Technology Consultant David Reed answers your questions

Dear David,
How do online meetings work? We have several offices, some of them big and some of them small and I was thinking of doing our training and meetings using Microsoft’s new product.
Diane S., Dallas, Texas

You’re talking about Microsoft’s Live Meeting application.  They have a competitor called WebEx, and they essentially accomplish the same thing.  What you are doing is having a meeting and reviewing the same information, but instead of getting in a car or plane you’re logging onto your computer and watching the meeting instead.  It works like this:

The presenter, or host of the meeting sends out invitations in the form of an e-mail.  In the e-mail is a link that takes you to a site where you log in with a specially provided ID and password.  When you get logged into the site, you’ll see the presenter’s computer screen.  If you’ve gone to a seminar and watched someone make a presentation on a big screen that projects what their laptop is doing, then you’ve experienced this technology.  Whatever the presenter does on his or her computer, you’re watching along in real time.

For example, you want to go over last month’s origination numbers and look at forecasts for the next quarter.  You also want to show your ales staff a new software application and a PowerPoint presentation.  Instead of loading everyone in the car and driving to the meeting, you send out e-mail invitations.  Your “attendees” log onto the LiveMeeting console and watch their computer screens as you show them the presentation that you created on your computer. What you do is what they see.

You can log onto the Internet and take them on a tour of various Web sites, open a PowerPoint slideshow, or anything that you would normally do with everyone in the room—except this time you’re doing it only on your computer while everyone else watches.  It’s really pretty neat.

One thing that Microsoft doesn’t do, however, is provide the audio.  Your personnel can log onto the LiveMeeting site but they won’t be able to hear you. They’ll only be able to see your mouse move across the screen and whatever else you do during the presentation. All sight and no sound.  So you need to provide your own audio conferencing. Why Microsoft set it up that way is beyond me, but I’ll be they’re working on an Internet-based phone service to accommodate.

LiveMeeting can cost about $300 per month if you have three to five users, but can be more or less than that, depending upon your usage requirements. Whatever it is, it’s probably a lot cheaper than hauling everyone in for a meeting.

For audio capabilities in the mean time, you need to provide audio through a telephone.  If you go to a company called Data Concepts Teleconferencing Services, you can set up an account for the audio portion as well, and it works with LiveMeeting. Essentially, you provide the time and date that attendees should call in, and Free Conference does the rest. It doesn’t cost you anything.  Actually, it costs those who dial in the for meeting.  The telephone number provided by Free Conference is a standard toll call, which charges regular phone rates.   Free Conference buys phone time at a huge discount, then your attendees pay retail for it.  It works just like your wholesale lender in that regard.

Dear David,
What are some criteria to consider when choosing a cellular phone plan?  I have 12 loan officers and I was thinking of how best to analyze cellular phone plans.
Mark H., Buffalo, N.Y.

You and about 235 million others. It’s so confusing that it’s hard to make a comparison, in my view. It’s very much like the lending business, don’t you think?  Lots of terminology consumers don’t understand, we have the ability to raise rates and lower fees or raise fees and lower rates.  We can also quote prepaid and non-prepaid costs and maybe even throw the annual percentage rate to clear things up a bit.

I know I’m getting a little off-topic, but comparing cell phone plans is very similar to what a consumer does when he or she tries to compare lenders.  It’s almost impossible, so usually what happens is you close your eyes and throw at a dart board. With that in mind, try making the comparison the same way you would suggest to your consumers to compare loans.

Determine your requirements. How many phones do you need, and what features are available under the plan? What types of phones do they offer? How much time is used during the day versus the night and weekends?  Do you get charged when calling each others’ numbers or is it free?  I would take that first written quote then show it to the next cellular phone company. Then the next one. Do it the very same way borrowers do when they show you your competitor’s Good Faith Estimate. Put very simply, the only way to find the best plan is to shop and compare.