Let’s face it … it’s tough out there. All state and local government budgets are hurting, and all are looking for ways to cut costs.
But cutting costs in some areas drives up costs in others. The key question that agencies are asking is: “Where can cuts be made without negatively impacting service to the citizen?”
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that citizens’ expectations are ever rising; indeed, we all expect and deserve the same high quality of service from government that we receive from the best in the commercial sector. What can agencies do? In many instances, the answer isn’t cutting programs, but changing something about them — business processes, technologies or both. And that’s where the opportunity to squeeze more performance from your networking budget comes in, particularly at the field office level.
Field offices are on the front lines, dealing day-to-day with direct citizen needs. They are the social services offices, the job centers and the public safety organizations that serve as the public face of state and local governments. To operate, these offices usually rely on a dedicated access line back to an agency’s high-speed network — typically using T1 lines — which were cutting-edge decades ago, but today are both inefficient and expensive. Here’s why:
Field offices depend more than ever on bandwidth-hungry video and data applications to provide citizen services and share information with headquarters, often demanding multi-megabit per second throughputs. A T1 line at 1.5 Mbps throughput is simply not capable of carrying the mixed video, data and voice traffic required at virtually all field offices. As a result, slow Internet connections are the norm.
T1 lines are expensive — usually about $400 a month — and they can’t be scaled up or scaled down. This “one size” approach means, for example, that if a social services agency opens a small office to serve a new housing development that field office will receive the exact same T1 line as the bustling downtown office — not terribly cost-effective.
T1 technology has been eclipsed by far higher performance and more cost-effective broadband alternatives, both terrestrial and satellite-based. In fact, the highly competitive broadband service market has shown continued improvement in prices, while average connection speeds have increased from one to 10 megabits per second or more in just the last two years. But you wouldn’t know it if your agency was on a T1 line.
Fast, secure reliable connectivity in agency field offices isn’t a “want to have”; it is a “must have.” Field offices simply can’t afford to pay for T1 lines that deliver slower service at higher costs. So what’s the answer? If you’ve visited a field office recently, you’ve probably already heard it in the form of a question: “Why is my Internet at home faster than our Internet here at the office?” The answer is simple: broadband.
Broadband has changed the way millions of Americans access the Internet, and the same dramatic improvements can be brought to field offices. Furthermore, managed broadband service for distributed agency networking of state and local governments takes advantage of the latest developments and efficiencies to deliver the high-quality service citizens deserve at reduced cost. Managed broadband brings together the most cost-effective mix of DSL, cable, wireless and satellite technologies tailored to an agency’s requirements and uniformly cover all locations as a seamless network.
Broadband connectivity provides field offices with bandwidth that’s at least 10 times greater than T1 lines and at significant cost savings. A managed broadband service averages monthly costs of about $99-$265 per field office, compared to typically $400 for each T1 line. The greatest benefit of managed broadband is that one trusted vendor delivers a complete turnkey solution at a defined price and quality of service level — uniformly across all locations, no matter what technologies or carriers are used. This is particularly helpful for those with field offices in remote locations where T1 lines were impractical to begin with. Now, with managed broadband, those offices can focus on serving the public and leave networks operations, billing and support to a single provider.
The transition to broadband doesn’t just save money; it also enables field offices to provide better service to citizens. Tomorrow’s field offices will likely be equipped with interactive kiosks, digital signage and rich media training for employees, requiring converged video, data and voice services delivered over flexible broadband technologies.
No discussion of communications can be complete without a consideration of continuity of operations planning. In the event of natural or manmade disasters, field offices and their networks become critical. Currently T1 lines are vulnerable to failure since they rely on terrestrial technology. With managed broadband service, field offices can often get both their primary network and back-up satellite connectivity at the costs of the primary network alone. This change in the model for network services will transform the way field offices stay connected in times of crisis.
Changing the way state and local agencies communicate is not without its challenges, but changes like these are exactly the kinds of opportunities that governments should be looking for. As budgets continue to contract, managers will need to be alert to the potential for technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency in every program — and when it comes to networking, broadband offers the maximum in game-changing potential.
Anthony "Tony" Bardo has 29 years of experience with strategic communication technologies that serve the complex needs of government. Since joining Hughes Network Systems in January 2006, Bardo has served as assistant vice president of Government Solutions, where he is focused on providing Hughes satellite broadband applications solutions to Federal, State, and Local governments. Bardo also recently served as Chair of the Networks and Telecommunications Shared Interest Group (SIG) for the Industry Advisory Council, an advisory body to the American Council for Technology (ACT).