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Getting smarter via long distance

June 9, 2009 at 10:38 am PST

The economy may have finally bottomed out lately, but no one would say we’re out of the rough. That means that agencies will continue to count pennies and look for ways to stretch budgets.

But keeping a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality for your constituents or for your employees. Often a potential budget buster is training because of the ancillary costs, such as travel and expanding space to accommodate growing class sizes. But there are ways to keep your staff up-to-date on the latest techniques and requirements without incurring travel costs, subsequent downtime for participants or space concerns.

Video teleconferencing (VTC) is a great alternative for the agency that wants to keep costs down, while providing quality training and real-time collaboration for career advancement and problem solving. In fact, VTC can be used to allow senior staff members to help newer employees work through issues, learn job functions and expand their knowledge no matter where they are in the world.

The key is implementing a state-of-the-art VTC solution that integrates voice, video and web capabilities. In addition, if your agency is one of the many that requires high communications security, look for a VTC solution that meets National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) FIPS-validated AES and DES encryption levels. For even higher security levels, your VTC solution should allow you to integrate Type 1 encryption directly into video endpoints.

Another area for key consideration is open standards – they aren’t just for personal computers or mobile devices. Look for a VTC solution that not only embraces open standards, but also accommodates multi-vendor interoperability and leverages existing network infrastructures. This will allow an agency to efficiently integrate video, voice, and web components, including user endpoints, network platforms, and centralized management software.

Taking it beyond the “nuts and bolts” and into the field, so to speak, is also tantamount for success, particular with on-the-job training or real-time collaboration for problem solving. Search for a VTC solution that can go from the war room to the field with a mobile solution or on a laptop computer and one that is compatible with any type of network — including IP, ISDN, hybrid IP/ISDN, satellite, or wireless Ethernet.

In our next post, we’ll explore the math behind the cost savings of training by VTC vs. sending your employees to a training session. We’ll also look at how agencies are deploying distance learning solutions.

Does your agency make training a priority? Is the economy affecting your training budget?

Video Conferencing Facilitates Lesson on Bringing Education to Afghanistan and Pakistan

June 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm PST
Army Col. Christopher Kolenda

Army Col. Christopher Kolenda

After reading “Three Cups of Tea,” which tells of author Greg Mortenson’s dedication to bringing education to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a group of California high school seniors participated in a video conference with Army Col. Christopher Kolenda, a former task force commander in Afghanistan who worked with Mortenson to help to get schools built in the country. Kolenda answered students’ questions from the Pentagon during the live video conference.

What a great example of how technology can enhance the learning experience and make lessons more tangible.

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The word is out — telework works

June 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm PST

The benefits of telework – from helping attract a tech savvy workforce to saving capital – are getting attention this week on several fronts. As we outlined earlier this week, telework is a great way to save your agency money in everything from real estate costs to travel expenses, but it is also a great recruiting tool.

According to CFO magazine, telecommuting is one of the top five ways a company can go green. In a recent article, they share that Microsoft saved $90 million in one year by substituting teleconferencing for travel. American work culture has changed, and finally companies understand that working from home is not a euphemism for an unofficial personal day.

IT Business Edge shares that “going green” may be the ticket to becoming more competitive, and outlines benefits that include everything from building loyalty among employees to saving money on real estate costs to ensuring business continuity in the event of a disaster or disruption.

And, last but not least, the Telework Exchange announced the winners of its fourth annual Tele-Vision Awards, honoring the best in government telework programs. A few of the winners are the United States Navy for “Best New Telework Initiative,” the Defense Information Systems Agency for “Telework Program with Maximum Impact on Government,” and the United States Patent and Trademark Office for “Best Use of Innovation and Technology to Support Telework.”

What is your agency doing to save costs, bolster recruiting and foster employee loyalty? Is telework on your list of initiatives?

Videoconferencing takes telework to the next level

May 31, 2009 at 10:36 pm PST

Next week, federal agencies must submit telework policies as federal officials begin their efforts to boost the number of government employees who telecommute. This is the first step towards easing traffic congestion, preparing for a potential pandemic such as swine flu and making the government a more attractive potential employer.

This is a positive move, given that only approximately 95,000 federal employees out of more than 1.9 million teleworked at least one day a week last year, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) last Report on the Status of Telework in Federal Government.

In our current economic climate, telework makes sense because it reduces travel costs and enables agencies to save money on office space by allowing employees to share space. In fact, one federal agency that added videoconferencing as a telework tool saved thousands on travel costs.

Videoconferencing is a major enabler of telework and takes it to the “next level.” With so much government focus on going green, recruiting and retaining high-performing employees, improving the quality of life for employees, reducing reliance on foreign oil, and responding to the closing and moving of government offices and bases, telework is a huge initiative across government agencies, and video makes it a realistic solution that effectively deals with these issues. Here are some of the ways that videoconferencing takes telework to the next level:

  • It enables people at different locations to communicate as if they were in the same room.Videoconferencing reduces many barriers to telework as colleagues, managers and support teams can continue to interact with one another in real-time and face-to-face, maintaining the level of collaboration they have when they are in the office.Workers can share information visually and immediately, and even with base or office changes, still work as a team.
  • With concerns over the retiring public sector workforce, offices and agencies can offer a unique way to incentivize new employees with the ability to telework, and have access to experts around the world, maintaining the level of skill needed to complete their mission effectively and efficiently.
  • It accelerates decision-making across the globe and in emergency situations. A U.S. government defense agency uses videoconferencing to connect and communicate with the warfighter in the field, as well as carry out its mission on a global basis. Access to communications on secret or highly secure government networks, allows them to discuss top secret information, and greater awareness of nonverbal cues by the speaker and listener during a videoconference is particularly helpful when quick decisions are necessary.
  • Productivity is increased by eliminating the need to travel to different locations to attend meetings, and allowing participants to access information from their own computers and share it with others during the meeting.

These are just some of the ways that videoconferencing is used in the United States and across the globe to keep agencies and others communicating effectively.

Is your agency currently realizing any of these benefits through telecommuting? Let us know.

Green IT’s Global Momentum Shows No Signs of Slowing

Forrester’s fourth global survey of enterprise IT professionals found that the slowing economy will not derail efforts to make IT operations more efficient and less environmentally harmful. In fact, of responding companies that are changing the pace of their green IT activities in response to the economic outlook, those going faster outnumber those slowing down by 2 to 1.

No doubt they are evaluating the benefits of video conferencing and telepresence as green IT solutions to help transform their businesses. With an almost immediate return on investment, not only can this green technology help businesses save money, it can also make them more attractive to potential clients who are increasingly evaluating the environmental resumes of their partners and vendors as a main selection criteria.

According to the Forrester report, in April 2007 only 25% of respondents answered yes to the question: Has your company included environmental criteria in its evaluation and selection of IT purchases? However, 59% answered yes in the most recent survey conducted in Oct. 2008. That’s an astounding difference -- probably a trend across the enterprise because companies are finally realizing that being green saves green. Moreover, research shows that over half of global consumers (53 percent/representing 1.1 billion people) prefer to purchase products and services from companies with strong environmental reputations.