Unified communications is breathing new life into rural communities across Canada and the U.S., as governments explore how they can leverage these tools to better serve their constituents.
In a recent UC Buzz podcast, experts debated how UC can enable pubic sector enterprises to effect social change.
As governments increasingly offer online services to extend their reach, UC can play a significant role, said Joseph Williams, Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University.
“It can extend citizen participation. Rather than have a city council meeting broadcast on cable TV, they could have UC participation in this meeting in the same way the commercial world does. You can use UC as a way of getting rural populations involved in public policy debates,” Williams said.
There are also opportunities to leverage UC’s functionality in areas where governments intersect with the private sector, Williams added.
“Governments can work with businesses to use UC to relieve pressure on commute times,” he said. “Where you have a lot of density in a urban area, you can use UC as a way of encouraging businesses to locate into the suburbs to avoid density problems.”
All governments struggle with the challenge of engaging constituents – as is evidenced by historically low voter turnout – and UC can provide a platform for diverse populations to get involved, Williams said. He referenced a white paper – Next Generation Unified Communications in the Public Sector – that offers a primer on the topic and includes detailed case studies.
UC combined with high-speed networks has enabled some rural areas of Canada and the U.S. to transform their social fabric, according to Roberta Fox, president of the Fox Group, a Toronto-based IT and telecom consultancy.
Fox pointed to a community in southwestern Ontario whose primary industry until about 10 years ago had been tobacco farming. The region recognized it needed to shore up industry in other areas to remain viable.
“They started building out wired and wireless networks. They have gone from growing and selling tobacco to selling amazing crafts online. They have developed network-enabled automated fish farms that sell directly to the restaurants with online ordering. Peanut farmers are selling online with commodity trading for e-stores.
Emergency preparedness is another area where experts think UC could relieve some pressure in the business continuity equation, said Steve Leaden, president of Leaden Associates, a telecom and IT consulting firm whose clients include major universities, municipalities and health care facilities in the Metro New York area. The discussions around UC have amped up in the wake of Hurricane Sandy two years ago.
“The idea of preparing for another hurricane becomes part of the discussion at the CIO level – how do we connect all of our people in a real time fashion. UC is borderless. It allows us to continue working on a project together during tough weather events. The world doesn’t stop for weather related issues.
But Williams cautions that getting government and commercial agencies to agree on strategy is a “nightmare.”
“We have the UC technology, we have the identification technology is all there, but the will to make it work is missing.”