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Video communication trends in the public sector: A Q&A with Yorktel's Greg Douglas

August 18, 2014 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Meredith Lawrence / The Public Sector View

Public sector organizations have long coveted video collaboration due to their ability to increase productivity and save budget dollars. Unfortunately, this cost savings and increased efficiency often comes with a large capital investment, putting these solutions just out of reach at a time when federal spending is being closely scrutinized and reduced.

However, lower costs and technology advances are leading to new uses and benefits for video communications solutions within the public sector. They're also making these solutions more accessible to agencies across all levels of government.

We recently had to opportunity to speak with Greg Douglas, the Executive Vice President of Sales at Yorktel, to discuss the ongoing evolution of the video collaboration industry, and how it's impacting adoption and utilization in the public sector.

Here is what Greg had to say:

PSV: What are some innovative ways video-based unified communications are being used in the public sector?

Mr. Douglas: All across the public sector, we're seeing people thinking creatively about how they can perform their jobs more efficiently by using video communication to collaborate. One of the most innovative uses of the technology is within healthcare, where we're seeing physicians monitoring hospital patients remotely to ensure, for example, that an injured limb is elevated to a certain degree to promote a faster recovery, or a patient's heart rate and other measurable diagnostics are within a safe range. It's also very helpful at enabling a medical specialist who's faced with a difficult decision, such as diagnosing a rare disease or performing a risky surgery, to share videos, images and ideas with another specialist in real time before proceeding. In addition to file sharing, the two specialists can easily sync calendars to establish follow-up conversations via video, audio, or IM.

According to Dr. Adam Darkins, chief consultant for telehealth services at Veteran's Affairs, more than 600,000 veterans, or 11% of the VA's patient base, received at least some care via telehealth in fiscal year 2013 (as reported in InformationWeek). During 1.7 million episodes, veterans received medical attention across 44 areas of care including mental health, speech pathology, neurology, cardiology, and primary care.

Within the Department of Transportation (DOT), we're also seeing innovative uses of video-based UC. Major projects such as bridges and tunnels require a lot of collaboration among state and federal government agencies. These projects traditionally involved dozens of meetings to review blueprints and planning processes. Thanks to the HD images and video compression capabilities available with video-based UC, many of these collaborative meetings can be conducted without participants leaving their offices, saving thousands of hours in driving time, plus tens of thousands of dollars in travel-related expenses.

PSV: We hear a lot more about customer experience nowadays. How are video-based communications being used in the public sector to address internal and external customer experiences?

Mr. Douglas: We're seeing a greater emphasis on how the key touch points of the video conference - the LCD, camera, and speakers - can be set up ergonomically to optimize users' comfort. This trend also ties in with the BYOD (bring your own device) trend of allowing users to bring their own laptops, tablets, and other personal video communication devices to participate in corporate video conferences. A third trend we're seeing in this space is enabling participants to share and manipulate content through the use of touch screen technology, such as video kiosks. Unlike the earlier days of kiosks where users were turned off due to the level of difficulty to use the equipment as well as the lack of functionality, today's video kiosks are much more user friendly and effective.

PSV: What's the first step public sector IT decision makers need to consider when selecting a video-based UC solution?

Mr. Douglas: The on premise vs. cloud decision is an important first step. In an on premise scenario, the video conferencing technology resides behind the organization's firewall, whereas in the later scenario it resides in the vendor's (or another third-party provider's) cloud data center. Some organizations have the misconception that cloud solutions aren't as secure as on premise solutions. It's important to note, however, that some cloud providers -- especially private cloud providers -- operate under very strict security standards such as ISO 27001: 2013, which uses a much higher security standard than those used at many enterprises.

Additionally, some cloud providers are pursuing the following certifications/approvals: FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002), FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards), and FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program). This trend will lead to more public sector organizations moving their video conferencing infrastructures to the cloud in the future, but ultimately we're going to see hybrid environments where some video conferencing apps reside behind the organization's corporate firewall and other apps reside in the cloud.

PSV: What's the biggest pitfall public sector decision-makers need to watch out for with regard to adopting video-based UC?

Mr. Douglas: The biggest pitfall I see is organizations that don't take advantage of the collaboration components and treat calls like audio conferences. In addition to minimizing ambient noises and ensuring proper lighting conditions, it's crucial to teach users how to use all the videoconference's collaboration features. Until participants understand how to share a document with the other participants and how both parties can edit in real-time, conferences are basically just glorified audio conferences. Once participants do understand what's available to them not just in a single meeting, but as a whole collaboration system -- calendar syncing, presence, IM, file sharing, and audio communication -- the real benefits and advantages of UC and video based meetings become apparent.

The fact is that the possibilities that exist with video-based UC are not yet well understood or embraced by many end users. I would encourage those in charge of the public sector mission to ask themselves and their teams, how much more effectively and efficiently could users perform their job duties with video and how much more effective could they serve customers with visual communications solutions? There's a misconception that still exists that video communication and UC are expensive and complicated. Those traditional barriers have dropped considerably, which those willing to investigate video-based UC are discovering.

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