Military's newest weapon: instant messaging

While offline aboard ships or planes, Navy Medical Corps physician Eric Rasmussen continues working in his Groove Workspace collaboration groups. When he's back online in Kuwait or at Central Command in Florida, his 45 coworkers know via instant messages, and any file changes he has made are securely updated.

'I collect files, images and thoughts in various tools and have a discussion area where I put it all together,' Rasmussen said in an e-mail message from the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. There he publishes a daily assessment of Middle Eastern media and advises Central Command on protection of noncombatants in potential conflicts.

Workspace is compatible with standard software such as Microsoft Office, Windows XP, SharePoint Team Services, Outlook, Messenger and Project. 'We have designed, with a number of international agencies and experts, a set of tools for humanitarian support,' Rasmussen said.

The tools, developed with help from Robert Kirkpatrick at Workspace's vendor, Groove Networks Inc. of Beverly, Mass., integrate with Workspace to handle incident alerts, casualty reporting, evacuation requests, refugee registration and screening, map annotation and other data.

Each collaborator 'can read the reference materials on how another does business,' which reduces surprises and redundancy, Rasmussen said.

He said he prefers Workspace to e-mail in some circumstances, because he works across time zones on sensitive medical topics. The technology, Rasmussen said, 'is transparent enough to stay out of the way, and there is a historical record of the pathway.'

Also, he said, the Workspace information is encrypted and distributed 'in case something happens. I work in austere environments'warships and refugee camps'so my laptop is always at risk.'

As both a physician and a Navy officer, Rasmussen said, 'my perspective is a bit skewed, but technology like Groove is now capable of far better than we manage. Unfettered communication is a critical component of the education required of a democracy.'

He added, 'My opinions are not necessarily shared by the Navy or the Defense Department. I'm pretty darn sure they'd point that out.'

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