How the cost of calling started falling for Radiant House.
Manufacturing in the Far East may be cheap but the distance can cause problems when it comes to finalising prototypes for production. Essex-based Radiant House, which imports cosmetic and toiletry products, used to spend several months exchanging drawings and samples with its Hong Kong agents. Now, thanks to Internet telephony and video-conferencing, it can talk to its agents on the screen, holding up samples and describing the alterations required. 'Hey presto, we can create brushes, mirrors or sponge bags that clients want to buy straight away whereas previously these items took months to get right,' says Ray Dalton, business development manager.
What's more, the audio and video-conferencing sessions cost the same as a local phone call despite their six-thousand-mile span. 'I can make a one-hour call to Hong Kong for 50p or 60p whereas it used to cost £10 or £15,' Dalton says.
Similar benefits are cited by Dennis Miniero, executive vice president of Radiant House, who runs the New York office. His monthly phone bill for calls to the UK and Hong Kong used to be between $1,000 and $1,200.
Now he only pays the $20 monthly subscription to his Internet service provider for unlimited international calls and video-conferencing. (Local phone calls are free in the US.) 'I also use it for e-mail and surfing the Net,' Miniero says.
Radiant House used the Internet Phone system from New Jersey-based VocalTec, a pioneer in this area. The software cost around £50 and was so easy to set up that Miniero delegated the task to his 11-year-old son. There is no need to buy expensive photography equipment - second-hand video cameras can be used.
Making a call with an Internet phone is more like using a two-way radio than a conventional voice handset, says Dalton. 'But it is effective, and if you are dealing with a difficult topic you can have a lengthy discussion without worrying about the cost.' Activating the video option uses a large amount of computer memory, however, and tends to slow the whole process down, so Dalton prefers to switch it off when he doesn't need it.
In addition to video-conferencing, Miniero makes extensive use of the 'whiteboard' feature, which allows documents to be jointly reviewed on the screen. This is ideal for discussing drawings and reviewing shapes or patterns. Extensive use is also made of e-mail. 'It is so much easier and cheaper than fax.' The Hong Kong agents do not have to install their own VocalTec Internet phones to receive Radiant House's calls. The software can also dial standard phones for voice communications. In practice, however, most of the agents in the US and Hong Kong do make use of Internet telephony. 'They are moving ahead more quickly in this area than the UK,' says Dalton.
In the future, Radiant House hopes to transfer its orders and payments to an Internet-based system, thereby further improving business efficiency.
'At the moment we use all this leading-edge technology in the design stage and then resort to archaic fax for the accounting paperwork,' says Dalton.