A couple of weeks ago, a juror summons made its way into our mail. Thankfully it was addressed to my husband because the thought of taking the New York City subway by myself gives me heart palpitations since I’m a bit of a germophobe and slightly claustrophobic when it comes to crowds.  This morning, I dropped my husband off at the train station and he joined the rush hour commute into Brooklyn – standing in a crowd the entire way. As he spends his day in court, I can’t help but think about the judicial system.

Budget cuts have had a significant impact on courts as state and local governments are having trouble keeping up with the day-to-day operations. In fact, budget cuts forced the closure of the Tulare County courthouse last month, as well as, three unpaid furlough days in Kentucky this year. Even worse, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warns that budget cuts are threatening the judicial system after a Sacramento father watched his “wife disappear out-of-state with their son after his child custody case was delayed because of court cutbacks.”

How can federal, state and local courts cut costs without crippling the judicial system?

Investing in video conferencing  is a good place to start. Video arraignments reduce the staff and resources needed to transport detainees to the courthouse which is especially beneficial for extremely dangerous or high-profile inmates that require escalated security detail to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Video arraignments also allow courthouses to speed up the arraignment process for non-violent detainees; minimizing their time and expense in jail.

Additionally, the City of San Antonio Municipal Court recently implemented video court services for traffic violation hearings. Not only does this allow the judge to hear the maximum possible cases per day; it allows citizens to easily fit a hearing in on their lunch break. A friend of mine recently received a ticket because the registration sticker on her license plates had either fallen off or been stolen. She had to take a half-day off work to go to the courthouse with all of her documentation to contest the ticket which was extremely frustrating.

With continued budget constraints federal, state and local government agencies are dealing with the need to handle their docket of court activities with fewer resources. Video conferencing solutions help cut costs and process cases in a more efficient manner. A Pennsylvania court reported saving taxpayers more than $21 million annually with its video deployment. Plus, cloud video services make implementation and operation easier than ever. Multipoint bridging services allow citizens to easily connect to the court’s video equipment via Skype or Google Video Chat without compromising the security of the network.

While jury duty is part of our civic duty, perhaps one day soon you can try to weasle your way out of a speeding ticket from the comfort of your own home.

Each U.S. city and county is unique in its climate, population, and character. This diversity lends itself to innovative uses of technology by city governments that aim to improve life for its citizens. Metropolitan areas are using video conferencing solutions to create processes that are more efficient, and they are accomplishing this in ways that are as unique as the cities themselves.

Here is a snap shot of some of the ways video is being used in towns throughout the country:

New York, New York: OATH (the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings), is an independent agency that handles disciplinary cases for New York City. Its health tribunal deals with violations to the city’s health code and other laws affecting health. OATH’s main offices are located in Manhattan, so restaurant owners from outer boroughs who receive tickets for violations must travel to the city to have their cases heard. The agency’s commitment to providing fair and timely public hearings led it to seek a more convenient and accessible alternative to these hearings.

OATH opened a Staten Island office to better accommodate Staten Island residents. However, inspectors based in Manhattan still had to travel and were unable to attend if they were busy with other hearings, which resulted in the need to reschedule. Video conferencing technology was the key to making the new Staten Island location convenient for all participants; video was integrated into the hearing, connecting inspectors in Manhattan to a judge and respondent in Staten Island. Based on the success of its video system OATH is now looking to expand the use of video to agency locations in all five boroughs

San Antonio, Texas: The San Antonio Municipal Court offers video conferencing services from an Oak Ridge location to citizens who have received traffic tickets or notices of other violations. Live, interactive video conferences are held with the Judge. Those eligible to use video are those wishing to plead guilty or nolo contentre, choose not to be represented by an attorney, and are prepared to pay fees/fines as ordered by the judge.  “Video court” is offered on a first come, first serve arrangement; no prior scheduling is needed.

City of Orange, New Jersey:  After a suspect is arrested for an indictable offense, The City of Orange Municipal Court holds preliminary proceedings. Preliminary proceedings include arraignment and the setting of bail where appropriate. Video conferencing is now available for use in this arraignment process. When used in this manner, video conferencing creates a safer environment by removing the need to transport prisoners and saving tax payers money in the process.

Nashville, Tennessee: A bill in the final stages of debate in Nashville would allow local school board members of Knox County to attend meetings via video conference. This provision would provide greater flexibility to those board members who otherwise would not have been able to attend meetings because of the need to travel out of the county for work or family emergency. The use of video would allow board members to more easily do their jobs.

San Diego, California: The U.S. Department of the Interior is using video to cut down on its employees’ extensive travel. By increasing the number of meetings that are held over video, the government aims to save on travel costs and reduce its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the route between San Diego and Sacramento ranked as one of the 25 most frequently traveled cities by DOI workers; video is one tool that can create a more efficient process for local government workers to meet.

Kern County, California: Kern County is so large that it can take several hours to get from one area of Kern to another. Now, instead of traveling long distances to get legal questions answered, Kern residents can use the video conferencing system at the Kern County Law Library to speak with law librarians. The library installed a video system that is easy to use, reliable, and high quality to maximize the user’s experience. Based on the positive feedback it has received, the library is looking to expand its video conferencing capability.

Additional Resources:

Video Conferencing & Telepresence Solutions for State and Local Government

As more and more business move their primary IT and other functions to the cloud there is one issue that is always present; security. It is similar to the early days of online shopping and banking when many consumers were concerned that anyone could gain access to their credit card number or bank account information. But, over the years we have learned that while online banking and shopping is not 100% bullet-proof (frankly nothing really is); it really is quite secure.

