Technology firms find opportunity in government push for telework


A demonstration of LifeSize Communications’s videoconferencing technology. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)
November 20, 2011

Some companies that provide video conferencing technology say they’re seeing a boost in sales to the federal government as it promotes telework, or the ability for people to work remotely, as a way to save money and improve productivity.

Take LifeSize Communications, a division of Logitech, which provides videoconferencing technology that can be installed at an office and used by an employee working on a laptop at home. The privately held company has an office in Herndon and said that it has doubled its government sales in the past year, though it wouldn’t specify a dollar figure.

The rise comes as the federal government makes increased telework a priority, contending that it provides a way to make sure operations continue, even in emergencies such as blizzards, while also reducing commuting costs and improving employee satisfaction.

The technology also is taking off because more employees have access to broadband Internet connections at home, and laptops, tablets and smartphones capable of playing video and other data-rich applications.

“In the past, video conferencing was cost prohibitive,” said Doug Miller, federal sales director at LifeSize. “Now, everyone has DSL of some sort at their home, they have some sort of connectivity, and with very limited bandwidth, they’re able to conduct high-definition video conferences.”

Polycom, which has its government sales office in Herndon, has focused on selling software additions, rather than hardware, to allow for video conferencing and other remote collaborations.

“We’re starting to make the hardware almost irrelevant,” said Sean Lessman, chief technology officer of Polycom’s global public sector.

Certainly employees can work from home without video conferencing technology, simply relying on traditional e-mail or phone. But Lessman said that allowing workers to see each other and to view the same documents like slides or graphs makes employees more productive and helps those who prefer face-to-face interaction get more comfortable with telework.

Kent Cunningham, chief technology officer of Microsoft’s federal civilian and health care unit, said federal agencies also are finding that telework can generate cost savings by reducing the needed office space and IT infrastructure.

“In the government space, I think there are what are perceived as competing initiatives” to cut costs and to encourage teleworking, Cunningham said. But now, “IT shops are seeing opportunities to embrace this change as a way to save money.”

Lessman said interest in teleworking has been instrumental in boosting Polycom’s sales.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere close to actually addressing the full market,” he said of anticipated revenue increases.

Miller said it typically takes agencies six to 12 months to see a return on their investment, depending on how much travel they fund.

Within the next couple years, he said he expects teleworking to surge.

By fiscal 2013 and 2014, “federal agencies will have figured out or begun to crack the code of how to reap the rewards of teleworking and how to limit any exposure from a security perspective,” he said.

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