat AV, which allows low-end video conferencing and peer-to-peer networking. We already had almost everybody in the agency on laptops, and the only people that didn't have laptops were those whose day-to-day work was so compute-intensive that they had to have high-performance towers. That's really only the studio folks, so probably 95 percent of the agency is already mobile. To enable the iChat AV, it was a lot easier to spend $100 on a camera for everybody in the agency, and they can just start going back and forth.

Explain CP+B's use of Polycom.

The key thing is you can dial in from any Polycom on the LAN to any other Polycom and it will auto-answer. Just like I pick up the phone, I can pick up the Polycom and go from there. The idea is we have an open-door policy in the agency, and we did the same thing with the Polycom—that appears to be a major departure from their general use.

The other major departure was that several of the key units are always on, so if you walked into the lobby at Boulder, there's a big Polycom 7000 unit there with dual 32-inch screens—so you'll also see the Miami lobby. The interesting thing we found was that with the more of these units we actually left on with a full-time hookup, the more spontaneous communication started happening. Essentially, it enables you to stop somebody in the hallway and say, "I need to talk to you"—you're standing in front of the Polycom, you're walking by and somebody sees you. It happens to me and it happens to everybody.
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