The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina has improved their ability to handle the day-to-day operations of running the tribe by installing state-of-the-art video conferencing technology.

The tribe adopted the technology last October to make it possible for Chief Michell Hicks to conduct more effective weekly meetings with the seven deputy officers who oversee almost 350 programs throughout the tribe. "Their schedules are ridiculously hectic," said Jeremy Brown, AV Administrator of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Brown believes that given the Cherokee people's preference for face-to-face contact, they get much more accomplished by doing business via video conferencing than they might using other means of business communication, like email or phone calls.

"We had an issue come up with our gaming contract that required that a great deal of figures were crunched and resolved," Brown explained. "The Chief was meeting with a team from Raleigh, and a large amount of resources were on the other end of that call. He had already told them that it was fine to move on, but they could see him continuing to tap his pencil on one number. This body language led them to ask if something was not sitting well with him. In the end, that nonverbal communication led to the tribe saving money."

After two years researching technologies from a number of vendors, the tribe went with LifeSize, who, according to Brown, was "the only company who could perform a successful demo without turning our firewall into Swiss cheese."

LifeSize, a division of Logitech, set up a product called ClearSea for the tribe. LifeSize Video Evangelist Simon Dudley describes it as a server-based application that effectively allows high-quality video conferencing between hundreds of users on all kids of devices, including iPhones, Android devices, PCs or Macs.

Chief Hicks is a certified public accountant by trade, so he's constantly evaluating issues with lawyers and financial agencies pertaining to the tribe's gaming compact with North Carolina as well as healthcare and other issues. For this reason, the tribe wanted to invest in video conferencing -- now they can individually license people outside of their network to be part of his video system as well as communicate with other entities through their existing video conferencing rooms.

The process of installing the technology required the tribe to work with its networking team to address firewall issues. They also needed to make sure that the service could be accessed anywhere once it was deployed using ClearSea's virtual server. They had everything up and running in less than two weeks.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians spent about $20,000 to set up the Chief's conference room with the necessary equipment. Another $20,000 was spent to deploy ClearSea. Since then, the tribe's police chief has added his own conference room system. Brown told Government Technology that he just received a purchase order to add another 15 licenses to the ClearSea bridge.

Brown recommends that organizations set realistic expectations when exploring video conferencing solutions for their organization. Although the system operates very well using low bandwidth connectivity, people should allocate higher bandwidth resources for more intense tasks, such as hosting a large number of video conferences at once.

The tribe is expanding their use of  video conferencing into a variety of areas. For instance, their police chief has a team of investigators who record video in the field and send it back to the office. The tribe is currently exploring grant funding options that will enable them to bring in telemedicine. Leveraging the emerging healthcare practice would make it possible for people on their other campuses to see their doctors without having to drive as much as 60 miles.

Some may question the decision to spend the money on this infrastructure when programs like Apple's FaceTime exist, but Brown says the tribe views the technolgoy as essential.

"We have sovereignty to protect. We can't allow Google or Skype servers to have our data. There is a level of security that owning our own infrastructure brings to the table," he said, adding that other tribes specify in their charters that no documents can be hosted outside of their own networks. "If we're going to utilize this technology, we have to own it."

Scott Amundson  |  Contributing Writer

Scott Amundson has written for a number of fine publications, including Attorney-at-Law Magazine and The Suit Magazine. He also contributes to the Oklahoman and the Journal Record.