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The Pentagon's Warfighter Capability Demonstration Center (WARCAP) is making a big move in 2011 to implement more nimble, flexibly-configurable video teleconferencing solutions. In an average month, WARCAP's VTC team supports one major exercise and two or three demonstrations of emerging technology. End users and subject matter experts join in classified and unclassified briefings and conversations with top military leaders.
"Warfighters themselves can talk to the leadership. Guys on the floor of an Air Operations Center brief capability of the technology and its value -- or lack thereof." Anna Santos de Dios, Director of the Air Force's Warfighter Capability Demonstration Center (WarCap) told us more. "Using VTC for exercises lets us bring the field experience right into the Pentagon. Senior decision-makers based here, who often lack the time or budget travel to event, can get in one room or on the same call, and bounce ideas around about what they've just seen."
WARCAP offers its clients three VTC options.
- DISN VIDEO SERVICES GLOBAL (DVSG) uses Tandberg systems to link multiple sites but each participating site is a fixed conference room and must be equipped with DSVG-specific hardware. AT&T schedules the VTC and allocates bandwidth.
- Internet-Protocol (IP)-Based VTC is about to get a lot more popular. This approach is used between two points that each connects their Tandberg MXP-IP coder/decoder (Codec) or similar gear (like the Polycom VSE-7000 IP-based Codec) to connect to the network used to conduct the military exercises and demos.
"Even some guy in the field with a webcam and internet access can be on the call," said Santos de Dios. "We've had guys doing VTC's standing next to their HUMVEE's talking about how systems perform, and that's much more powerful and memorable than someone briefing from a PowerPoint."
But WARCAP wanted the flexibility to arrange those calls itself, to multiple points, and do it more quickly. So, WARCAP's NCO's collaborated with team from SAIC to come up with the solution. By April of 2011, General Dynamics IT and its subcontractor, PPI, will have installed a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU), the Tandberg MCU-4150 to improve service by bridging multiple locations.
- Finally, WARCAP uses Defense Connect Online (DCO), a software-based VTC system, for informal meetings and document sharing that doesn't require high bandwidth or ultra-high resolution video that the military exercises do. Once a computer has the software installed, plug in a USB web cam, and they're good to go.
"The people we support -- those running exercises, and those advocating more resources for work in the field -- feel that VTC helps them reach audiences they wouldn't have access to any other way," said Santos de Dios. "The senior leaderships appreciates the opportunity to see exercises or evaluate technologies without disrupting their schedules with additional travel.
"The big challenge is that, with constant turnover in personnel that simply part of military life, we always have to keep educating people that this resource is available, so we're always doing outreach about WARCAP's VTC capabilities."
NASA is one of the federal pioneers of video teleconferencing systems (remember the first broadcasts from space?)ůso it's no surprise that this agency's program managers continue to rely on video conference technology to meet its daily demands for high-quality audio and visual communication among diverse public and private sector communities. "At NASA, teams at varied locations need a way to engage in timely, technical conversations and collaborate remotely to meet mission-critical goals," said NASA's Deputy Chief Information Officer Deborah Diaz. NASA -- both Headquarters and its major centers around the country -- uses video teleconferencing for everything from meetings, seminars, major international conferences and face-to-face meetings to quick conversations on pressing issues. The payoff is obvious: more cost-efficient and -effective operations, with savings on facilities as well as meeting planning and logistics. At an Open Government Summit hosted by NASA in the fall of 2010, nearly 60 percent of the participants used electronic tools to "virtually attend" the summit. Organizers faced twin challenges of being efficient but also inclusive, while juggling video streaming, cooperative note-taking, online teleconferencing and adapting conversational practices in the room, to bridge the gap between physical and virtual participants. What are they using? NASA Headquarters maintains video teleconferencing systems (ViTS) in multiple configurations, with equipment from vendors including Tandberg, Polycom and LifeSize. The typical ViTS stack includes the ViTS components themselves, additional recording units, PCs and in some cases SmartBoard capability. NASA is in the process of migrating all of its ViTS to have High Definition, digital sign control, and MP3 audio recording capabilities Latest capability improvements include Flash and Windows Media Video streaming via the Web. Users who have a small portable streaming system can view transmissions via computer from anywhere in the world. Some configurations offer MP3 recording capability that lets NASA burn CDs to distribute audio recordings; in others, NASA can use full audiovisual recording capability to capture entire events on Digital Video Disc (DVD) or Blu-Ray. NASA has begun implementing a Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) phone system, too. That will speed the delivery of IP-based desktop video conferencing as the agency phases out ISDN-based systems and will increase ViTS availability to NASA employees while reducing overall costs associated with equipment maintenance, operations, and logistics typical of larger ViTS facilities. "Technology enables and supports one to thousands of conversations," said NASA's Chief Technology Officer for IT, Chris Kemp. "We're finding that if we don't stand in the way of that conversation, incredible things can happen."