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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."
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.
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.
Be a teleworker and you can maybe save a life.
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