Most federal agencies began modernizing their video teleconferencing technology before the COVID-19 pandemic set in and forced a shift to widespread remote work.
During the pandemic, agencies ranging from the U.S. Air Force to the IRS urgently needed to enhance teleconferencing tools, not only to connect employees virtually but to provide services in more intuitive and convenient ways.
Gathering employees in a big conference room for a telepresence or integrated videoconferencing no longer makes sense with today’s distributed workforce, says Greg Touhill, director of the CERT Division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and the first federal CISO, appointed during the Obama administration.
Video teleconferencing to desktops and laptops via Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex, particularly for unclassified work, has grown much more affordable, reliable and easy to install.
“Sound quality is better with the desktop. The image quality is great,” Touhill says. “And you don’t have to pay for those expensive, big telecommunications pipelines. So, the value proposition for government is the same as it is for business.”
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How the VA Is Deploying the Latest Tools
At the Veterans Health Administration, which operates the VA’s hospitals and healthcare centers, clinicians rely on Pexip Infinity as their primary videoconferencing platform to link to patients. The VA Video Connect system housed on that platform allows veterans to see and speak with their healthcare providers via any internet-enabled device.
For mental health services over teleconferencing or veteran-centered webinars, the agency uses Cisco Webex. Microsoft Teams is the agency’s default platform for internal, employee-focused videoconferencing, and the agency has a separate solution built on Pexip Infinity for the Board of Veterans Appeals, which reviews veterans’ disputes of VA decisions, Pool says.
The VA accelerated its teleconferencing upgrades in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, largely to expand its telehealth capacity, Pool says. Before the pandemic, the agency hosted the VA Video Connect platform on-premises, but it shifted to the cloud as a duplicate environment to scale up for pandemic-spurred demand.
“Now we’re evolving to the cloud-based solution being the de facto solution for the agency, so that’s going to be a significant upgrade,” Pool says. “The rapid scalability of the cloud environment gives us comfort when we don’t know where the peak is or how much we have to expand.”