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just completed its first joint international mission where telepresence was used to send data, including images from the seafloor in real-time, via satellite and high-speed Internet pathways to scientists in Exploration Command Centers around the world. The 2010 expedition was the maiden voyage of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which worked with the Indonesian Research Vessel Baruna Jaya IV. U.S. and Indonesian scientists worked side-by-side on both ships as well as in the shore-based command centers in Jakarta, Seattle, Silver Spring, MD and Kingston, RI, where they analyzed the data sent from the Okeanos Explorer's Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. The mission's goal was to study deep sea habitats and marine life in unknown ocean areas near Indonesia. "In an incredible extension of telepresence technology, live images from the seafloor also went for the first time to scientists ashore beyond Exploration Command Centers," said NOAA scientist Steve Hammond, Ph.D., the expedition's U.S. chief scientist. "One scientist at the University of Victoria shared the live seafloor video with her ocean science students and took still frames from the video to email to other ocean experts who could help with identifications. We had scientists of many disciplines in numerous locations all sharing comments in an online chat room as they viewed live video," he said. "All those comments are time-coded to the video for further reference and research." NOAA had to make sure the images sent back using telepresence were the highest quality. The ROV that gathered the images, dubbed Little Herc, was given an extensive 4 month overhaul. According to NOAA, Little Herc boasted a new motor controller and power bottle system, an upgraded fiber optic multiplexer system, a new Ultra Short Baseline Tracking System (USBL), a full color imaging sonar, a new Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) sensor, two new single chip color CCD cameras, two new LED lights, two 400watt HMI Lights and a spectacular High Definition video camera, in addition to new tethers, new tether terminations, a new transformer, a new electrical junction box, new depth and altitude sensors, a new light bar and a new version of control software. Little Herc can travel down to a depth of 4,000 meters. The Okeanos Explorer is the only NOAA ship to have a dedicated ROV, which makes it easier to deploy at any time. On the Okeanos Explorer, there is an integrated control room for operating the ROV and for running telepresence communication. According to NOAA, having the screens and computers permanently wired to the ship makes it more efficient to sustain long-term exploration in remote areas of the world. Images from the seafloor also can go live into classrooms, newsrooms, and living rooms through the use of the telepresence technology. The application of telepresence technology for ocean science and exploration and for education and outreach was first envisioned by Robert Ballard, Ph.D., who partnered with NOAA to develop and refine the technology to bring underwater discovery to audiences ashore. Expedition scientists on this latest mission believe that high-definition video transmitted from the deep sea to scientists ashore in real-time provided a significant step forward in identifying marine animals, geologic features and other aspects of the deep regions of the Sulawesi Sea near Indonesia. "We had a fantastic view of the summit area of Kawio Barat and the features we saw strongly suggest very recent volcanic activity at 6,200 feet," said David Butterfield, PhD., a scientist with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "Seeing an eruption at Kawaio Barat is a priority for future observations. Although 70 percent of Earth's volcanic activity takes place under the ocean surface, researchers have only observed active eruptions by two undersea volcanoes." NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is operated, managed and maintained by NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps and civilian wage mariners. NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is responsible for operating the cutting-edge ocean exploration systems on the vessel. It is the only federal ship dedicated to systematic exploration of the planet's largely unknown ocean. Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., the U.S. under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator says Okeanos is scheduled to return to Indonesia next summer to continue its mission.
