Faced with government budget cuts and a growing decentralised workforce, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has introduced desktop videoconferencing software for all employees.
Officially rolled out across the organisation last week, the project is expected to save taxpayers more than $750,000 over four years, while also providing face time for workers spread across nine national offices.
“People work better when they can see each other,” said Justin Lauder, technical team lead at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who oversaw the project.
Speaking at IBM's Connect conference in Orlando, Florida, last week, Lauder said the ABS faced several workplace challenges that dovetailed with developments in technology.
As well as budget cuts, Lauder said, decentralisation of offices and the desire to still attract and retain talent all played major roles in how the ABS tackled communication among its staff.
“It was quite common for ABS staff to travel for a one-hour meeting to another capital city,” said IBM's Darren Belford, who also managed the 14-month roll-out.
“Those sorts of trips have been reduced quite dramatically.”
Lauder said: “That doesn't happen any more. We can't afford to do that.”
The technology's role in leveraging the ability to attract talent to ABS played a key part in justifying the project and – if the ABS deployment is successful – could signal a change in how workforces are recruited, especially in a country as large as Australia.
“We might have people who were in Queensland or Tasmania but they might not be willing to relocate themselves to [ABS offices in] Canberra,” said Lauder.
“We determined the best thing would be to decentralise and we advertised positions [where] they can be from anywhere in Australia so we have a much bigger pool to leverage.”
Throw in desktop videoconferencing, and the person in the cube next to you could be – and can be – anywhere.
“The team I'm in charge of, half of them are in Queensland and I'm in Canberra,” Lauder said. “With the desktop videoconferencing, or even the videoconferencing rooms, we are able to bring everyone together. Everyone can see each other and everyone feels more part of a team.”
The ABS model uses a combination of IBM Sametime, Cisco, and Polycom videoconferencing software integrated to create a hybrid system unique to ABS.
The technology refit provides users with the ability to use a videoconferencing room, a desktop, or a phone call to join a virtual meeting with three or 30 co-workers.
“We have the capability to do that from a tablet device as well,” said Belford. “It's an ongoing project.”
The software also allows for data screens – not just a co-worker's face – to be displayed during a meeting.
Belford said: “Another reason we [took on the project] was, why not? That is what the technology is there for.”
According to Lauder, it is projected that annual savings will be $65,000 in direct travel costs, $24,000 in productivity, and $100,000 in “additional efficiencies”, totaling an estimated $756,000 over four years.
"The viral take-up was pretty full on,” said Belford of the response from ABS staff to their new workplace tool. “The adoption has been crazy.”
The New York-based writer attended IBM Connect as a guest of the company.