GSA plans employee teleconference program

Virtual meeting centers expected as soon as early 2011

 The General Services Administration plans to establish 14 virtual meeting places to link employees, cutting energy consumption and saving on travel. The program is expected to go live in early 2011, according to GSA officials.

“This is a striking upgrade to what GSA has had before,” Martha Johnson, GSA Administrator, told reporters Oct. 25 at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va. “We’re going to get people off airplanes and into teleconferencing.”

AT&T has been awarded an estimated $18 million task order through GSA’s Networx Enterprise contract vehicle to develop and manage the virtual network that will feature high-definition video and advanced audio equipment, as well as “state-of-the-art collaboration tools to enhance the immersive experience and facilitate participant productivity,” according to a GSA release.

The live virtual meetings are designed to increase efficiency in terms of energy and production, according to Johnson.

“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,” she said. “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.”


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Costs for the system are set to be on a “pay-as-you-go” model – AT&T will roll infrastructure costs in an hourly rate to be purchased by GSA, as well as other federal agencies that will be able to access the GSA centers for use.

This process allows GSA to avoid up-front expenses for infrastructure, buying and operating the equipment – which wasn’t affordable before contract bidding spurred competition and a pay-as-you-go option, according to a GSA source familiar with the contract award, speaking on background.

The source said AT&T would use Cisco telepresence equipment – technology advertised in a television commercial that features elementary school students “meeting” with peers in China.

The virtual centers will be built at each of GSA’s regional offices in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and four headquarters locations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

"We are being aggressive about virtual work,” Johnson said. “Some private sector companies have been using it and seeing very dramatic results, and we would like very much to see these results ourselves.”

Johnson added that that the telepresence initiative could have wider influence across government. “This is the office of the future for GSA,” she said. “We’re modeling a new kind of workplace.”

The telepresence technology has been used in private industry and the military, but GSA's push is among the first for civilian government agencies, officials said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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