Bringing the War to the Conference Room
Nov 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Kent Martin
Bringing the War to the Conference Room
When members of the Army Reserve office from St. Louis needed to talk with their colleagues in Iraq, they sat down and talked over everything face to face. For eight solid hours, they discussed equipment plans, logistical needs, and strategic priorities for their units. They hammered out solutions, agreed on revised plans and priorities, and identified ways to become more efficient on the ground in Iraq.
But the two groups were never in the same room. The local Army Reserve unit gathered in a specially equipped room in the Robert A. Young Federal Building in downtown St. Louis, headquarters to the regional offices of the General Services Administration (GSA). The room, which measures 20'x30', is a state-of-the-art video-conferencing center that has enabled the GSA to follow federal mandates to cut costs and pursue environmentally friendly initiatives.
“The government is going green, and this facility is a great example of this policy,” says Thomas F. Brown, director of customer accounts and research for the GSA. “This room at the Young Building enables us to better manage our travel costs, which means we're not flying people all over the country. Overall, we're able to control our meeting budget more efficiently and turn around projects more quickly and more cost effectively.”
The room, described as cutting edge by its managers, is a nod to 21st-century innovation nestled within a building that was constructed almost 80 years ago. Nicknamed The Ray, the 20-story structure is home to a number of federal agencies and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The conference room is complete with a Smart Technologies DViT Smartboard to control audio and video input and output, as well as wireless microphones to enable conference participants to move freely about the room. Realtime meetings are available thanks to this conference room, a characteristic the GSA required in order for the project to succeed.
“Anything short of realtime would have seriously compromised the effect of what we wanted to achieve with the room,” says Brown. Up to 16 people can comfortably sit in the room at any given time and it can be used — and, in fact, has been used — around the clock.
Security was also a primary consideration in the design and construction of the room. The equipment selected for the conference room included the Polycom VS4000 system for configuration of the audio and video components within the facility. The power-control sources in the room offer the high level of security and backup capabilities that the government requires in its power systems.
The room is equipped with NXT-CV10 computer touchscreens manufactured by AMX. Members in a meeting have found the screens' capabilities to be extensive and accurate without being overly sensitive to misdirected or accidental contact.
An RS8×8HB audio/video routing switcher from Knox Video Technologies provides participants with reliable flexibility for teleconferencing. An NTI TalkBox has been installed to ensure high-level speech intelligibility within the room's audio system.
The only time the conference room had any problems was when the Army Reserve Engineering office was talking with the group in Iraq, the signal was lost temporarily, cutting off communication between the too groups. The culprit was quickly traced to a relay glitch on the other end in Iraq. “The signal was back up and the meeting resumed within 10 minutes,” says Rodney Rider, area telecom manager for GSA.
Rider confirms the room is meeting its goals. “Our customers find big cost savings by using this room for their long-distance meetings rather than flying people everywhere,” he says. Other federal offices in other cities have also constructed similar rooms based on the success of the facility in St. Louis. In the region governed by the GSA St. Louis East field office, the Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Mo., now features audio/video capabilities in its conference rooms and courtrooms that similar to The Ray's.
Another office in the St. Louis market that has invested in a videoconferencing room is the VA Training Center, where officials said they are realizing similar success as Rider has found with the facility at the Robert A. Young Federal Building.