Dec 06 2011

Video Conferencing Encourages Collaboration

The Defense Acquisition University deploys Polycom desktop video technology for teaching and meetings, while NASA pilots various systems to simplify collaboration.

The Defense Acquisition University strives to deliver a global learning environment for military and civilian acquisition personnel in the Defense Department, so it’s a natural that the university has become a big fan of video conferencing.

Given the success of DOD’s room-based video conferencing systems for distributed courses and meetings, DAU leadership sought to broaden the deployment via desktop technology in 2010.

“We had long used traditional video teleconferencing over ISDN, but we needed high-definition clarity so things like facial cues wouldn’t be lost,” says CIO Tim Hamm. At the same time, DAU wanted to take advantage of the Multiprotocol Label Switching network it deployed to support its Polycom RealPresence Experience (RPX) room systems.

DAU purchased 20 Polycom HDX 4000-series units, which include monitors with high-definition video; powerful stereo speakers; built-in webcams; and codecs that let participants share documents, images and drawings. The desktop units are used for teaching courses to students at the university’s eight U.S. locations and meetings among the leadership and various councils.

Because video conferencing is pervasive at the Defense Acquisition University, there are times when all of the room systems are booked and an individual may not have access to a desktop system. When that happens, staffers turn to Defense Connect Online (DCO), a web conferencing and collaboration platform based on Adobe Acrobat Connect. Hamm says DCO also presents a good alternative when users at other facilities lack access to a Polycom system.

The Polycom deployment saved the agency money and time over the past few years. “We’ve avoided flying a lot of people in for meetings, and it adds up,” Hamm says.

Saving money is one major reason federal agencies are moving to desktop video conferencing, says Subha Rama, a senior analyst at ABI Research. In addition to reasonable licensing costs, desktop video conferencing generally leads to higher productivity and greater employee satisfaction. What’s more, many government agencies are deploying desktop video to reduce travel, which results in lower emissions and costs, she says.

Selecting a Standard

NASA has one of the longest associations with video conferencing of all federal agencies, dating back to the first manned space flights in the 1960s. Today, the agency’s massive, multiyear desktop video conferencing prototype project includes five NASA facilities and eight desktop video conferencing products.

“Our vision is ‘extreme collaboration made simple’ — for our users to work with anyone, from anywhere, from any device, with any data, at any time,” says Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Soderstrom sits on the NASA CTO council that is spearheading the project for the agency.

With 70,000 employees and contractors — not including the countless scientists, engineers, associations and industry partners it collaborates with daily — NASA is a prime candidate for desktop video conferencing. Leadership began the prototype process by working with Adobe, Cisco SystemsMicrosoft and Polycom, as well as emerging players such as Citrix Systems and Logitech.

Desktop video conferencing prototypes are already in heavy use throughout NASA by IT personnel and end users for preplanned and ad hoc meetings. The technology even lets astronauts on the International Space Station talk with their loved ones back home.

Amount saved by using video conferencing to replace three meetings requiring six hours of round-trip car travel per year

SOURCE: Polycom Return on Investment Calculator

NASA won’t determine its desktop video conferencing standard for at least a year. However, Deputy Chief Information Officer Deborah Diaz expects desktop and mobile video conferencing technology to mature significantly over the next several months.

Recently, NASA entered into a contract that will put Skype on every computer deployed within the Office of the CIO, with an eye toward a wider deployment within the agency.

“With NASA’s very collaborative scientific, engineering and technical workforce, we want to ensure flexible, high-quality solutions with device diversity to meet our mobility requirements,” Diaz says. “Through our prototyping process, we will better assure desktop video conferences to improve high-definition video performance, desktop collaboration and end-user satisfaction.”