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Furious with furloughs, VTC could help Hawaii

School was a little different for Hawaii’s 170,000 public school students last Friday. In fact, it didn’t exist. That’s because last Friday was the first of 17 scheduled furlough days for Hawaii’s 13,000 public school teachers. These furlough days were designed to help reduce the state’s budget deficit and will make its school calendar the shortest of any in the United States.

Like many states, Hawaii’s economy is hurting during the ongoing economic downturn and the state budget shortfall is causing significant cuts across the board. Unfortunately, the latest and deepest cut is one that may be more counterproductive than lawmakers realize.

With the country’s economic situation steadily, if not slowly improving, new jobs are on the horizon. However, the ability to lure new businesses and jobs to the state often comes down to the availability of a well-trained workforce, and cutting education funding is one way to ensure that your state’s workforce is not prepared to compete in the global economy for available jobs.

We understand Hawaii’s desire to work towards a balanced budget without cutting the jobs of school faculty and staff, but there’s a better way to cut education costs without sacrificing the quantity and quality of the education being provided. Video teleconferencing (VTC) is an effective, lower-cost solution of educating students in a way that is just as effective, if not more effective, than traditional schooling.

By utilizing VTC solutions, school systems can increase the effectiveness and range of each teacher by having them teach multiple classes via video. This allows schools to address teacher shortages without the need to hire additional resources. This also allows schools in remote or geographically isolated areas to offer a wider range of subject and classes that they originally didn’t have the staff to offer. This can enable schools to continue to offer arts and other classes and electives via video that may have been too costly to continue.

In addition to increasing the effectiveness of each teacher and providing flexibility in scheduling and additional teaching resources to schools, VTC also enables teachers to continue their education in a way that is less expensive and inconvenient to school systems. As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, professional development for teachers via VTC allows them to stay on top of the latest teaching techniques and advances without a need for expensive travel and substitute teachers.

If you’re not completely sold on the benefits of VTC in educational environments, simply look at Arkansas. The State of Arkansas’ distance learning and video initiative has allowed small districts the opportunity to offer courses they otherwise would not be able to offer and has provided a richer educational experience when one would be unavailable due to a scarcity of funds or resources.

The recent decision for teacher furloughs and to close schools for 17 days is not only a poor one, but an unnecessary one. Less school is not only harmful for students, but damaging for Hawaii’s economic future. There are alternatives like VTC. Can Hawaii really afford not to explore them?

If they do it in Utah it's GOT to be good

In an effort to make some needed room in a tight state budget, the State of Utah recently made the decision to close government offices on Fridays. To accommodate the loss of a workday, the state moved from an 8 hour workweek to a 10 hour workweek Monday through Thursday.

A recent article by Associated Press reporter Paul Foy looked back on that schedule-shrinking decision to see what the end result was in savings. According to Foy, the State of Utah saved more than $500,000 in energy expenditures, $200,000 in reduced janitorial services and significant savings in overtime. The end result was a total savings of $4.8 million.

In addition to the significant cost savings, there’s been an unexpected result. Employees are happier. More than 85 percent of government employees responded to a survey saying they were happy with the switch to four longer workdays a week with three day weekends.

However, despite all of the positives from this new program, there have only been a handful of states looking to emulate it. There are multiple reasons why states may be hesitant to pull the trigger on the four-day workweek, but the largest is the fact that four-day weeks make state agencies and offices unavailable to constituents for three days a week instead of the standard two.

For states looking for the cost savings that comes with keeping employees away from the office, but are hesitant to fully embrace four-day workweeks, video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions like the ones provided by TANDBERG are the perfect compromise.

By implementing VTC solutions, states enable face-to-face communication between employees regardless of distance. This ability to seamlessly communicate and collaborate removes many barriers keeping state organizations and agencies from embracing telework and enables employees to continue to accomplish mission-critical tasks from outside of the office.

By implementing VTC solutions for non-constituent-facing employees, states can begin scheduling telework days and encouraging entire offices to work in a distributed manner. This allows states to keep agencies and organizations functioning five days a week while reaping the rewards of reduced energy costs, less janitorial expenses and reduced overtime from increased productivity.

