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The Benefits and Challenges of Unified Collaboration Solutions for the Department of Defense: Part 1 of 2

James Ebeler, Chief Technology Officer, Department of Defense, Iron Bow Technologies

July 20, 2021  |  Collaboration  •  IT Modernization  •  Managed Services

Collaboration is essential for today’s warfighter; they cannot be tethered to a desk. Executing the mission remotely with dispersed teams and 24×7 connectivity has become the norm in today’s edge-enabled world. Department of Defense (DoD) agencies need to be confident their teams have the tools they need to collaborate, communicate and ensure mission success securely from any device and from any location.

In this two-part miniseries, James Ebeler, Chief Technology Officer, DoD for Iron Bow Technologies shares his perspective on communication and collaboration tools for the Department of Defense: the challenges and benefits to today’s tech tools, why having unified communication capabilities is critical for today’s warfighter and outlines how agencies can utilize specific tools to achieve mission success.

What is UC for the DoD?

Unified Capabilities, or UC, is defined as the delivery of voice, video and data over a converged network and includes unified messaging, chat, presence, awareness and collaboration tools such as ad-hoc video and/or desktop sharing.  It’s also known as unified communications or, for the DoD specially, as Webex for Defense.

Because of the capabilities and benefits this approach to collaboration and communication offers to the DoD, we’re seeing vendors investing in technology supporting UC and discontinuing the older circuit-based switching equipment and related support.

What are the current challenges the Defense Department faces without UC?

In the past, separate legacy networks for voice, video and data have worked well for DoD – the Army specifically – but the costs to manage, maintain and secure those numerous networks has been understandably difficult. Couple that with the tech industry’s development and implementation of converged technologies over IP and you can see why the DoD is being driven to evolve both capabilities and processes in order to embrace the benefits of UC while also trying to reduce costs.

Currently, DoD users communicate via traditional methods like e-mail, web-based instant messaging clients, land line telephones and cell phones. However, using multiple devices like this means each device has its own IP address and therefore often leads to issues because a message can be returned on one device and not threaded over to the others, which, as you can imagine, leads to gaps in communication, going back to check every device and is just unproductive and unnecessarily time consuming and ultimately slows down the mission. While the DoD is starting the transition to a standardized and integrated UC environment, it has not yet been accomplished at an enterprise level and so the resulting gap in capabilities creates challenges to effective mission execution.

What are the benefits UC brings to DoD?

The DoD is embracing UC by utilizing the operational benefits, security and efficiencies we see in the commercial sector’s routine operations. If adopting UC based on a common IP infrastructure, a UC solution can improve the flow of communication, tie together applications with a unified user interface and support closer collaboration across the enterprise.

Furthermore, leveraging UC would mitigate the imminent risk of the unavailability of both equipment and support while increasing functionality with UC’s improved technology for communications and collaboration. Integrating communications in this way allows users to seamlessly switch between e-mail, instant messaging, voice and video, using one interface. UC solutions provide benefits and value in personal productivity, workgroup performance, and enterprise effectiveness. Finally, employing UC can increase the overall security posture through the use of a converged network and will result in reduced operations and maintenance (O&M) costs.

Cisco is a leading vendor for collaboration and communications tools. What is their solution when it comes to UC for the DoD?

So when it comes to UC, there are two approaches: on premises or in the cloud. Cisco has a long history of successfully partnering with the Department of Defense to support migration to the cloud. Cisco has begun the process of bringing a DoD Impact Level 5* (IL5) solution to the market through DoD’s FedRAMP+ process. This includes dedicating the resources to build, host and operate a secure collaboration cloud offering and to go through the lengthy DoD accreditation process. They call it the Webex for Defense. This secure, cloud-hosted collaboration solution provides Cisco’s services including voice, video, instant messaging, presence and conferencing with DoD-level security so that users can collaborate securely with anyone, anywhere, on their device of choice.

Continue reading our blog on UC and Webex for Defense in next week’s Part 2 where we’ll cover the benefits of Cisco’s cloud-hosted collaboration solution, how third party vendors are simplifying the implementation and adoption process for DoD agencies and how the Defense Department can achieve an integrated UC framework to ensure mission success.

If you’re interested in more information about unified communications for specific branches of the DoD, click here.

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