With federal travel budgets being significantly reduced due to sequestration, government agencies need to implement next-generation communications tools to help emulate the valuable collaboration that happens when government employees are able to meet face-to-face.
With its primary mission to support the warfighter and with personnel stationed all over the world, even during so-called ‘peacetimes’, collaboration through advanced communications technologies are vital to success.
John Hale, Chief, Enterprise Applications at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), is responsible for a host of enterprise services including cloud computing, cloud-based email, portal, as well as Defense Connect Online (DCO) collaboration suite. In a recent interview, courtesy of GovExec’s Excellence in Government podcast series, Hale discusses specifically how enterprise collaboration capabilities have improved efficiencies and impact savings.
Currently, more than 900,000 civilian and military personnel are using the Defense Connect Online collaboration suite, which Hale notes enables “collaboration on documents, briefings, and items like that” via “multi-user, chat web conferencing, video teleconferencing capability.” In the same way that Google Hangout, for example, offers screen sharing, white boarding, document collaboration and the ability to see others for enterprises, DCO enables this degree of collaboration in a secure environment.
Hale has been pleased with the wide-spread adoption of collaboration technologies; the DoD has been an ideal proving ground because of the agency’s size. Hale comments, “[i]f it’s just you in your office, those capabilities enable a mobile workforce but it doesn’t enhance the mission… But when you start moving into multi-agency, multi-service, cross-functional team work, that’s when these tools really start to shine. They allow you to work on problems across different domains and allow you to be successful.”
The overall collaboration suite is also being used in highly unexpected ways. “When we built the suite, we had envisioned certain uses for it, but what has emerged is very different,” said Hale. “For example, the system has enabled firefighters in California to access satellite imagery from the Intelligence Community in a safe and secure way, which is an example of the DoD working with non-traditional partners to help them support their own missions.”
In terms of adoption challenges, Hale mentioned how the biggest hurdle is not the technology, but the human factor – both in terms of culture and the ability to give up control in moving to enterprise capabilities.
“When you move from local to enterprise capabilities, it is a very big step because you are giving up control,” added Hale. Yet when this is accomplished, the move allows users to be more successful in mobile environments without having to worry about the security of the data.
An added benefit is realized during these times of cost-cutting. Similar to most federal agencies, DoD is trying to reduce department costs by limiting travel and events. It is now when enterprise solutions begin to make a deeper impact. “You see is a huge growth of these types of solutions because of that (cut in budgets). We saw a sharp 33% growth within a 30-to-60-day period. A dollar figure tied to that, its harder to do. Yet Army reported to Congress a $70million cost savings in using enterprise tools,” said Hale.
Finally, for other agencies looking to build out a similar enterprise suite, Hale stresses that, “culture is the big first step. Once you get folks into a mode where they are going to take the first step, do a pilot. Pick a particular mission. Clearly define the goals and expectations and then do a pilot where you can measure the results. But taking the first step is the hardest.”