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

If there is one feature in the world of video conferencing technology that has undergone the most improvement over the years, it is the quality of video itself. We have gone from lower resolution images to life-like high definition and immersive telepresence experiences. It is fair to say that when properly configured with the right amount of bandwidth, the quality of video conferencing today is pretty amazing.

What continues to be more challenging is the reach of video conferencing and more specifically, the ability to easily connect to anyone you want. The term B2B refers to video calling between different organizations, but this can include individuals as well.

If you think about your cell phone, you dial the number of anyone you want to reach and simply connect. Unfortunately, video conferencing has not made it to that level of ease and connectivity. But why? Here are some of the hurdles holding video back from achieving total reach, and some solutions.

Network
To achieve the highest level of video conferencing quality, many organizations choose to implement a private network dedicated to video conferencing. The advantage of this is that video is separate from the rest of the organization’s network traffic, ensuring the highest level of picture and sound quality. In addition, many organizations will place their immersive telepresence systems on a network exchange from a telecom or other cloud services provider which provides connectivity to others on the same exchange. Again, the highest level of video and audio quality is available, but the challenge with this setup is that users can typically only talk to other video and telepresence systems on the same network. So if you are on a private network of your own and a partner organization is on a different telecom network exchange, you’re out of luck!

Security
This could be placed under the network category, but security is also a major factor preventing true B2B calling. For organizations that implement video conferencing, firewalls are incredibly important for protecting internal applications and data. Firewalls, however, can cause major issues with video conferencing. Fortunately, the technology offered from many of the video conferencing manufacturers provides the ability to get around this roadblock. Products that enable firewall traversal have made B2B video a little easier to achieve, assuming your network has connections to the public internet.

Mobility
With the introduction of camera equipped mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, video conferencing has an entirely new audience. The problem that presents itself is the ability to get these mobile users connected in a standard B2B conference. With so many users taking advantage of these devices, it is incredibly important to make these connections possible. Fortunately, a number of cloud services have been brought to market to address this issue.

Process & Expertise
Perhaps even more challenging than the technology and network issues of B2B video conferencing are the issues of process and expertise. Even if networks are able to connect to one another and firewalls are properly configured, there are still challenges on how to physically dial another system, how to ensure audio and video flow seamlessly, and how to bring mobile devices into the loop. On top of all of these challenges, how do you determine who is on what exchange, who you need to talk to for support on connecting those exchanges, and how do you make sure your iPad is connected as well? Organizations must build processes and have the expertise to execute on these challenges. This can be built internally or outsourced to a managed service provider.

There are many challenges to B2B calling, but the technology is constantly evolving and there is hardly a day without a new announcement bringing new innovation to connecting disparate technology and networks. With the pace of this change it’s only a matter of time before true B2B video calling is ubiquitous.

 

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other consumer devices, employers are now dealing with a high demand from employees to not only allow BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but also to provide the tools and support needed to integrate these devices into new and existing business technologies.

One major area of interest is mobile video conferencing. Due to the many options available, it is important to define a clear strategy to ultimately drive usage and adoptions. While there are many areas of the business to consider, here are five key ones to begin with when defining your strategy.

What’s the end game?
It is important to understand what the goals of implementing mobile video are. Is it about connecting remote teams no matter where they are located? Is there a travel expense reduction component to it? Or, is it providing visual feedback to manufacturing floors and production plans? No matter what the goals are, it is important, as Stephen Covey would say, to “begin with the end in mind.”

Usage & Adoption
The worst thing that could happen to a mobile video strategy is that time and monetary investments are made, but no one uses the technology. It is imperative to consider the end user experience from initial setup to day-to-day usage. Any mobile strategy should include a comprehensive usage and adoption program that focuses on internal communications, training, on-going awareness, and user feedback.

Technology Management
Do not underestimate the task of managing the technology (mobile devices) and any infrastructure involved. Depending upon your environment, servers may require software updates, user devices may require software and security tweaks, and remote networks may need to be configured properly. As part of the strategy, ensure there is a clearly defined technology plan that takes all of these areas into account. Without this, the technology could fail and create end user disappointment and negative sentiment towards mobile video.

Extending Existing Services
If your organization already uses video conferencing in boardrooms and/or desktops, it’s important to ensure the mobile technology can integrate seamlessly. This should not be an issue if you plan on using tablet and smartphone applications from the major video conferencing manufacturers. However, if part of the plan calls for the integration of consumer video applications such as Skype or Google Video Chat, additional services and processes will be needed to bridge the gap between professional and free applications.

User Base
Another key decision will be who do you want to give mobile video access to? Organizations with a BYOD approach may think that since users are providing the technology, they might as well extend mobile video to everyone.  However, while ubiquitous video can only help to increase collaboration and efficiency in an organization, managing it can be a huge undertaking. If your plan is to provide the service to all, begin with a small key user group who can test and help work out the bugs. Those users can then be empowered to train other users within the organization. This “train the trainer” approach saves time by pushing training out faster, as well as, saves the cost of involving the technology group in training every person within the organization.

