The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wanted to cut travel time and phone costs incurred by its employees attending meetings and training. It chose Microsoft Office Live Meeting, a hosted online meeting space that it can use for training, collaboration, conference calls, and interactive meetings. DNR employees are working more productively without the hassle of travel, and the DNR saved approximately U.S.$170,000 in the first year.
The Wisconsin legislature created the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 1967. Today, the DNR oversees the many disciplines and programs necessary to provide a clean environment and a full range of outdoor recreational opportunities for Wisconsin citizens and visitors.
||It was amazing how a grass-roots movement to use Office Live Meeting took over the DNR. We’ve transformed how we communicate and estimate savings of more than $170,000 in just one year.
Section Chief, Infrastructure and Architecture Section, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
The DNR has 200 offices around the state, some in remote areas. Until recently, its daily business was conducted using expensive conference calls and face-to-face meetings. Staff from diverse locations collaborated on documents using the state’s Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client, which extended review cycles and impeded version control. The state’s aging video-conferencing units operated over a dedicated ISDN phone line and cost U.S.$1,330 a month. DNR staff had to book the service in advance, and people were required to attend in person.
In May 2008, the DNR Forestry program was the first to show interest in a Web-conferencing tool, to reduce the travel required for dispersed staff to collaborate on drafting policy and other documents. Then, “when gas prices spiked in the summer of 2008, our Law Enforcement Bureau, with more than 200 wardens, faced an increase in its vehicle-leasing costs,” says Patrick Powers, Section Chief, Infrastructure and Architecture Section at the DNR. “Both groups asked us to find a technology solution to reduce travel costs and enable a more efficient method of collaboration.”
The DNR had recently migrated its servers to the state’s new, centralized data center operated by the Department of Administration. “We didn’t have the resources to buy or maintain any server-based collaborative solution, so we looked at hosted Web conferencing,” says Powers.
To provide the online conferencing it was seeking, the Department of Natural Resources chose Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Now DNR staff members can conduct training, edit documents, and collaborate on whiteboards from their personal computers anywhere in the state. The solution includes a 360-degree panoramic video solution from Polycom called the CX5000 Unified Conference Station (formerly Microsoft RoundTable) that creates interactive virtual sessions that are as productive as face-to-face meetings.
“Office Live Meeting was the perfect easy-to-use, low-cost, low-maintenance solution for the DNR,” says Powers. “With Microsoft hosting the service, we had no qualms about reliability. We liked the flexibility and cost savings of signing up staff members for Live Meeting at only $2.78 a month for unlimited use. When our agency secretary uses Live Meeting to run an audio-only, VoIP [voice over IP] meeting every week for his staff, it costs a fraction of what it used to when we were paying $35 a week to use a conference call bridge.”
The DNR empowers its individual programs to purchase subscriptions as they see fit. The Forestry program and Law Enforcement Bureau were the early adopters, but when others heard about the travel cost and time savings, interest spread quickly. “Word of the savings that could be realized with Live Meeting got out, and suddenly everyone wanted to get involved,” says Steve Walker, IT Training Coordinator at the DNR.
Powers and Walker started using Office Live Meeting to train new users. Soon, the DNR began using Live Meeting to extend on-site training in Madison to its regional offices, even for complex course content, such as ESRI GIS courses.
Today, the DNR has 290 subscribers to Office Live Meeting. The service has replaced on-site meetings, training, and telephone and conference calls among internal staff and with outside agencies. Since January 2009, the DNR has conducted 2,400 Office Live Meeting sessions, with approximately 15,878 attendees and 2,836 distinct logons.
Today, almost everyone at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources integrates Microsoft Office Live Meeting into their work lives. “It was amazing how a grass-roots movement to use Office Live Meeting took over the DNR,” says Powers. “We’ve transformed how we communicate and estimate savings of more than $170,000 in just one year.”
“Wardens even participate in Live Meeting conferences using their laptops and wireless modem cards, right from their trucks,” adds Walker.
Since the beginning of 2009, the DNR achieved a return on investment of 270 percent with its choice of Office Live Meeting. Powers estimates that return will increase to 400 percent over the next few years. “Thanks to reduced phone bills and travel costs, we’re saving money,” says Powers. “The low cost of Office Live Meeting subscriptions enabled the wardens to cut their conference call and travel expenses by more than $10,000 for 2009.”
Using Office Live Meeting for real-time collaboration with live, 360-degree video means that staff can work as productively during online meetings as they can in face-to-face meetings. Employees no longer trade productive work time for travel. “Cutting travel time means that staff can do more work. It’s as though we have added the equivalent of 10 to 15 full-time employees,” says Powers.
Offering Convenient Training
The convenience of attending training sessions through Office Live Meeting increases the chances that employees can work training into their busy schedules by enabling them to choose classes from a greater number of dates. The result is a better trained work force.
“Office Live Meeting proved itself as a training tool with the first ESRI GIS course,” says Walker. “At first, ESRI was skeptical that Live Meeting could handle the sophisticated graphics and demos. We were uncertain as well because staff members were being asked to spend two to three days at training and pay for course fees. But it went extremely well, and we reached people in the field with no problem.”
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