The virtual meeting centers will be available to agencies on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

October 27, 2010

2 Min Read

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In a move that supports the Obama administration's government-wide effort to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, the General Services Administration (GSA) plans to set up virtual meeting centers in 11 U.S. cities to eliminate the need for employees to travel for in-person meetings.

The first of the centers, which also will save agencies travel fees, should be in place by early 2011, and will be available to all federal agencies for an hourly rate on a pay-as-you-go basis, according to the GSA. The agency declined to unveil the hourly rate, but said it would be below the price of commercial offerings.

Once they are all in place, agencies can order and schedule meetings in the centers through a secure web-based portal. There also will be a valet taking orders on a 24-by-7 basis, according to the GSA.

The GSA will build the centers in each of its 11 regional headquarters offices in federal buildings in Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; Fort Worth, Texas; Denver; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C., as well as four other locations around the nation's capital.

AT&T will develop and manage the telepresence solution through an estimated $18 million task order under GSA's Networx Enterprise contract.

The solution will be based on Cisco's TelePresence System 3010/3000 for GSA sites requiring six participants per room, and its TelePresence System 3210/3200 for GSA sites requiring 18 participants per room, according to the GSA.

The GSA already uses teleconferencing to conduct virtual meetings, but the solution is operator-assisted and doesn't have the same enhanced features that a telepresence solution offers, said GSA spokesman Robert Lensino.

If agencies have their own telepresence solutions, they can interoperate with the new virtual centers if they can deliver and receive 1080p video resolution and support H.323/H.264, he said.

Telepresence takes traditional teleconferencing several steps further, creating an immersive, interactive experience using video, collaborative web tools, and teleconferencing so participants not only feel they are in the same room but also in a remote location together.

Implementing telepresence solutions in lieu of spending money to send employees on business trips is becoming an increasingly popular way for both private sector companies and governments to cut costs.

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