With the move to the cloud, security is an ever-present topic for conversation, and it should be. There is a certain leap of faith that occurs when an organization moves a system or function off their premise or control to someone else’s data center and custody. Recently, however, there was a report issued that sent a pretty strong message surrounding the cloud and security.

On May 15th, the White House’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) issued a report on cloud computing to the president. The main topic of discussion was should the government consider moving vital systems to the cloud and what are the implications for areas such as national security (NS) and emergency preparedness (EP)?

The report weighs in at over 100 pages but the overall message direct from the report’s executive summary says “Conceivably any NS/EP process, including the most sensitive matters, could be moved to “some kind of” cloud, given proper attention to architectural and security decisions. The key qualifier in this judgment relates to the choice of deployment and service model, each seen in the context of the specific mission to be migrated.”

Additionally, the report adds, “At the highest level of summarization, the NSTAC’s response is that if and when cloud computing can demonstrate a regime of policy, legal authority, security, and oversight that is comparably rigorous, complete, and trustworthy relative to those currently in place for NS/EP activities via legacy means, then the response is “yes.” In so doing, efforts must focus on implementing recommendations designed to permit cloud computing to operate at that level in regard to NS/EP.”

As one reads through the report it becomes quite clear that the government is taking the cloud seriously and sees its application for redundancy, disaster recovery, and flexibility as its key strengths. One could simply stop there and say, if it’s good enough for the government, it’s good enough for me! Clearly that is not a strategy that any organization will find acceptable for vetting their system security in the cloud.

Let’s take a look at video conferencing and visual collaboration. What are the areas of concern and security implications for these systems?

  1. Network – a major concern for any network administrator is a hacker or other outside influence gaining access to a private network. With infrastructure and other technology in the cloud, secure VPNs and other connections may be established, virtually linking your locations with the cloud data center. To ensure that there are no intrusions, proper firewalls must be in place and security policies must exist that prevent the exposure of IP addresses and other network information.
  2. The Room – there have been more stories about conference rooms being hacked. This was accomplished by gaining access to room IP addresses in addition to the auto answer feature being enabled on individual conferencing systems. When hosted in the cloud, the network measures mentioned above can help to reduce or likely eliminate any security threats to the room.
  3. Infrastructure – Organizations want to ensure that outsiders can’t simply gain access and start using ports for their own nefarious reasons, especially with a bridge. A strict policy of IP address security, conference pins, and authentication can ensure that bridges are locked down and only used for the purpose that they were intended for.

Visual collaboration is only one of thousands of functions that can be moved to the cloud. With the government looking so closely at the cloud, it makes sense to examine your organization’s systems in the same way the White House did. When taking all of these considerations into account you can feel confident that your cloud hosted system is secure and will perform to the highest standards possible.

Additional Resources:

Big Brother Can’t Watch You in the Cloud
NSTAC Report to the President on Cloud Computing

Fourth of July is almost here. Bring on the fireworks, the barbeques, and the fun! Before we celebrate though, let’s take a moment to say thanks to all the men and women who have fought to preserve our freedom.

In honor of our military, let’s take a look at the evolution of technology that has allowed troops to keep in touch with their families back home.

My (now) husband was Army Infantry and deployed with one of first units sent to Iraq - back when instant messaging was all the rage. I remember waking up at four o’clock in the morning so I could get thirty precious minutes chatting online with him. We would constantly say can you imagine life before IM?

Back in the days of Vietnam or World War II, soldiers had to depend on snail mail to keep in touch. I had a hard enough time waiting two to three days to hear from my husband; I can’t even imagine having to wait weeks let alone months!

But now, less than ten years later, I see all of these families who are able to stay in touch with their deployed loved ones over video. It’s simply amazing, these men and women are thousands of miles away; and yet they can still interact with their family as if they were sitting right next to them. Even if it’s only every few weeks, deployed parents are able to look into their children’s eyes, smile and reconnect. It’s such a dramatic difference from simple email or instant messaging and I must admit I get a tiny bit jealous at times. But, then I remember I have the luxury of seeing my husband every single night and at least I had IM capabilities when he was deployed.

At any rate, when I get home tonight I am going to put my flag out and fly it proudly. Then I’ll thank my veteran and every other member of the military who lost or put their life on the line to protect the rights that many of us take for granted. I hope all of you will do the same.  Happy Fourth of July!

The Center for Digital Government has issued a brief detailing the use of cloud-based video collaboration in the public sector.  Many organizations are switching to the cloud not only for the cost savings, but for the realistic and efficient interactions video conferencing provides.  In fact, “about a quarter of government institutions in North America, Europe and Asia are already using the cloud, with another 36 percent investigating its use.”

The cloud offers an open a platform in which users can connect anytime, anywhere, with anyone, on any device.  Organizations no longer have to worry about differences in equipment; or the various platforms and networks citizens or other agencies are using. Cloud services allow for successful visual collaboration in a secure, reliable, consistent and easy to use manner; providing endless applications and benefits.

As a result, educators can easily bring engaging activities to the classroom; military personnel can report time-sensitive situations from the field so decisions can be made in real-time and healthcare experts can consult with patients thousands of miles away.  Cloud video extends an organization’s reach beyond previous geographical barriers allowing users to collaborate and make decisions quickly.

By utilizing video-as-a-service, public sector organizations can also avoid the upfront capital expenditures and management challenges associated with visual collaboration technologies.  Agencies can begin collaborating with colleagues, citizens and other agencies immediately; creating value and ROI almost instantaneously.   For example, Oakland County, Michigan’s judicial video program uses video conduct attorney-client meetings, arraignment hearings and telemedicine services.  This program has saved the county an estimated $38.4 million since its implementation four years ago.

Cloud video services provide an effective alternative; especially in a time where cost savings and increased communication are at a premium.

Additional Resources:
Video Collaboration Cloud