Featured Article from Conferencing

Should Governments Mandate Videoconferencing?

August 30, 2013

Government officials around the world have increasingly turned to videoconferencing and telecommunications technology to slash travel expenditures. While the benefits of virtual communication have been well documented, the question remains whether governments should take the next step and mandate videoconferencing in lieu of travel for employees.

In the United States, the Chief Financial Officers Council already outlined best practices for conference planning last May, advising agencies to explore videoconferencing in lieu of traveling for meetings unless in-person communication is necessary and cost effective for the agency’s mission.

However, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives this summer, H.R. 2643 (also known as the "Cut the Waste, Stay in Place Act of 2013” bill) takes it a step further, by mandating the reduction of the federal government's travel expenditures by 50 percent in 2017. The U.S. federal government spends about $15 billion each year in travel expenses.

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“There’s always room to ‘cut the waste,’ particularly in the public sector,” wrote Vawn Himmelsbach, blogger at expertIP. “But governments should be looking beyond ‘stay in place’ at a broader strategy that encompasses mobility and unified communications. This would allow public servants to remain productive, whether in the office, at home or on the road. So when they have to travel, they can stay connected, communicate and collaborate, with access to real-time information.”

The United States isn’t the only country grappling with this issue. In Canada, government leaders plan to cut departmental travel costs by $42.7 million — or 5 percent — on an ongoing basis, starting 2013-14, through the use of remote meeting technologies.

Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom promoted telecommunications technology heavily during its 2012 London Olympics to enable commuters to avoid the increased congestion during the games. However, government officials considered this recommendation to be more of a pilot program to demonstrate the long-term benefit of such tools.

While videoconferencing and telecommunications technologies save money on travel expenditures, there are other costs to consider. Security and bandwidth requirements are the top of the list, and government official will need to spend money to ensure their networks will meet the increased demand.

“As we move toward a more mobile workforce, it is imperative for public sector organizations to provide employees with highly secure access to information to better serve constituents,” said Patrick Finn, senior vice president of U.S. Public Sector at Cisco.

Himmelsbach suggests that governments need to consider a wider array of unified communication technologies, rather than focusing narrowly on videoconferencing.

Edited by Alisen Downey