Web conferences go far to save on travel, training

Web conferences go far to save on travel, training

BY GAIL DUTTON | SPECIAL TO GCN

Web conferencing is helping federal officials substantially lower training costs, and it is uniting federal workers in far-flung offices.

'Airfare from Europe to Washington, D.C., is $600 to $700, and the per-diem rate for D.C. is $200, so it costs $5,000 to $6,000 for three weeks of classes'three Microsoft certification courses'plus the cost of an instructor,' said Bruce Morrison, dean of the School of Applied Information Technology at the State Department's Foreign Service.


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That's the old way. 'The per-seat cost for Web conferencing is $100,' he said.

Such results have boosted the data conferencing market from $550 million in 1999 to $1.2 billion today; the market is expected to generate $5 billion by 2003, said Lewis Ward, a senior research analyst at Collaborative Strategies of San Francisco.

In terms of users, a growth rate of 74 percent is projected during that five-year period, Ward wrote in The Real Time Collaboration Industry Report 2000.

Web conferencing is catching on across government, Morrison said.

'We hold a huge number of virtual meetings using teleconferencing and use Web conferencing a few times per year, but they're not the most common way of doing things,' he said. 'Our embassies are throughout the world in many time zones, so we're more used to the Internet and e-mail.'


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The Treasury Department recently organized a Web conference that drew registrants from 45 different agencies and from areas as far away as Guam, officials said. The IRS' National Learning Center in Austin, Texas, has used Web conferencing for small meetings and is considering applying the technology to online learning, said Patricia McCormick, educational specialist.

The Health and Human Services and Justice departments have participated in Web conferences, officials said.

There are other benefits of Web conferencing, said Tony Razavi, chief information officer for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City, Iowa: 'People don't have to travel, and they have live instruction.'

Web conferencing is used for distance learning as well as meetings and offers the capability of streaming video, or webcasting. It can be combined with other online learning tools that provide just-in-time learning, individualized information and links to live experts, said Tom Kahl, area vice president for government sales at SmartForce in Redwood City, Calif.

'Our job at the Foreign Service Institute is to train people,' Morrison said, and the Internet helps do that.


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For example, people can log on to an online conference with a moderator and an expert who not only gives a presentation, but also responds to e-mail questions.

Morrison used SmartForce's suite of online learning options to institute a policy of extra pay for earning certification in IT courses. The Census and Defense departments used the technology for widespread office automation training, Kahl said.

Aside from saving time and money, the impetus to use Web conferencing is 'a desire to break the bounds of space and time,' said Jessica Lipnack, co-founder and director of NetAge Inc., a West Newton, Mass., provider of online collaboration tools. 'People throughout the world can participate in the same meeting in real time and, if the time zone difference is truly horrendous, they can watch an archived version of the meeting.'

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