Amidst the chaos of the grounding of Qantas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, the Federal Government has praised the value of its $18.4 million Cisco TelePresence deployment.
Commissioned in 2009, the Federal Government allocated $13.8 million to the roll-out of 20 TelePresence units across Australia in commonwealth government offices, Prime Minister and Cabinet offices, Parliament House and state government offices. Since then, the government has expanded the roll-out to 36 units. In combination with $4.6 million in state and territory funding, in excess of $18 million has been spent deploying the Cisco Telstra solution.
The decision by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to ground the entire domestic and international Qantas fleet amid an industrial dispute with employees over the weekend would show that "these systems come into their own", according to Special Minister of State Gary Gray.
"There is no doubt that these systems come into their own when otherwise transportation systems are placed under stress," he said.
The system has also proved invaluable for the CHOGM 2011, where commonwealth leaders from around the globe met with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Perth. Head of the CHOGM taskforce within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Terry Crane said that in addition to the $200,000 savings in travel costs, the system also saved staff a lot of time in preparing for the event.
"As we got closer to the event, I could not send people back to Canberra for the regular meetings. So we did the vast majority of those using telepresence. And it meant that I didn't lose my people for essentially two days or more to go back to Canberra for a meeting," he said.
Gray said one of the key features of the system was the high-definition video, which allowed people's emotions to be on display.
"[It allows for] a conversation which is not only clear, audible and engaging, but it allows emotion to be brought into the room as well. You can have an argument over these systems. You can engage emotionally through this system in a way that was previously not even thought of," he said.
In the 18 months since the roll-out, Gray said the government had $12 million in savings in travel expenses and staff costs.
"It is estimated to have already reduced travel and staff costs by $12 million, reduced carbon emissions by 2330 tonnes and greatly increased productivity because of the time-savings involved," he said.
Within four years, the government hopes to have saved $24 million with the units.
Gray said that both state and federal governments had held 1031 meetings via TelePresence since 2009.
Updated at 5.09pm, 31 October 2011: the minister mistakenly said that the cost of the telepresence units was $24 million when it was $18.4 million.