Videoconferencing minimizes costs
Although it is often thought of as a tool reserved for Fortune 500 companies, videoconferencing has recently come within the reach of government organizations because of advances in technology and carrier services. For many, the timing could not be better. Reduced budgets and the high cost of travel have curtailed training and other operations across local, state and federal government agencies. It is difficult for many agencies to justify travel costs.
While not intended to take the place of travel, videoconferencing can effectively substitute for much of it. More importantly, videoconferencing can enhance day-to-day activities. It can increase productivity and make better use of scarce government resources through more frequent and natural interaction with distant offices.
“Videoconferencing lets us bring the decision-makers together, on a face-to-face basis,” says John Fleming, senior management analyst II for the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee. His department frequently holds videoconferencing sessions with the National Weather Service, FEMA, the National Guard, the U.S. Army and surrounding states to assist local communities in emergencies such as hurricanes.
Florida’s videoconferencing system was implemented in July to assist the department in dealing with this past summer’s forest fire problems in cities across the state. Fleming says that as many as 40 people at a time were able to attend videoconferences with the National Weather Service and the Florida Forestry Association without having to pay travel expenses. “It allows more people to attend a meeting, particularly on short notice,” he says.
Cost and time savings are the most beneficial characteristics of a videoconferencing system, according to Judge James Twedt, senior administrative parole and probation judge in Des Moines, Iowa. The parole board and courts use videoconferencing for a variety of purposes, including: * holding interviews with inmates to determine parole; * interviewing victims about the inmates’ original crimes and eliciting their opinions as to whether the inmatesshould be paroled; and * holding parole revocation hearings.
Videoconferencing saves judges and law enforcement officials the time and expense required to travel to different facilities to hold the interviews or sessions. Additionally, inmates do not have to leave the penitentiary for the sessions, reducing potential security concerns.
More importantly, Twedt says, “It allows us to turn our driving time into working time.” He cites a recent example in which, in one day, he was able to hold several interviews in cities that were several hours apart. Previously, Twedt was required to drive to each of the facilities.
The “telejustice” system has been in place since July 1994; since that time, Twedt says the board has held more than 300 revocation hearings and more than 1,000 inmate interviews. Iowa has 580 videoconferencing sites at libraries, schools, prisons, courts and other facilities.
Improved technology, user benefits, more attractive pricing and the recent adoption of internationally acknowledged standards all have boosted the prevalence of videoconferencing among local governments. According to industry analysts, videoconferencing usage has been growing over the past few years at a rate of 40 to 50 percent, and government agencies on the federal, state and local levels are among the early users of the technology. Today, the reason for purchasing a videoconferencing system is even more relevant, since methods to cut costs, save time and improve productivity are more a part of the everyday operation of business.