As the Rudd Government continues its quest for savings in government spending, there were no surprises as significant travel cuts were imposed in many agencies. With similar inevitability, attention has again turned to video conferencing as an effective way of absorbing such cuts. There are clear lessons from previous implementations that point to successful long term implementations.
Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on 16 March, the Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner announced that this year he would be cracking down on public service air travel. The Government will be investigating bulk discount opportunities for air travel (expected to save $15 million a year) and, in the longer term, the Government would be “… looking at video conferencing as a much stronger alternative to public servants flying endlessly around the county.”
As part of its aim to cut operational spending by $10 billion over the next decade, Defence has announced that it will cut domestic travel costs by 20 per cent.
The Department of Finance and Deregulation has issued a Finance Circular (2008/2) setting out requirements for achieving value for money when procuring official air travel (domestic and international).
Federal Government Video Conferencing Market
According to Intermedium’s research, 22 agencies reported video conferencing contracts during the 2006-07 financial year worth a total of more than $9.5 million. In the first 6 months of the current financial year, less than $2 million worth of contracts were reported.
Intermedium’s scout IT prospecting tool shows that two agencies listed video equipment in their procurement plans for 2007-08. In addition, two existing contracts for video conferencing equipment, and four contracts for video conferencing services are due to expire within the next 12 months.
Use of Video Conferencing in Federal Government
Two types of video conferencing are currently in vogue in the Federal Government:
- Video conferencing at the desktop, and
- Large scale, room-based video conferencing
There has also been convergence between computer and telecommunications technologies resulting in systems that enable text and graphics to be incorporated with the more traditional voice and images.
Some agencies are doing well in their use of video conferencing, while others have struggled to make the technology work effectively.
Prior to the imperative caused by recent travel cuts, the use of video conferencing had increased, partly in response to skills shortages within the public sector. Video conferencing has been used to bring together project teams assembled to access skills in dispersed locations.
Video conferencing has a number of significant benefits if implemented strategically. However, if it is just seen as a means to overcome travel cuts, it will not be used to its full advantage. A hastily implemented video conference capability installed without full understanding of it strategic benefits is a missed opportunity.
Tips for a successful Video Conferencing Installation
The key to success is to introduce video conferencing as a technology with identified benefits, a technology with unique advantages rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to travel cuts. Otherwise, history shows that when travel restrictions are eased, there will be a return to travel. The following tips have been prepared by Intermedium in conjunction with clients that supply video conferencing technology.
- Ensure that key objectives and measurements are in place before any video conferencing system is installed.
- Think about the environment in which video conferencing is to be used. Desktop solutions should not be located in busy areas with noise and other distractions. For room-based video conferencing, a dedicated and purposed designed room is required in which meetings can take place without the distraction of the technology. Video conferencing is “a means, not an end”, and meeting participants should be almost unaware that video conferencing technology is being used. This requires careful planning and design.
- Understand the impact on the communications network capacity and architecture. Videoconferencing does impose some load on the communications network. If the network is already experiencing capacity limitations, then videoconferencing will simply add to the problems.
- Ensure that staff understand the technology and how to use it. An in-house communications campaign is essential to ensure that staff understand the unique benefits of video conferencing beyond savings on travel. For example, more frequent meetings of dispersed project teams can be achieved using video conferencing that would occur if physical travel were required. Once they understand how to use the technology effectively, staff will start to use it with enthusiasm.
- Ensure that the technology is scalable. Most agencies will want to start small, but people will not stick with video conferencing if the infrastructure runs out of capacity.