Mobile video conferencing has improved the way people can work. When heading down a path of implementation, make sure you create a comprehensive plan that examines all areas of your business and what will be needed for success. If the proper planning is done the roll-out will be easier and your user base will be happily engaged!

I use video on a daily basis whether it’s to collaborate with colleagues, catch up with friends and family out of state or simply say goodnight to my husband when I’m out of town. There is something about connecting face-to-face with someone who is hundreds or thousands of miles away that still amazes me and I’m constantly trying to convert people I know into avid video users.

Unfortunately, I’m still met with a significant amount of resistance from some people who have, what I deem as, irrational fears of video. Here are some of my favorites:

People can (and will) spy on me
I was visiting my family in St. Louis when I went to talk to my mother, who was in her office, and I noticed a piece of paper taped over the top of her laptop. I asked her what it was and she very nonchalantly told me she was covering up the built-in webcam on her computer because she didn’t want people spying on her. I just rolled my eyes and said I was pretty sure her coworkers had better things to do than sit and spy on her.

Yes, it’s possible for someone to hack into your camera to spy on you but, as long as you’re careful, it’s improbable. A few tips to keep yourself safe is to first and foremost turn off any auto-answer capabilities. This applies to consumer and especially enterprise video applications including software clients, personal and room-based endpoints. Second, make sure you are on a secure network, behind a firewall and use a decent antivirus and spyware detection software. Here are a few other tips to keep your webcam from being hacked.

I can’t multitask
Alright this is true; you can’t get away with everything you can on the phone. But let’s face it, you really shouldn’t be multitasking; not only is it rude, it actually decreases productivity. Need proof? Read the HBR blog article How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking. Video essentially forces you to focus on the matters at hand which can lead to enhanced creativity and quicker decisions.

Now, we’ve all had a chatty Cathy talking our ear off when we have about five thousand other things to be doing. It’s difficult to interrupt over audio so you simply put her on mute while you go about your businesses and feign interest here and there. With video it’s easier to escape; simply look at your watch or hold up a finger to catch her attention then let her know you have to run into a meeting or finish up a deliverable that’s due shortly.

Video creeps me out
Personally, I think being able to see someone’s facial expression over video is pretty darn amazing. Unfortunately, I have heard many people say that video is downright creepy. It took me a little while, but I finally understood what they meant – just replace the word creepy with vulnerable. Yes, video is more vulnerable as participants can pick up on visual clues, such as facial expressions, that would otherwise be missed over audio.

I have to admit this does take some getting used to and there are times I would love to roll my eyes or laugh at a ridiculous comment someone made. But, more often than not, being able to see my colleagues’ expressions has helped meetings progress. I can easily tell when they’re following along and when I’ve lost them in a field somewhere.

Now please get over your fears and join me on a video call. Thank you!

Related Articles
Stop Being A Video-phobe Part Deux

“Last year was the worst year we’ve had in the history of disasters.” – Al Berman, Disaster Recovery Institute.

That sounds pretty ominous, but what exactly does it mean?

Organizations have been facing costly downtime and the frustrating task of getting systems back online and operations up and running in the aftermath of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. A disaster can be as simple as a single building power failure or severe and horrific as the Japanese tsunami. Even if the event is isolated, the after effects can permeate throughout an organization, especially if employees are dispersed and required to collaborate remotely.

What’s alarming though is that countless organizations do not have a business continuity plan in place. These plans outline the processes and procedures needed to react quickly in situations and limit the amount of disaster recovery efforts needed in the aftermath.

So what is the best way to go about preparing for a disaster?

Redundancy is Key
A business continuity plan must be defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders and have well-defined IT strategy that includes redundant systems housed in multiple locations. If the organization relies on cloud hosting providers, ensure those data centers are geographically dispersed. For example, if your host is 10 miles up the road and the entire region is hit by a massive hurricane, the redundancy of the cloud will be null and void.

Enable Collaboration
Communication is perhaps the highest priority during disaster situations; therefore, any plan should include how to maintain contact with all employees. Unified communications technology plays a critical role as it keeps employees connected throughout day-to-day operations. In addition, these systems are essential to keeping the lines of communication open during a crisis. It’s far better to have employees doing their jobs during these times than spending the time trying to figure out how to do their jobs.

Harness the Power of Video
Most organizations know the power of video conferencing along with its application during normal business operations. However, video becomes even more powerful in times of duress. It can enable face-to-face collaboration in situations where people cannot meet due to crisis circumstances, such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland that stalled air travel. Keeping people connected and communicating face-to-face will facilitate better operations in addition to relieving some of the stress of the situation.

Don’t Forget the Customer
As always, the customer is paramount. An organization can do a great job keeping the business running but if they forget about the customer their efforts may be useless. Most customers will be sensitive to the situation but they are still going to expect to be served. When defining a continuity plan ensure customer communications and service are a top priority. If customers are communicating to the organization primarily via voice, the phone system must have multiple redundancies. Also, it is critical to be able to redirect voice traffic when employees can’t make it to the office.

With a well-defined business continuity plan in place, organizations can continue to function at the highest level possible while still serving their customers. A plan that takes internal and external communication and collaboration into account will not only benefit the organization but also its employees, customers and ultimately its well-being.