On November 9, 2001 President Barack Obama issued, Executive Order 13589 -- Promoting Efficient Spending, which is aimed at cutting waste in Federal Government spending and identifying opportunities to promote efficient and effective spending. It called for federal agencies to look closely at reducing costs in various areas but particularly in regards to making sure travel was done only when necessary and that technology was used optimally.
In some ways, while more expansive, it was partially a follow-on to the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. This law requires each agency head to establish and implement a policy under which employees could work remotely for the purposes of reducing costs and environmental impacts as well as providing more flexibility in workforce management.
All of this is pertinent because of a recently released study by Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework, which was underwritten by Blue Jeans Networks. The study entitled, “Fly Me to Your Room: Government Video Conferencing Collaboration Report,” showcases opportunities for increased efficiencies and cooperation – as well as significant savings – by utilizing video conferencing. This includes primary finding that if half of all Federal workers used video conferencing, they could save three and a half hours a week in productivity savings, amounting to $8 billion annually.
Here is some grist for the mill from the report which surveyed a diverse group of 128 federal employees who were surveyed in July and August 2012:
· 84 percent of respondents expect video conferencing use to increase within the next five years and think it is an effective way to reduce already-tightened Federal budgets
· 92 percent agreed increased video conferencing use would save tax dollars
· 73 percent agreed video conferencing would help reign in project timelines
In addition, it is noteworthy that 78 percent noted the greatest benefit to video conferencing is reduced business travel. Other benefits cited include:
· Money saved (70 percent)
· Improved collaboration (53 percent)
· A reduced carbon footprint (49 percent)
· Improved work-life balance (47 percent)
· Greater use of video conferencing could save their agencies more than 30 percent of their overall travel budgets, which equals nearly $5 billion of the Federal travel budget
Here’s the rub
So why hasn’t video conferencing taken off in the U.S. federal government despite laws and executive orders? “In our experience, the largest barrier to the adoption of video conferencing has been the lack of device interoperability. Organizations should not have to worry about whether or not all participants are using the same video conferencing solution, computer, or mobile device,” according to Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer at Blue Jeans Network. “The report findings support our relentless focus on making video conferencing as simple as an audio call in order to have government and non-governmental organizations alike benefit from better productivity and the cost savings associated with video conferencing.”
The obstacles to more widespread adoption revealed in the report were interesting given the positive view of the role and value of video conferencing:
“Since the passage of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, we have seen an incredible change in how government is working together remotely,” said Cindy Auten, general manager, Telework Exchange. “We are riding the wave of mobility and must arm Federal workers with the right tools to get the job done in the best way possible. Collaboration tools, like video conferencing, allow coworkers to come together visually but without lengthy travel, or large amounts of time away from one’s work station. It best enables cooperation and teamwork in these mobile times.”
What was interesting to me is that it seems that the list of hurdles to be overcome would look similar to that of any large enterprise. The government has no monopoly on the slow uptake of video conferencing. The survey respondents also seem to share industry optimism that we have finally crossed the tipping point in video conferencing desirability.
This is not being unrealistic. Yes I know that “next year will be the year for video conferencing” has been the promise from the industry and analysts for almost two decades. However, the combination of global economic realities, the need for speed and collaboration, industry efforts to agree interoperability, and things like video chat on iPhones and Android devices is going to mushroom, particularly now that the iPhone (News - Alert) can use 4G LTE all make for a perfect storm for the market projections to take on hockey stick shapes.
Will this be a revolution in the government sector? Not likely. The workforce is not heavily populated with digitally adept millennials and budget concerns even in the face of such big numbers in savings as the study projects present a formidable problem short-term and possibly longer term as well despite the good news on the either a TCO or ROI basis. That said, with the government looking reduce travel costs and video conferencing the obvious way to do so, especially given how inexpensive it is becoming as video becomes more personal and portable, it would be nice to be proven wrong. See you on the Internet.
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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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