Teleconferencing Links Public Defender Offices; and with Some Smart Shopping, the Cost Turns out to Be Lower Than Expected

Article excerpt

Byline: KEVIN TURNER

When newly elected Fourth Judicial Court Public Defender Matt Shirk took office in January, one of his first priorities was to find ways to save money.

"One of the things we wanted to do was to completely overhaul the technology," Shirk said.

Among his goals, he said, was to cut down paperwork the office generates in handling 60,000 cases a year by digitizing all of the office's documents. That project is under way, he said.

And another technology goal, Shirk said, was to find a cost-effective way to communicate with his offices in Nassau and Clay counties. It's been a waste of time and resources for attorneys and administrators to drive back and forth to Jacksonville for meetings, he said. So he asked his office's IT director, Joe Frasier, to find a cost-effective video teleconferencing system.

Video teleconferencing has notoriously cost big bucks, both for needed equipment and software licensing, and packages from leading companies were much more than the office could afford to pay, Frasier said. For example, industry-leading teleconferencing equipment manufacturer Polycom would have charged a minimum of $37,000 for a teleconference system, Frasier said.

Other video conference packages were inexpensive, but the video quality was bad, he said. Plus, he had to find something that would support everyone in the office. Chief Assistant Public Defender Refik Eler wanted a simple "click and use" interface, and Shirk wanted the system to be compatible with his Apple Macintosh computer.

Then Frasier stumbled across Vidyo Inc., a video teleconferencing newcomer, while browsing a tech magazine this year. Instead of charging premium prices for proprietary cameras and other equipment, Vidyo instead allows customers to use their existing computers - Macintosh as well as Microsoft Windows PCs - and regular consumer-grade Webcams. Video teleconference participants download Vidyo sofware and use whatever wired or wireless connection they have.

The video quality was impressive, too, Frasier said. Vidyo Regional Vice President Jeff Dill said that's because a new technology, "scalable video coding," allows Vidyo to detect the strength of each person's connection and adjusts video connections to custom-suit each one. …

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