With the new telework bill signed into law, federal employees will soon have more opportunities to telework, and agencies have more incentive to invest in or increase their telepresence options. After the Senate passed the bill in September, the House followed suit in November. It was signed into law last week, and encourages federal employees to telework. Currently, about 5 percent of federal employees participate in some sort of telework plan, and agencies will have to improve their existing technology capabilities and options to meet the increase in participating employees. "We're talking about bringing the government into the 21st century from a technology point of view and every other point of view," said bill sponsor Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) in an interview with Federal News Radio last month. "The technology is moving so aggressively there's no reason not to have a good telework policy," Wolf said. Video teleconferencing is already a component of telework programs at many agencies, and has in some cases enabled greater allowance for teleworking. At the Defense Information Systems Agency, the desktop- and laptop- based telepresence has "enabled our telework program to thrive, allowing DISA employees to fully participate in meetings, no matter where they are located," Colonel Brian Hermann, chief of the Net-Centric Enterprise Services branch. "It allows off-site employees to "participate fully in small-group meetings, including the use of whiteboarding and sharing presentations," Hermann said. Will other agencies follow suit? Stay tuned. Navy adding telepresence at National Naval Medical Center The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda is looking to install a video teleconferencing room which will serve as the Admiral's Conference room. The conference room will be used for executive-level video teleconference and Board of Directors meetings, among others according to a solicitation posted to FedBizzOpps.gov.
The National Defense University has two primary campuses: North Campus in Washington, DC and the South Campus located in Norfolk, Va. But their students are all around the world, and thanks to the NDU iCollege, they don't miss out on anything, from guest speakers to special lectures. From U.S. DoD Combatant Commands (COCOMS) stationed around the world, and students from Hawaii to Sweden, the NDU iCollege's video teleconferencing capabilities allow NDU to share their resources and courses more broadly. Installed in July 2009, the NDU iCollege maintains a telepresence room equipped with a speaker lectern with interactive capabilities and 18 separate workstations with video teleconferencing screens. "When we decided to purchase the system, it took several months to get approval and to work through security issues," Jolly Sienda, Outreach Professional at the NDU iCollege said. "Now, we can see the benefits of video teleconferencing usage with our students and stakeholders." In the past year and a half, NDU iCollege has continued to incorporate their telepresence capabilities into various areas of the university, and seen the benefit not only to their mission, but also to their bottom line. "For example, the capability of having a guest speaker from Washington, D.C., talk to students in Sweden without travel costs is a tremendous cost savings," Sienda said in an e-mail to Federal News Radio. "We've done this twice this year and we are planning other video teleconferences next year." It also allows the college to provide expert faculty speakers in off-site courses, Sienda said, without having to send faculty off campus. In early 2010, the college conducted meetings with academic partners in Singapore to plan a cybersecurity conference. Even basic coordination and planning between the university's two campuses is made easier. The NDU iCollege uses a Polycom RPX HD system, Sienda says, which further diminishes the sense of distance. "When we are able to connect two teleconference systems, the result is very high quality, almost like you are together in person," Sienda said. The iCollege continues to find new uses for its telepresence room, most recently adding students in Hawaii. "Our use of telepresence continues to grow as the adoption of the technology grows throughout the Federal government and particularly within the Department of Defense," Sienda said. "This is a powerful tool for information sharing and networking with the college's students and stakeholders."
How can a Defense Department analyst hold a last-minute meeting with three other analysts in three different locations around the world? Well, if they're one of the over 380,000 Defense employees using Defense Connect Online, it's as simple as turning on a video camera and starting a session. Defense Connect Online (DCO) is the Defense Information Systems Agency's second video teleconferencing system by which users web conference using video cameras at their desk or laptop. DCO is available DoD-wide. The technology is being applied by senior-level leaders, agency employees, and service members alike, according to Colonel Brian Hermann, chief of the Net-Centric Enterprise Services branch. Managed in conjunction by Carahsoft Technology Corp. and Adobe Systems Incorp., DCO consists of a multiuser text chat and instant messaging, as well as web conferencing using Adobe Connect. DISA first awarded the contract in 1997. Aside from allowing program leaders and employees in different locations to hold discussions from their desks, DCO has also been incorporated into DISA's telework strategy. "DCO has enabled our telework program to thrive, allowing DISA employees to fully participate in meetings, no matter where they are located," Hermann said. It allows off-site employees to "participate fully in small-group meetings, including the use of whiteboarding and sharing presentations." Last year, DISA extended the service to non-DoD agencies and federal partners who work with the DoD. "The greatest challenge online is balancing security with sharing," Hermann said. "We solve that by allowing other federal government members to have accounts on our DCO services." With the expansion, federal employees with .gov email addresses can also create DCO accounts to further collaborate with DoD mission partners. The system has been widely incorporated across the DoD, and is adding approximately 4,500 new users each week, Hermann said. "DCO is also currently being used by DoD service members to hold impromptu meetings for situational awareness," Hermann said. "We have moved from simply cost benefits to command and control and operational capabilities."
