Agencies Are Saving Millions With Virtual Events

Videoconferencing and collaboration tools are helping officials bridge geographical gaps.

In an age of budget cuts and sequestration, agencies like NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are turning to virtual events to reduce travel and training costs, and the savings are significant.

In a webinar sponsored by Mobile Work Exchange on Wednesday, NASA Chief Information Officer Larry Sweet said the agency is expected to reduce travel expenses by $21 million this fiscal year, largely as a result of incorporating videoconferencing and collaboration tools.

NASA in October converted its annual summit for Senior Executive Service members to an online format using Adobe Connect. The virtual event drew more than 400 participants and saved more than $1 million in travel, venue and logistics costs, Sweet said.

The space agency also is publishing a formal bring your own device, or BYOD, policy, which will allow videoconferencing technology to be installed on employees’ personal devices to better enable telework and teleconferencing, Sweet said.

“We’re trying to provide guidance and guardrails [for BYOD] so we don’t stop good effective productivity for NASA,” Sweet said. “It’s a challenging environment, but there’s a lot to be gained. We believe that as our budgets continue to shrink that we need to allow employees to be more productive with their own equipment.”

Nicole Early, director of workforce effectiveness at FEMA, said incorporating videoconferencing and mobile tools went beyond just the cost savings; it also stemmed from a desire to ensure the workforce was as mobile as possible to effectively respond to emergencies. The agency’s mobility strategy includes tools like Adobe Connect, Office Communicator and voice and videoconferencing, all which can be accessed on devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets by employees in the field, she said.

“Through increased mobility facilitated through a pro-telework culture and the adoption of mobile technology, FEMA has enhanced its ability to respond fast, big and smart,” Early said.