Opinion

Overcoming the fear of change can save our government billions

Videoconference

Change is scary. Yet it gives us windows into new opportunities and experiences, providing alternate—and often better—endings to our scripts.

In my life, I’ve had the great privilege to serve our nation in the armed forces and then work directly with our federal government. And I’ve learned that “change” can be a dirty word in the public sector. Yet change is exactly what we need to ensure our agency programs’ survival and our continued progress.

In the early 1990s, when I was with the Navy, the video collaboration industry was just starting to develop. If you heard someone talking about talking to someone over video, you would have thought they were talking about Star Trek. But the Navy had foresight. In a time when video conferencing and data transmission were largely untested, the Navy saw the promise of video from both a technological and a financial standpoint. We had sailors deployed on ships all over the globe; instant communication was a must.

For several months, my admiral would come to me daily asking about the return on investment in adopting video. The numbers were so staggering I even second guessed myself. Millions of dollars and thousands of man hours were saved.

Twenty-five years later, our government is at a tipping point with video. With new legislation requiring agencies to slice travel budgets in half by 2017 (Cut the Waste, Stay in Place Act of 2013), video technology will play an even more important role in feds’ future. It will, that is, if we finally adopt it government-wide.

So why can’t we do that today? For one thing, we live in fear. 

The fear of the unknown coupled with the desire to avoid radical change has stunted our realization of the savings and benefits video brings. Take telework, for example. Agencies could save $14 billion if supervisors let interested and eligible employees telework two days a week, according to research by Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network. Yet too many managers are not letting eligible workers telecommute because they aren’t comfortable with the concept.

Network security concerns factor in as well. Each agency is different in how it secures its network, but all can use encryption options that can run behind the firewall, making video connections private and safe.

Fear is the biggest obstacle to making any decision to change, but budgets are stagnant while programs multiply. And sacrificing integral missions because of fear does not sit well with the taxpayer, especially when working solutions are readily available.

We can remove the fear barrier and reap the benefits by keeping three simple ideas in mind:

  • Don’t Plunge in Blindly – Some agencies recognize the opportunity of video but also recognize that a complete system shift would be disruptive. My advice would be to experiment. Start pilot projects. We did this in the Navy 25 years ago, and it took off from there.
  • Share Your Findings: If you’ve already started a pilot project and are collecting results, share them. The Navy was the only branch of the armed forces using video in 1992, but leaders from the Army, Marines and Air Force quickly heard our ROI numbers and wanted to start their own pilots. Sharing data is critical.
  • Create New Policies: Implementing new security policies is critical to thwarting the fear of cyber espionage. The government needs universal policies to enforce cybersecurity clearance levels. In addition, each section of the government, from the Smithsonian to the Pentagon, should develop its own set of cyber rules specific to its needs.

Fear is a powerful beast, and every important decision comes with some apprehension. But I urge you to think critically about what $14 billion in savings would mean for this country. By teleworking and using more video, we could preserve current missions, build on new ones and develop new job opportunities -- all while easing the burden on taxpayers.

About the Author

Russ Colbert is the U.S. federal government marketing director at Polycom.

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