Cleared for Takeoff: Video Conferencing

Did you know... the word "travel" comes from the Middle English "travailen," meaning to torment, labor, strive, journey. Coincidence? I think not. Travel isn't always easy -- there are traffic jams, flight delays, seasickness, losing your passport, and the always-dreaded middle seat on the airplane.

It doesn't come cheap either -- especially for employers -- between plane tickets, gas mileage reimbursement, baggage fees, per diems, etc.

The federal government spends as much as $15 billion a year in business travel costs. In 2011, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13589 -- Promoting Efficient Spending, which called for agencies establishing plans to reduce spending in several areas -- including travel. One way to reduce travel spending, as the order states, is teleconferencing and video conferencing.

Following this order, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Memorandum calling for agencies to cut travel expenses by 30 percent in Fiscal Year 2013. Whether agencies have actually met this goal remains to be seen, but Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) is determined to make it smooth sailing.

Rep. Fitzpatrick introduced a new bill -- H.R. 2643, the Stay In Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013 -- to review agencies' efforts to reduce travel spending and develop a plan to cut travel expenses by 50 percent through the use of video conferencing technologies.

Hats off to Congressman Fitzpatrick and his co-sponsors -- we already know the savings are on the radar, we just need someone to give this tool wings.

A recent Mobile Work Exchange study found that feds who use video conferencing report saving 3.5 hours per week in productivity. If just half of all federal employees used video conferencing, this could provide the government $8 billion in annual productivity savings. Talk about a first-class upgrade.

And, just by greater use of video conferencing, feds could save 33 percent of their travel budget. That translates to about $4.95 billion in savings -- not even counting other available collaboration tools.

However, the report also points out that 76 percent think their agencies crash and burn by not leveraging video conferencing to the fullest extent.

Agencies will have to look at not only introducing video conferencing solutions, but also ensuring their networks and bandwidths are able to support this journey.

It will take OMB and congressional oversight to keep this initiative afloat but many hope this bill will propel government collaboration into the new era of travel. Air traffic control, we are ready for liftoff.

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