As it happens, I just finished a book on Bell Labs (The Idea Factory) when I saw this IRM notice on FSA video teleconferencing. (Bell Labs gave us the transistor, fiber optics, communications satellites, cell phones, and information theory, among many other things.)
As almost everything does these days, the conjunction called up memories. Bell Labs came up with the Picturephone in the 60''s, demoed it at the NY World Fair, and released it in a couple of cities. Though user reaction was favorable at the fair, it fell flat as a consumer product. The problem was the cost was too high for a communications device where both parties needed the device to communicate.
The book, which I recommend, compared the Picturephone and the cell phone. The cell phone was also bulky and costly at the beginning, but its big advantage was you could call anyone who had a regular phone or a cell phone with it; it linked you with the existing network and didn't require building a new network.
In the 1980's ASCS tried out a new version of the picturephone (not from AT&T): IRMD got 4-6 devices and I got one to communicate with KCMO. Again it was a flop--it appealed to the techies but it didn't do much .
A bit later IRMD set up a teleconference center to communicate with KCMO. We used it for a few teleconferences between programmers and program people, but it required a lot of scheduling and coordination. We didn't have enough business with KCMO that required the attendance of a lot of people, particularly as we made more use of email. And the value-added of seeing people talk was small. Our use tailed off to nothing. I don't know how long IRMD kept it going.
So I've considerable curiosity about the new system in FSA. The notice indicates it's popular and getting a workout, which is good, but it also sounds complicated which is bad. It sounds as if it's more capable than something like Skype or similar cheap apps. On the other hand if I were forced to bet, I'd say FSA probably never did a lot of training on things like Skype. Am I wrong? It sounds as if it's a dedicated system, separate from the regular communication network, which is a minus. If people have to share, they often don't.
I think I commented a while back about the ancillary benefits of conferences/face-to-face meetings (in the context of the uproar over GSA). The recent bio of Steve Jobs said he was careful to design Apple offices so as to throw people together. The Bell Labs book says AT&T did the same. Of course, that's workplace design, not travel conferences, but the principle is the same: people learn from each other and they often learn the most from people they don't work with on a daily basis.
To come back to Claude Shannon and information theory: his measure of "information" says the more redundancy in a message, the less information is conveyed. Most of our daily business is redundant; we do similar things over and over so we don't gain much information and we don't learn. That's why failure is so good: the first time you try something everything is new, little is redundant, there's lots of learning and lots of information. That's also why some meetings are good (though not the weekly staff meetings with which I used to bore my employees) provided they introduce new people, new subjects, or new surroundings.