The General Services Administration (GSA) is establishing 15 virtual meeting centers across the United States for use by government personnel. Scheduled to open in 2011, the centers will be available to representatives from all federal agencies, military and civilian, and should help reduce greenhouse emissions and travel.
"We anticipate the centers will be well used, and managers will prefer videoconferences over travel to reduce costs and meet environmental and sustainability goals," says Karl Krumbholz, GSA director of network services, Federal Acquisition Service, Integrated Technology Service. In addition to lowering the amount of money spent on transportation, the centers also should help budgets because of a fixed hourly rate for meeting room use that GSA anticipates will fall below commercial offerings. According to officials in the administration, virtual meeting centers not only reduce various costs, but they also lessen the government's damage to the environment and increase productivity. The GSA's goal is to achieve zero environmental impact.
The teleconference rooms will be built at each of GSA's 11 regional headquarters offices in Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; Fort Worth, Texas; Denver; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. The remaining four will be located at headquarters locations around the Washington, D.C., area. Rooms will be available 24/7 to support teleconferences up to the sensitive but not classified level. They will contain high-definition video, advanced audio and cutting-edge collaboration tools to enhance the immersive experience. The centers will be compatible with other telepresence-type networks in the U.S. and abroad as long as those places deliver and receive 1080p video resolution and support the H.323 and H.264 standards.
All 15 of the centers can operate concurrently, and other non-GSA locations with compatible equipment can join the meetings as long as sufficient bandwidth is available. When the services first become accessible to customers, the GSA will reserve the rooms and equipment based on a first-come, first-served policy. However, as the centers are employed more frequently, the administration may institute a priority-based system.
AT&T received an estimated $18 million task order under GSA's Networx Enterprise contract to develop and manage the centers’ virtual network. Infrastructure costs will be rolled into the set hourly rate that the GSA and customers will purchase in a pay-as-you-go arrangement. When the network becomes operational, users can scheduled their virtual meeting sessions through a secure, Web-based portal or through a professional services manager from AT&T that will be available at all times. AT&T will provide Cisco’s TelePresence System 3010/3000 for GSA sites with up to six participants per room and TelePresence System 3210/3200 for GSA sites with up to 18 participants per room.
If circumstances warrant, the GSA may establish more of these centers in the future. "The 15 centers will hopefully grow as other federal agencies see their value, cost reduction benefits and assistance to agencies meeting their sustainability goals," Krumbholz says.
In addition to all the work force plans for these centers, doing business will not be their only function. The GSA plans to make them available to stateside military families so they can communicate with deployed service members.