The Wounded Warrior Project is a new collaboration among Raytheon, Cisco - it offers wounded veterans a chance to learn computer and cybersecurity skills. Bob Connors, project director, talks with Federal News Radio about the details.
Video teleconferencing is more than an alternative to travel at the Defense Information Systems Agency. In fact, the demand for the agency's VTC facilities is exceeding expectations. It's no wonder then that the agency announced last week that it was re-awarding AT&T a contract to continue maintaining DISA's Video Services - Global (DVS-G) VTC system. "Telepresence is quite effective, in lieu of face-to-face meetings, in reducing the requirement for frequent travel," said Julia Brown, project manager for Defense Information Systems Network Video Services at DISA, said in an email to Federal News Radio. "Our challenge is keeping up with current level of demand." The agency has two telepresence options for employees to use. The Defense Connect Online (DCO) system allows employees to connect using equipment located at their desks. DCO is available to all authorized Defense Department employees DISA's other option is their VTC system that connects employees through rooms containing video teleconferencing equipment that function much like television studios, Brown said. The rooms are linked electronically allowing the participants in one room to see and hear the participants in the other rooms. Participants schedule a meeting through VTC coordinators and DISA maintains VTC facilities at military bases around the world. "It saves travel time and expenditures while allowing all participants to engage fully in meetings across the world," Brown said. "Our senior leaders use it for high-level meetings with other senior leaders in the DoD, but DISA also uses it for when we need all our agency employees around the world to meet for important issues, such as an all-hands meeting with our director." AT&T, which currently owns a majority of and maintains all of equipment and software under the DVS-G contract, has been DISA's vendor since 1997. The company currently is on its second contract with the agency. The current contract is worth up to $244.8 million. In early November, DISA announced that they would award AT&T a new sole-source contract, continuing the company's stewardship of VTC services for up to another five years. The new contract has a two-year base, with three one-year options. The new contract will be awarded effective Nov 30. "VTC has proven useful across the world, allowing our senior leaders to see the body language of meeting participants, assisting in a better understanding of objections, reservations, or approval," Brown said. Next week, the Video Teleconferencing Center takes an in-depth look at DISA's DCO system.
Raytheon and Cisco are joining up to expand the Wounded Warrior Project. The programs they are sponsoring make it easier for wounded servicemen and women to re-enter the workplace with the skills they need to become cybersecurity professionals.
Agencies can take a lesson from the General Services Administration's newly announced telepresence plan aimed at saving money and the earth.
GSA discussed recently their $18 million plan to build what they call virtual meeting centers within 11 of regional headquarters offices and four headquarters offices in the Washington-metro area.
Agencies with their own telepresence capabilities can interoperate with the new GSA virtual centers with the proper technical set up. Bob Lesino, GSA spokesman tells InformationWeek, agencies need to be able to deliver and receive 1080p video resolution and support H.323/H.264.
The idea behind telepresence moves video teleconferencing to another level. GSA touts the technology behind the centers, boasting "live, face-to-face, immersive meeting experiences." Each room is expected to have high-definition video and advanced audio equipment.
"You will feel like you are making eye contact [with the other person], [you will] feel like you are sitting across the table from them, almost as if you can pass the person a cup of coffee, " said Martha Johnson, GSA administrator. "As the federal government's workplace solutions expert, GSA is exploring new ways to create a more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable government for the American people. This includes incorporating innovative and collaborative technologies like virtual meeting centers to create seamless connections around the world. Availability of virtual meeting technology will help launch our government to the next level of productivity."
The goal is for GSA to become a model for technologies that enable a mobile workforce, she added.
The whole point of telepresence is to make it easier to get the job done. And saving time and money is part of that equation.
"The cost of travel is not just the price of a plane ticket. You have to factor in the sheer wear and tear of travel on people, " said Johnson.
The centers will be available for use by all agencies at a fixed hourly rate. The network will let any subscribing agency meet with counterparts in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, as well as with counterparts in other telepresence networks nationally and internationally.
The centers will also be made available to stateside military families so that they can meet virtually with service members overseas.
AT&T will develop and manage the virtual network through a task order under GSA's Networx Enterprise contract. Once the network is operational, agencies will be able to order and schedule virtual meeting sessions through a secure Web portal as well as through a valet that will be available around the clock.
Johnson said the first of the virtual meeting centers will be operational in early 2011.