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.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 10, 2014 ji Williston, VT

"Agencies could save $14 billion if supervisors let interested and eligible employees telework two days a week...." Really? This must be assuming a reduction in floorspace and cubicle hoteling -- even then, I wonder if the savings projections are vastly overstated.

Mon, Jun 30, 2014 Frustrated Tech

One of the "fears" we've run up against is that all the solutions seen so far are more or less proprietary. When something approaching real unified communication, allowing the connection of at least most existing protocols, please write about it.

Mon, Jun 30, 2014

It is not fear that prevents video conferencing. It is the lack of security implemented by the vendors.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group