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October 25, 2017
Productivity and collaboration in defence: Start with people—not tech
By: Stuart Cotton

Picture this scenario.

You’re involved in organising a peace-keeping mission to a war-torn nation. As usual, it’s a multinational effort, so your planners will need to work closely with other countries’ services. There will also have to be coordination with third-sector organisations providing relief to civilians. Plus private-sector contractors handling elements like logistics.

What’s more, you know this community of interest will change and expand as the situation evolves. You may be hoping that the need for real-time data sharing and collaboration between all these parties can be met through a (hopefully shared) email system. But if that’s your plan, you may need to rethink it.

Why? Because, for today’s missions, the tools available to enable productivity and collaboration go far beyond email. Solutions in widespread usage now range from instant message and voice calls and video conferencing to sophisticated tasking tools, and from shared workflows, workspaces and documents to action logs, risk registers and analysis and insight applications. By applying the right capabilities, all these components can be integrated into a single service, delivering an intuitive, common user experience and protected by responsive and robust multi-level security.

The message is clear: The government mission depends upon collaboration across agencies and other organisations, and email is not enough. And, as the scenario I described above underlines, the dynamic and fast-moving nature of today’s defence environment means this is especially vital for defence agencies.

The importance of harnessing new tools is further increased by the fact that government agencies have traditionally been hampered by static email solutions and a lack of alternative tools to support effective collaboration. In the past, there’s been a tendency for secure email systems to be created and run in heavily siloed ways, restricted to a specific mission or security level, and with no ability to communicate or collaborate outside that rigidly-defined group.

But—especially for defence agencies—the fluid and diverse nature of today’s communities of interest means this approach has passed its use-by date. Instead, the way forward lies in approaching productivity and collaboration as a unified managed service: one designed and equipped from ground up to support multiple communities and differing security levels, together with the ability to quickly create and disassemble communities or migrate users between them.

Whenever solutions like this are discussed, the main push-back is usually security. Security is an issue—but one that can be addressed. While defence agencies can do a lot in the public cloud and with enterprise-type services, many of their activities clearly require a higher level of security. Today we can create services with the user-friendly look and feel of standard cloud services, and even within the same overall service wrapper, but protected by military-grade security.

Awareness of the resulting opportunities is growing rapidly across the world. In the US, Accenture has provided the Department of Defense with a ground-breaking Task Management Tool (TMT) that has improved control and efficiency within and between Commands, and which the US Army is now using to move to paperless administration. And the expertise in multi-level security that underpins the TMT can also bring a new lease of life to email-based collaboration in other parts of the public sector: Witness the private cloud-based email system we have deployed for the UK National Health Service (NHS), enabling secure email and Skype for Business collaboration between more than a million health and care workers across the NHS.

So, what should defence and government agencies be doing differently to realise the full potential of today’s productivity and collaboration tools? In my view, four things.

  • First, approach the challenge from the other end—and start by understanding the communities of interest that you need to connect, rather than the tools you’ll do it with. This will clarify the user base and use cases to help define the best solution.

  • Second, think of productivity and collaboration for the agency and its partners as a dynamic service—one that can adapt and flex with the changing needs of the organisation and its mission.

  • Third, invest in user training and security awareness. Phishing, confidence tricks and naïve users remain among your biggest security risks. And users need to be coaxed away from their traditional reliance on email, spreadsheets and sticky notes.

  • Fourth, think through the end-to-end business case for change. This means taking account of factors like the costs of infrastructure and usage; the costs and risks of establishing secure communities as needed; the anticipated productivity increases, with more done on time and the rest less late; the reduced risk and improved control that resilient, 100% digital collaboration methods offer; and the impact of a familiar, convenient user experience across different activities and security levels.

The bottom line is this: to achieve their missions, government defence agencies and their partners need to work together, often securely. Today's productivity and collaboration tools can let them achieve more at the speed they need to operate, on appropriate devices, at the appropriate security level. The solutions to deliver this are proven and available. It’s time to seize the opportunity.

See this post on LinkedIn: Productivity and collaboration in Defence: start with people—not tech

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