Video comms bring solid growth for SOLB Steel

SOLB Steel needed video conferencing and UC to connect its staff and establish its plant in Jazan Economic City, but telecommunications infrastructure was non-existent in the economic zone

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Video comms bring solid growth for SOLB Steel Dr. Faisal Al Nasser, Manager of Information Technology and Production Planning Departments SOLB Steel.
By  Mark Sutton Published  November 25, 2014

For today’s connected enterprises, there is an expectation that multiple sites and personnel will be able to communicate and collaborate easily, regardless of physical location. Companies demand connectivity and the ability to connect their staff to be able to manage operations and work together. However, delivering such a high degree of connectivity is not always an easy proposition, especially in scenarios where the underlying communications infrastructure is either under developed, or sometimes doesn’t exist at all.

This was the situation facing SOLB Steel, which today is one of the leading producers of steel products in Saudi Arabia. Founded in 2009, the company has headquarters in Riyadh, with its main production plant at the Jazan Economic City on the Red Sea Coast. The company also has an office in Jeddah.

The issue for SOLB was that the company had identified the need for good communications, including video and collaboration solutions, between the plant and the headquarters, company branches and remote employees, in order to smoothly manage the initial set up of the company and its ongoing day-to-day operations. Jazan Economic City is over one thousand kilometres from Riyadh, so having powerful communications tools to connect the different sites would be essential to avoiding a lot of travel time and cost.

But as the Jazan Economic City is a new project, there was a total lack of communications infrastructure available for SOLB to connect to. The closest available infrastructure was some 20km away, and even that was based on copper. The company had to use a Microwave P2P connection, resulting in very low bandwidth at the main plant. Locating at Jazan Economic City was important, due to its access to the Red Sea Port of Jizan, and also to the other companies in energy and manufacturing that are setting up in the City and would provide an important market for SOLB.

The question became, how could SOLB run the communications and collaboration solutions which it required, with such low available bandwidth?

Dr Faisal Al Nasser, Manager of Information Technology and Production Planning Departments at SOLB Steel said that he set out with his team to assess the various unified communications solutions on the market, to find a solution.

“People kept travelling, so we found that having video conference and unified communications would save money, and time, and let people be available all the time, even if they were travelling abroad,” Al Nasser said.

The IT team assessed solutions from the leading vendors, he said, and after a six month selection process, the company selected a solution based on Polycom solutions and Microsoft Lync.

“In our opinion, Polycom was the only solution capable of delivering great quality video and audio over very low bandwidth.”

The solution was implemented by Polycom’s Platinum Partner for Saudi Arabia, FVC. With the lack of underlying infrastructure, the first video conference was over a connection with just 64k bandwidth. Despite that, the quality was very good.

“The first video conference we did with Polycom was over a 64kb connection, it was amazing that we could do a video conference, audio and video, over 64k,” he said.

The video conference solution proved to be very popular with the personnel at SOLB, Al Nasser said, particularly during the set up of the plant and other offices. The initial establishment of the company required a lot of planning meetings and collaboration between groups, but with the video conference solution, stakeholders were able to avoid a lot of unnecessary travel and hold meetings via video instead. The company was also recruiting staff from around the world, so the video conference solution was deployed for interviewing potential recruits, again saving time and money.

The quality of the solution, particularly the Polycom Eagle Eye camera, has impressed as well.

“Video conferencing, the beauty of it is that it is very sensitive, you don’t need to shout, or be very close to the camera, you can zoom the Eagle Eye cam to the papers you have in your hand,” he said.

To complement the video conferencing solutions, SOLB decided then to deploy unified communications with IP telephony. The infrastructure connecting Jazan Economic City had been improved to fibre over Microwave, although it was still not an ideal level of connectivity. The company had deployed Microsoft Exchange, and now wanted to deploy Microsoft Lync, ensuring that any IP telephony solutions would be interoperable with the Polycom solutions. To meet the new requirements, FVC and partners ACS & ANMAT, proposed the Polycom and Microsoft unified collaboration solution.

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