AEPCO Board and Annual Meeting Activities Go Virtual

COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t stop directors from conducting critical business meetings

For Arizona Electric Power Cooperatives (AEPCO) Director Dan Barrera, being able to see other people during a “virtual” meeting is very important.

“When you’re in a teleconference and it’s just audio, you don’t know what people are doing, really how engaged they are, so when you’re in this kind of conference and you push video, people know that you’re in front of your screen, and you’re engaged in the meeting,” Barrera said.

“I do think that’s important,” Barrera said.

Barrera was referring to the May 12 AEPCO board meeting and the AEPCO and Sierra business meetings that were held utilizing the latest “virtual meeting” technology available through RingCentral, one of the largest virtual-meeting technology providers in the nation (www.ringcentral.com).

Barrera, who is also president of the Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative board of directors, said he was impressed with how many people were able to come together in a virtual setting.

“I could see us all, who was tied in, and there were something like 27, 28 participants,” said Dan Barrera, AEPCO board member. “I could see Patrick Ledger, and Brad DeSpain and the staff, and Tyler (Carlson), and that was always on the big screen whenever anybody wasn’t talking, and that was great,” Barrera said.

“I think Eileen Brien (director of contract services) was actually the first staff member who pushed the video button so we could actually see her when she gave her report, and then Shane (Sanders, executive director of system operations) gave his report in his office, and that’s what I wanted to see,” Barrera said.

Preparing to “go virtual” wasn’t limited to finding a platform that could bring everyone together “in the cloud.” Before that could take place, the equipment in the board room had to be upgraded – in a big way.

“We replaced everything that could be replaced,” said James Bujarski, manager of graphic services.

James Bujarski, graphic services manager (front), and Jay Strickling, graphic services prepress/AV specialist, run the computers that operate the cameras and sound system during the AEPCO “virtual” board meeting May 12. In order to upgrade the equipment for all-virtual meetings “we replaced everything that could be replaced,” Bujarski said.

“We replaced the computer that is used to operate the system, we replaced several microphones, we replaced the digital signal processor, the DSP, the controller that runs it all, and we added a couple of ceiling mics and cameras,” Bujarski said.

“The camera at the south side, the screen side of the room, covers the entire boardroom, and there’s another camera toward the back on the west side of the room to cover the presenters,” said Bujarski.

Planning actually began in early March, just as the stay-at-home and other measures were being considered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bujarski said once it was determined what would be needed to make it possible for everyone to “go virtual,” the project went out for bid, and once the bid was awarded, upgrades and installation took two weeks.

“We need to give Michael Way and his IT staff super kudos; it was a collaboration that actually worked and worked well,” Bujarski said.

Barrera said he could see this type of meeting replacing the traditional in-person gathering – for a lot of positive reasons.

“I think the board needs to look at it,” Barrera said.

“Look at the money and time we save on just travel. Look at the expenses: there’s no motel, no meals to pay for. All of this is changing how we’ve conducted business meetings and I think it’s a useful tool.

“Businesses are going to be looking at incorporating this type of technology and I think this could be the future for meetings with boards,” Barrera said.

“It’s very effective,” Barrera said.