Federal Telework Enhancement Act: A boon for VoIP/UC vendors?

At least one unified communications technology provider sees this legislation as a potential bonanza.

By Adam Stone | Posted Nov 29, 2010
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Ernie Wallerstein is ready for the windfall. As president for North America of unified communications and contact center solution provider Zeacom, he looks enthusiastically to the new Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, just passed by Congress and awaiting a likely presidential signature.

The law would require all federal agencies to develop plans and policies that would enable employees to work remotely.

"It should open up a massive market," Wallerstein said.

Founded in 1994 in Aukland, New Zealand, with sales and marketing based in Irvine, Calif., Zeacom claims 3,000 customers and 60,000 active users in 27 countries. Its Zeacom Communications Center (ZCC) 5.1 solution delivers unified communications, contact center, and business process automation functionalities.

Wallerstein describes the Telework Act as a potential turning point for the VoIP industry, since IP communications technologies tie workers into the network regardless of their location. Having spent the past few years trying just to open doors to their technology, massive interest by federal agencies could boost industry players from evangelization mode up to a more educational approach.

"People will already be walking in the door. Now we can educate them about the benefits, talk to them about how to leverage this technology," he said.

Once the federal government begins to incorporate UC into its telework plans, the rest of the public sector likely will follow. Cities and states will see the benefits at the federal level and will want to follow suit, Wallerstein said.

New efficiencies, cost savings improved responsiveness – "all this is going to be something that filters down across the boards," he said. At the same time, early success on a smaller scale could encourage federal managers to take the plunge.

One case study comes from Zeacom’s own deployment with the NY Capital District Transportation Authority. Zeacom software in the CDTA contact center allows employees to work remotely during stormy weather.

CDTA provides regional commuter transportation services by rail, bus, water, and air. Using Zeacom software, CDTA agents can manage call queues from their desktops, keeping customers informed of travel situations even when the agents themselves can’t get in to work.

Such deployments at the state and local level could serve as a model to federal planners looking to fulfill the new dictum of telework planning. While the scale may be different, there still is overlap between public sector agencies be they local, state, or federal.

A municipal call center might get calls regarding downed power lines, snow removal, or statewide matters: Just like the federal government, that municipal activity may span multiple missions and multiple geographies. "Local government is a microcosm of federal government," Wallerstein said.

While local analogies may help move the needle, providers will need to make their pitch to potential federal users from a number of directions. Certainly any conversation about telework will touch on issues such as productivity and efficiency, but with the entire federal government on the move, there’s a chance to talk about bigger-picture issues, too, Wallerstein said.

"The layer they don’t understand is the management layer," he said. With a UC backbone, "you can make real-time decisions about allocating this person over here or over there, because that would be a better use of resources."

UC means not just knowing where everyone is, but also gaining the transparency to know where to send them. "There is a whole management layer based on the visibly of employees," he said.

That being said, cultural barriers remain that will have to be overcome in order to bring this technology into play within the federal government. Just as in the private sector, "some of the people making these decisions are going to be threatened by this stuff, so you don’t go in talking about reducing someone’s job," Wallerstein said.

There are plenty of ways to go at it. Talk about how telework can help meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Talk about the positive impact on the environment that comes through reduced commuting. "You talk about the non-threatening pieces," he said.

Wheels turn slowly on Potomac shores. In order to even be considered for a place in the federal telework paradigm, vendors will need to get onto the GSA Schedules, a process that typically takes six to nine months. Even then there will be a wait before the money shakes loose. "I don’t think we will see anything until the next budget cycle, until almost the 2012 time frame," Wallerstein said.

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