Jan 27 2010

Collaboration Through Technology

In the never-ending effort to gain efficiencies, improve communications and make the most of available resources, agencies are turning more often to collaborative technologies — such as unified communications, Voice over IP and video conferencing tools — to accomplish their goals.

Many agencies see unified communications as a way not only to ease the management burden but also to future-proof their networks and provide new services. That’s the case at the Peace Corps, which has a major backbone overhaul under way and is using VoIP as a launching point for UC.

“What we currently have is adequate for the old operating model, and it does the job, but we can now take it to the next step,” says Domenico Palombo, the agency’s chief of global network operations and telecommunications.

In a recent study conducted by Frost & Sullivan and sponsored by Verizon and Cisco Systems, organizations that deployed unified communications and collaboration tools stated that 72 percent experienced improved performance, compared with 46 percent that did not deploy the technologies.

At the Farm Credit Administration, CIO Doug Valcour says that his agency has jumped into UC feet first. “We are a very collaborative organization, and it’s important to enhance that ability in real time,” he says. For more on these unified communications efforts, read “Close the Loop."

The Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center also is focusing on a similar drive to improve collaboration and link technologies. Although technology in medical devices, portable devices for clinicians and health records systems are prevalent, it’s the weaving together of these tools that can best propel health IT forward, says LCDR Steve Steffensen, a Navy neurologist who serves as TATRC’s chief medical information officer.

A real issue is data presentation that doesn’t overwhelm care providers, adds Bob Connors, the center’s executive health manager. “We’re looking at interesting ways to display data in a health record — but only those things that are important to display at the time of care.” For more about collaboration in healthcare IT, read “Leading the Way on Health IT.”

Meanwhile, other agencies are looking to expand the use of high-end video conferencing tools to make their remote interactions feel more like face-to-face communications. “We have high-definition video conferencing deployed everywhere,” says Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “It’s very good at eliminating unnecessary travel.” Even with people on opposite sides of the continent, meetings are easy and natural. The use of high-def video conferencing has been so successful that the space agency is now working on pushing the service to notebook systems. To read more about JPL’s video conferencing efforts, read “True to Form.”

Perhaps the most exciting component of these and similar initiatives is that they spur new ways to better collaborate, share ideas and use IT to further federal missions.

Ryan Petersen