Collaboration takes the next step
Security is key to effective collaboration strategies
Collaboration has always been a top priority in the Defense Department, and as technologies and missions change, both the opportunities and the challenges increase. Twenty years ago, for example, key personnel would travel to gather in one room to exchange ideas and work on projects. It was expensive, but it was secure. Today, with much of collaboration taking place electronically, costs are down, but security challenges have risen.
The need for real-time communication also has never been greater. Again, it’s a double-edged sword. Excellent technology choices abound, but the staggering growth of both structured and unstructured data can bog down transmissions, and it’s always a challenge to ensure that all relevant information is included in a collaborative effort.
Mobile technology, real-time situational visualization, IP telephony and even unified communications are table stakes today when it comes to collaboration. With these technologies, team members in different locations can easily collaborate using Web-based tools, complete with audio and mapping capabilities. Participants also can keep track of when their team members are available, send instant messages, or start or join an audio, video or Web conference. These tools also allow collaborators to easily share documents, as well as information in databases, reports and business applications.
The next frontier — one most defense agencies already have implemented, to some degree — is full telepresence. That means voice- and video-enabled communications capabilities with multiple screens and high-definition cameras that allow users to do all of the above — and more — while in the same virtual meeting. With these systems, all participants can see and interact with Web content, videos, presentations and other relevant information. In addition to joining meetings, participants also can create meetings whenever necessary, even side meetings between a subset of participants in a larger meeting.
There have always been security concerns when it comes to unified communications, including eavesdropping and toll fraud. But today’s unified communications systems are more secure than ever before, and paired with common-sense approaches like employing the highest level of authentication and encryption techniques, as well as security certificate authentication mechanisms that allow users to validate the identity of the other person.
Now that many of these concerns have been allayed, more defense agencies are using unified communications and telepresence for collaboration. This was spurred to some extent by the memo that Defense Department Chief Information Officer John Grimes signed in 2010 advocating that the military begin testing the Internet for all communications. Backing that up is a section of the DOD Information Enterprise Strategic Plan, published in December of 2011, that encouraged transitioning defense networks “to unified capabilities, to include IPv6, and migrate from circuit-based technology to a converged (voice, video and data) IP network and UC services environment.”
The benefits of these collaborative technologies can be staggering. In addition to greater efficiency and the ability to make effective, real-time decisions, they can save a significant amount of money. Consider the cost of travel alone. The government spends a staggering amount of money on travel each year — so much that Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients required agencies to decrease spending on travel by 30 percent. These technologies do just that, by enabling people to collaborate without getting on a plane.
As use of the cloud grows exponentially throughout government, it’s logical to assume that collaboration also can take place in the cloud. More and more, that’s exactly what’s happening. These systems work much like their server-based counterparts, except that they reside in the cloud. They enable team members to collaborate on information, objects and even processes. Some of these collaborative services also include secure video and voice conferencing solutions.
But the biggest growth in collaboration over the next decade will probably be in social media, according to John Goodman, a managing director who leads the defense and intelligence work at Accenture Federal Services. By “social media," Goodman is talking about everything you would expect — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, instant messaging, blogs and more.
“Collaboration is really about breaking down the walls in a hierarchical organization to enable people to share information, identify new solutions, and get aligned around a mission more quickly and effectively,” he said. “Social media offers a new set of tools to do those things.”
As an example, Goodman points to a project Accenture did for the U.S. Transportation Command. In what may be a DOD first, Accenture set up a blog for the commanding general, who wanted to improve the ability to speak to his global staff and get his messages out to the public and get unfiltered feedback. The blogging format allowed him, his deputy commanding general and chief of staff to submit posts. They also created an “Ask Me Anything” blog in an effort to hear ideas from whoever wanted to submit them.
“Social media tools are a great way to build a collaborative culture,” he noted. “It can accelerate acceptance of change, improve working relationships, and most importantly, bring people together to perform new processes and share experiences.”