Video Network

The Illinois Video Network reduces conference costs and increases personal productivity.

by / July 31, 1996
The Illinois Video
Network significantly
reduces conference
costs and increases
personal productivity
for governmental and
educational users.

Before the inception of the Illinois Video Network (IVN), government officials in Illinois routinely traveled between Chicago and Springfield for conferences. Costs incurred for air fares, meals, lodging and ground transportation were significant. Additional time and resources were required for submitting and processing travel expense receipts.

Long distance travel was also detrimental to personal productivity. It consumed large amounts of time, both in the air and on the ground. Each traveler required time for preparation and transportation to the airport. Upon arriving at their destination, additional time was consumed traveling from the airport to a downtown hotel.

To hold costs down, only the bare minimum of people attended conferences. Each attendee would gather and carry as much pertinent material as possible. When an important piece of information was left behind, it had to be transmitted by fax. Those travelers staying overnight found hotel rooms less productive than using their own office and its resources.

Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar said, "Videoconferencing has become one of the most effective tools in governmental communication." He cited the benefits of reducing travel costs, enhancing training programs and establishing long distance educational programs.

The main benefits of videoconferencing are that it eliminates travel costs and wasted time. When a conference completes, the attendees return to their offices and resume their duties without lost travel time. Staff members are available to support the videoconference without additional transportation expenses. When a question arises that can't be immediately answered, staff personnel can resolve the issue while the conference continues. Additional materials are made easily available to the attendees without disrupting the conference.

The majority of Illinois government agencies are located in Springfield and Chicago. In 1991, Illinois began constructing a video network between these two cities. By August 1995, the statewide network encompassed 37 videoconferencing sites.

All video components in the IVN system adhere to the NTSC industry standard. William Vetter, manager of the Bureau of Communications and Computer Services that oversees IVN, explained "We pressed for industry standard equipment to avoid getting locked in to a specific vendor."

The investment made in the Chicago and Springfield facilities was $250,000 per room. Each studio uses special acoustic materials, lighting and equipment similar to a TV station news room. VTEL 227 systems and MCU-II multi-point control units are the heart of the system.

A ceiling-mounted overhead camera displays documents on the desktop. This camera has sufficient resolution to zero in on a business card and completely fill the monitor screen with it. Another camera is dedicated to a wall-mounted white board. Other cameras, located behind glass, are focused on the attendees. Keeping the cameras hidden behind glass makes them less intimidating to the participants.

The VTEL control panel is user-friendly and can be operated by non-technical personnel after a few minutes of instruction. A technical support person is available for assistance, should the need arise. Camera positions are preset and switchable between full group shots, individuals and documents. An audio feed is also available for remote attendees who can't participate with video. Both point-to-point and multi-point conferences are possible with the VTEL MediaConference system.

In the Chicago facility, 250 people can view press conferences and other media announcements on a 16-foot-tall projection screen. A smaller room employs a 32-inch monitor and seats 25 comfortably. Most other conferencing sites use standard video monitors.

TimePlex hardware connects the studio rooms with the outside world. Within the IVN, transmissions are carried on quarter T-1 leased lines. AmeriTech provides these lines between the large metropolitan areas and to the Sprint Point of Presence. The 384Kbps line speed is sufficient to handle both audio and video signals.

Sprint's Meeting Channel rooms are available for hourly rental in most major cities. These facilities allow users without their own studios to participate in videoconferences. IVN maintains a dedicated line to the Meeting Channel. This line connects IVN to thousands of video studios in 37 countries.

Recently, IVN connected Lincoln Elementary School students in Springfield with students using the Meeting Channel in Los Angeles. The California students shared their experiences with the recent earthquake, while the Springfield students spoke about their school being damaged by fire. This experience was old hat for the Springfield students because videoconferencing is a regular part of their curriculum. Springfield is part of the distance learning program that allows university professors to evaluate student teachers in real classroom environments without the inconvenience of travel.

The IVN facilities are available by the hour to both government entities and private business. Public-sector rates range from $75 to $150 per hour, depending upon frequency of use and the number of hours required. Non-governmental rates are $180 per hour. IVN is a fully utilized system. Sixty to 80 hours each month are used by legislators, staff and agency personnel to conduct state business. The educational community, law enforcement and private business take up the remaining available time.

Cost savings throughout the network are on a par with those realized by the State Board of Education. Over the first 60 days of their operation, the board saved more than $16,000 in travel expenses.

By using conferencing, the State Police Forensic Labs saved $150 per square foot in unnecessary building costs. The nine forensic labs locations use the network for training on biology, chemistry, firearms and other criminology classes. Training given to the 40 students at the Carbondale facility is also available to those in Rockford and Peoria. Occasionally, some of their facilities are used for depositions and hearings.

Twenty-eight new IVN locations are coming online soon for the Illinois Department of Corrections. Plans are in place to use the system for guard training and inmate education. Parole board hearings and arraignments done by video have many advantages. Travel costs, vehicle requirements, officer overtime and security risks are all greatly reduced.

The Illinois Video Network is expanding rapidly. It's doubling the number of installed locations each
year, and by 1997 IVN is projected to grow to more than 100 sites. Overall, IVN is one of the most sophisticated and cost effective communication networks in use today.