VTC brings all of the savings of a four-day workweek without having to deprive constituents of important services for whole days at a time. Now that’s a cost saving solution that benefits employees and constituents.

Going green can get your agency out of the red

Scientific reports of melting polar icecaps and global climate change have led to people all over the world seeing green. With carbon offsets being purchased to counteract the environmental impact of everything from corporate travel to the Super Bowl, green has clearly become the new black, affecting every business and individual around the world.

In a world that’s suddenly gone green, the government has been slow to embrace green initiatives. In fact, a recent study done by the 1105 Government Information Group found that green technology initiatives are one of the lowest priorities for government.

The study, which was conducted by surveying 1105’s extensive readership of government influencers, asked respondents to rank 18 technology initiatives in order of priority and importance to their organization. The findings were startling in today’s green-obsessed society, with green being ranked a lowly 16th out of 18.

At TANDBERG, we believe that green initiatives shouldn’t be the rented mule of government priorities when it comes to technology spending. With the ongoing recession, one of the major challenges facing our government is unbalanced budgets and a need to cut spending. Green initiatives may help save the planet, but they are also one of the best ways to save money over time.

Take video teleconferencing (VTC) for example. VTC solutions enable people to communicate face-to-face as if they were in the same room regardless of how far apart they are. This allows agencies to significantly reduce their carbon footprint by making emissions-spewing car and plane travel less necessary, and also saves money in plane fare, hotel costs, per diem and productivity loss while employees are out of pocket.

What’s even more interesting about VTC is that it not only makes organizations greener and more efficient, but also addresses some of the initiatives that were the highest priority to the government based on the study’s findings. These include:

  • Increase operational efficiency/productivity – VTC and telework reduce commutes, cut travel time and effectively make employees more productive … and happier.
  • Information sharing – VTC enables face-to-face communication and the ability to share desktop images, ensuring that information travels quickly and effectively.
  • Continuity of operations – In the event of disaster or epidemic, VTC equipped employees are capable of completing mission-critical tasks from the safety of their own homes.
  • Increase collaboration with other agencies – Fast and effective communication regardless of physical location means that agencies can collaborate regardless of where they are located.

With green initiatives and a desire to save the planet at the forefront of today’s most important societal issues, it’s imperative that the government reprioritize its technology spending and lead the way by embracing technologies like VTC, which can make government more efficient. With the money-saving power of green technology and the current economic downturn, can government really afford not to?

For more information on how your agency can go green, and a calculator that enables you to figure out your agency’s true carbon footprint from TANDBERG, visit http://www.seegreennow.com.

User Stories – Gary

The next in our User Stories series, Gary describes how video conferencing and telepresence technology can cause new users to forget they’re not in the same room.

What is Immersive Telepresence?

Immersive TANDBERG Telepresence T1

Immersive TANDBERG Telepresence T1

Many products are labeled “telepresence,” but the truth is most don’t deliver the true-to-life immersive experience that is the hallmark of telepresence.  According to Frost & Sullivan, telepresence is a tightly integrated set of visual, audio and network technologies and services that together deliver an immersive, life-like communication experience.  But what does this mean?

Three Qualities of Immersive Telepresence:

The goal for immersive telepresence is to reproduce the best characteristics of direct human interaction that result from a face-to-face meeting. This is accomplished when:

  1. Participants can all see each other on the screen no matter who is talking. Unless everyone is visible you miss important non-verbal expressions and reactions that provide important insight. It’s arguable that non-verbal queues are even more telling than verbal communication.
  2. Participants can all see and hear each other in the highest clarity, no matter how they join the call. It should be true-to-life, so you should be able to see the people you are talking to as clearly as if they were sitting across the table from you.
  3. The technology is  seamless. Participants shouldn’t be aware of the technology that enables the immersive experience—they should simply be able to go about their business without worrying about how it’s being supported. This includes easy sharing of multimedia and addition and removal of participants from the call.

As with all visual communication tools, telepresence must deliver an interoperable, consistent, predictable and reliable collaboration experience.  Done right, it will change the way your business gets done.