Virtual Conferencing

Using technology to enable remote participation...


Virtual Conferencing is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).



Expand the university’s virtual conferencing capacity to provide an alternative to business travel.

Goal: Expand the Cornell community’s access to and use of virtual conferencing options, as a means of reducing energy and emissions associated with University-related travel.


Cornell University procured a WebEx site license for “One Cornell” in April 2012. A pilot program to test the software was launched in June, and WebEx service for campus employees began in August 2012. Since then, WebEx has been broadly adopted as the Cornell’s web conferencing platform, replacing existing spending on multiple program licenses. Over 14,000 WebEx sessions were hosted in the first year of service offering, and this has nearly doubled in the most recent year (July 2014 through June 2015) to almost 27,000 WebEx sessions. There is a consistent upward trend in the number of hosts, users, and overall growth.

Last calendar year, an internal analysis was also conducted to assess the cost savings provided by WebEx in the form of travel time saved by staff and faculty (based on staff/faculty salary) by using WebEx instead of conducting an in-person meeting. Examining February through April of 2015, this assessment estimated a probable minimum savings in staff time from saved travel (over this three month period) of just under $100,000.

User feedback on WebEx is generally very positive. The service support team has heard from staff members that WebEx has been transformative, allowing them to telecommute and work effectively with virtual teams. Sessions have been held which have reached WebEx's maximum capacity of 1000 participants. Approximately 100 staff and faculty have attended formal WebEx trainings, which are offered quarterly by Cornell Information Technology (CIT) staff. Trainers report that participants in these formal WebEx trainings also have positive feedback about the new service. Cisco has also added new features to the WebEx product. The "Personal Room" feature has made it much easier for users to host sessions with a minimum of set-up and preparation, and we have received positive feedback on this new capability.

A pilot project to expand WebEx service to students has not been pursued beyond an existing student implementation with the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Instead, Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business has been deployed as an additional service product usable by all members of the Cornell community, and thereby providing a virtual conferencing capability to students. Lync/Skype for Business also provides a partial parallel offering to WebEx for staff and faulty, as well as providing new and additional communications, conferencing, and collaboration options not supplied by WebEx (Instant Messaging [IM], presence, etc.). Lync/Skype for Business also allows for easier "on-the-fly" meetings than WebEx, making this an option for users who prefer quick capability without the need to set-up and schedule sessions in advance. Lync/Skype for Business is included as part of the existing Microsoft Office package, and therefore incurs no additional licensing or hosts costs. This provides an area for continued growth without the higher costs involved with expanded use of WebEx.

Campus usage of WebEx and other video and web conferencing tools, including Lync/Skype for Business and standards based video conferencing, will continue to be monitored by CIT staff.

Next Steps

  • Continue integration of WebEx into physical spaces (conference rooms and classrooms) on campus as a high priority. Include, where possible, options for Lync/Skype for Business.
  • Continue providing formal WebEx trainings to campus employees as needed, contracting with external training services to free up internal WebEx support staff.
  • Expand training to include Lync/Skype for Business.
  • Review progress on expanding WebEx access and usage with the University’s Travel Policy group, in order to incorporate this initiative into the ongoing work of this group.
  • Promote Lync/Skype for Business as a video conferencing solution for students.
  • Assess areas for cost reduction of WebEx product by leveraging Lync/Skype for Business in areas where this provides an equal or better fit than WebEx for specific use cases.
  • Continue to evaluate the cost effectiveness of WebEx and track the impacts of this initiative in reducing business travel, as per the assessment conducted last year.
  • Evaluate Lync/Skype for Business for possible integration into a larger Cornell Unified Communicatiosn effort.

Resources

Secure approvals to continue integration of WebEx into physical spaces on campus. Identify a responsible party to monitor the effectiveness of this initiative in reducing energy and emissions associated with University-related travel.

Click here to learn more about Web Conferencing at Cornell.