Wake-Up Call

LCI Communications provides collaboration tools that put new life into large company meetings
A small software company called LCI Communications Inc. has developed a unique use for collaboration software that's helping some companies change how they run big meetings.

Collaboration software typically is used to let people from different geographic locations work together. LCI's Unison system, which became widely available last month, brings technology-aided collaboration to on-site meetings.

Benefits of the Unison method include more interactive meetings with greater audience participation and feedback, says Kevin Wheatly, an independent consultant hired to implement the product at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Other early users include risk- and insurance- services firm Marsh, Columbia University, and pharmaceutical company Novatis.

Unison combines patented software from LCI with laptop computers to increase interactivity between presenters and audience members. Here's how it works: Attendees are seated at circular tables, with one laptop used for real-time communications and two monitors for displaying multimedia materials, such as presentation slides or a closed-circuit broadcast of speakers. An additional monitor mimics what's happening on the laptop screen. All systems are connected via a local area network. The laptops can be used in a number of ways, including letting the audience ask questions about the content of a presentation. The Unison software can analyze patterns to the questions and, via a teleprompter, advise the speaker to focus more attention on a particular topic. Unison is also set up to allow tables to communicate with one another.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

Unison fits Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu's culture, which encourages cross-organizational input.
Unison has brought a good dose of interactivity and efficiency to company meetings, Wheatly says. That's because the software fits with the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu culture, he says, adding that Unison probably isn't ideal for companies that don't encourage input from throughout the organization. "These technologies are like a magnifying glass," he says. "If you have flaws in the process, this will only aggravate things."

Unison isn't cheap. For a three-day meeting, the system and services run from $325 per person for a group of 175 to $145 per person for a group of 4,000.