Demand for video conferencing services to skyrocket
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo recently participated in a videoconference sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Public Health. Health officials representing more than 30 states joined together to discuss advancements in videoconferencing technology.
By KEVIN KINNAIRD
FRANKFORT, Ky. - As state government coffers tighten amid tough economic times, the demand for videoconferencing services is expected to double within the next year, a state technology official said.
Derrick Ellis, network operations branch manager for the Commonwealth Office of Technology, said budget cuts have led many state agencies to utilize and embrace technological resources to save money on fuel costs and other travel expenses.
“We’re trying to get the word out that this is a great resource,” Ellis said.
More than 1,800 videoconferencing hours are now being used every month, Ellis said, adding his agency anticipates that number to double within the next year. He also said the state has an estimated 500 total conferencing systems (desktop, large hall, etc.) available for use.
David Knapp, manager of education and workforce development branch at the Kentucky Department of Public Health, said estimates there show the agency saved $4 million in combined travel and productivity costs last year alone on nurses and environmentalists.
Knapp said officials studied the amount of down time and travel costs for workers in both professions and concluded that videoconferencing, Webcasting, satellite programming and online training modules will be embraced more throughout the cabinet to cut costs.
“Any time we can do two things – leverage technology and collaborate – it transcends into immediate cost savings,” Knapp said.
On Oct. 23, the Department of Public Health held a videoconference with public health officials from more than 30 states to discuss training efforts and advances in video conferencing and distance learning technology.
During that event, Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a physician and staunch advocate of eHealth, told attendees that he began working to expand the use of videoconferencing in the health profession more than 10 years ago to rural hospitals around the state. He said investments in videoconferencing will have a direct impact on diseases and open up a new world for patients in rural areas.
“In just a few years, look where we have come,” Mongiardo said. “Using this type of technology is going to help us as we move forward.”
Another state agency that relies heavily on videoconferencing services is the Department of Corrections. Ellis said the agency uses them primarily for probation and parole hearings to keep officers safe and to reduce travel costs.
David Couch, K-12 chief information officer at the Kentucky Department of Education, said he has seen an increase in the use of affordable conferencing equipment at school districts throughout the state. He said most equipment purchased is consumer-grade gear that is easy to use on desktop PCs in classrooms, although some districts are investing in a small number of specialized systems.
Some districts are using video conferencing equipment to share teachers among schools and to allow students to see specialized speakers without the need for travel, Couch said.
On April 28, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jon Draud became the first commissioner to deliver his 2008 Superintendents’ Legislative Session Briefing by Webcast from Bryan Station High School, Couch said, adding the move saved travel expenses for a number of school corporations around the state.
Tim Sizemore, product manager at the Office of Education Technology at the state’s education department, said much of the growth and success of videoconferencing is due to the planning and infrastructure put in place by the Commonwealth Office of Technology. He said the products are becoming easier to use and offer better quality.
“In the old days, we had to do a lot of grunt work to make it work, and it was not very reliable,” Sizemore said. “We’ve moved to the next generation, and it is plug-and-play, just like dialing a telephone.”