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Virginia telework day successful — pass it on

September 10, 2009 at 10:26 am PST

Virginia’s recent Telework Day proved successful, with more than 4,000 federal, state or private sector employees participating. Sponsored by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Telework Exchange, the event was designed as a “low-risk” way for agencies and organizations to experiment with telework and to help break down the psychological barriers that many organizations have against telework.

Some of the findings included that 22 percent of event participants had not previously teleworked, while 25 percent had worked remotely on occasion. Seventy eight percent of participants did not encounter any problems during the experience, and the experience convinced 91 percent of participants to consider working remotely in the future.

As the federal government looks to possibly hire more than 250,000 workers to replace those retiring over the next three years, it would be prudent for them to consider telework as they move forward. Telework not only can make the government a more attractive employer, but it also increases productivity and efficiency, and supports work/life balance, a cleaner environment, business stability, retention and relief on the roadways.

Taking telework to the next level is the next step – by adding video conferencing into the mix, employers and employees get the added bonus of face-to-face time with each other no matter where the employee works. Face-to-face communications eliminates the miscues and misunderstandings that can come from regular phone or email communication.

Do you telework? What benefits do you experience from it?

Teachers hot for professional development — via video

September 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm PST

Video conferencing is fast becoming the standard delivery method for professional development in schools across the country and around the world. This is helpful, given that teachers are expected to attend professional development courses and workshops to maintain their certifications.

In a recent article, the professional development division of Cooperating School Districts in St. Louis pointed out that teachers who have been in the classroom all day are often expected to drive in heavy traffic to attend certification courses. Using video conferencing technology that is already in place in many schools has alleviated that added time and stress. Instead of driving across town to attend a session, teachers can join from the comfort of their campus, school or even their own classroom.

Organizations that conduct professional development workshops on topics ranging from learning disabilities to making math fun are delivering the sessions over video conferencing more frequently – making it easier and less time-consuming for educators to access the programs they need for their own development.

In fact, professional development courses over video have become so popular with providers and schools that the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) has implemented a Professional Development Marketplace, giving teachers and administrators a resource to find programs that are delivered over video.

What types of professional development does your agency offer? Can you access it through video conferencing?

Will Any Webcam Do?

High definition mobile video for business

High definition mobile video for business

If you use any computer-based video conferencing system, when it comes to a webcam, there are 2 standard options: the camera embedded in the computer, or an external USB device.  For most consumer applications, either option is perfectly acceptable.  The question becomes: “What if I use my webcam for business?”

As video becomes an increasingly prolific business application, spanning telepresence,  high definition room-based systems, desktop video and mobile PC solutions, maintaining high quality video across all end-points is an important consideration.  Imagine being in a high definition telepresence meeting with everyone represented in crystal clear resolution, accept for the one guy that dialed in from a hotel room with low resolution, grainy video. You can’t tell if he is smiling, wincing or just had a bad burrito.  It’s a distraction, and ultimately not how you want your business to be represented.

This is exactly why business users of video need to be discerning in their choice of video camera.  The right webcam must:

  • Enable high definition video, to provide the most natural experience possible.
  • Be optimized for a wide range of standard and high definition resolutions regardless of the endpoint it’s dialed in to.
  • Be plug and play, straight out of the box, eliminating the need to load software or drivers
  • Optimized for business applications like Microsoft Office Communicator and TANDBERG Movi.

Ultimately, a quality webcam, with the right bandwidth will provide an experience comparable, if not indistinguishable from that of its room-based counterpart.

Cutting edge medical care — let's go to the video

September 3, 2009 at 11:57 am PST

A recent article in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery reports that the use of telerehabilitation for patients with spinal cord injuries resulted in a group of patients that reported higher satisfaction with their care. Most spinal cord injury patients must be in special units in hospital for long periods of time, which can lead to isolation from family and friends.

After release, they must spend a great deal of time in rehabilitation. The report showed that using video conferencing technology allowed patients to conduct rehabilitation from home and is emerging as a viable way to improve quality of care after a patient is discharged. In addition to higher satisfaction, patients at the three sites involved in the telerehabilitation study showed no difference in the types or number of complications or hospital readmissions from patients in traditional rehabilitation.

Video conferencing has proven highly effective in other telerehabilitation applications as well as teletherapy, telemental health and even clinical applications. For example, the treatment of stroke patients via video is fast emerging as standard practice across the industry. For stroke victims, time is critical — especially for those who qualify for treatment with the clot-busting drug known as tPA, which must be administered within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the availability of critical care neurologists falls well below the need of hospitals. That’s where video conferencing technology comes in: Specialists on Call (SOC), founded in 2005, has a core team of experienced neurologists — all of them former or current University neurologists — that can treat patients in any of the hospitals using its service, regardless of location.

By utilizing video conferencing, SOC neurologists can be at a patient’s bedside within 15 minutes and can begin administering treatment. Without video, the hospital has to call a physician to come in, which may not happen in time, and that’s if they even have a local specialist taking emergency calls.

Video conferencing is becoming more and more important as a way to maximize and more broadly distribute medical care. It saves money, it’s green and it improves the quality of life for patients.

Don't you see — you need UC

September 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm PST

Unified communications (UC) – in a nutshell, the ability for all types of communications devices to communicate seamlessly – is what the business world is working toward. The end result of reduced communication time to report on issues and receive decisions toward them is where businesses see the most benefit.

But, many businesses aren’t convinced that UC will be effective, according to a Forrester Research study. And, they want a triple-digit ROI if they implement UC. That’s a tall order when you are talking about integrating communications services, such as instant messaging, presence information, IP telephony and video conferencing with non real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax).

To get the right kind of return from UC, there are a few things that you must include when creating an easy-to-implement and effective framework. Going in, an agency should set the benchmark for success. Focusing on the communications needs of the agency and setting the correct expectation for what benefit will be derived from a potential UC solution is the first step.

Also, user training is critical not only for successful implementation, but also for widespread adoption of any UC solution. Investing in something that staff doesn’t know how to use is a sure way to kill any solution. A way to increase that success rate is to focus on reusing the skill set and software toolset that your employees are already familiar with. For example, you can use Outlook or Lotus Notes to schedule video resources, or Microsoft Office Communicator client to join a video conference to increase that success rate.

Technology interoperability issues that may present themselves can be mitigated by focusing on a standards based architecture and gateways for maximum interoperability. And, sizing the bandwidth of your communications needs upfront will ensure that you don’t oversubscribe your network. Lastly, building redundancy should help mitigate some of an organizations network challenges.

Setting a framework for your solution is the first step in getting to the vision of UC. Only with a solid foundation will an agency have a chance to realize the productivity return that can come from a solid UC solution.

Is your agency looking at UC? What steps are you taking to get there?