Army researchers embrace collaborative communication tools
April 16, 2014
- For users, the benefit is having real-time, virtual communication capabilities in one package, available from wherever they are working, even while they are traveling or telecommuting.
NATICK, Mass. (April 16, 2014) -- The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center joined other U.S. Army organizations last month implementing Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 as its collaborative communications platform.
The software streamlines and secures communication by combining instant messaging, email, live meetings, web conferencing, and file sharing capabilities into a unified system for the entire workforce.
First adopted by the headquarters of U.S. Army Forces Command, the program is also used by the Department of the Army headquarters, Army Materiel Command, Training and Doctrine Command, Network Enterprise Technology Command and the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
After weeks of evaluation with select users and leadership, NSRDEC computer technicians installed the multifaceted suite in a simple overnight push to the workforce in February 2014.
"We used a top-down, pilot program approach," said Kristen Kiser, a communication technology specialist with the NSRDEC Information Management Office, who spearheaded implementation of the program. "We started with only 10 people. We added the associate directors and their staffs first, then the supervisors and their staffs, each with a week of use and feedback in between before it was launched to the rest of the workforce."
While FORSCOM tracks the number of accounts each organization has, Kiser follows the specific trends of NSRDEC users like when they are logged on, how much they use it and how they are communicating with other users.
Since the launch, about 200 employees have signed on and use it daily to communicate with their coworkers and colleagues. That is over a quarter of the roughly 750 employees of the NSRDEC - in just one month.
For users, the benefit is having real-time, virtual communication capabilities in one package, available from wherever they are working, even while they are traveling or telecommuting.
The NSRDEC Operational Forces Interface Group is one of the teams that need the capability to communicate efficiently with teams across both the NSRDEC and the Army. OFIG personnel are the primary liaison between NSRDEC project officers and military units conducting user assessments of new or prototype items.
"My team works with other NSRDEC offices and requires coordination and communication that may not require a more formalized system as email, but does require a simple question be asked," said Max Biela, OFIG team leader.
While the instant messaging or chat feature provides quick, informal communication between users, the live meeting and web conferencing modes offer more robust capabilities like desktop VTCs, whiteboard and the ability to conduct virtual breakout sessions.
Users that have a camera and microphone can communicate by high definition video and audio calls with any other user who has the same hardware.
Additionally, the file sharing mode enables multiple users to remotely access files on another user's desktop, an invaluable tool for collaborative team projects that eliminates the need to email large files back and forth.
All of these features can be used simultaneously, streamlining the number of programs open on a user's desktop.
"The shared screen ability was tested within the OFIG office and it functioned smoothly and allowed us to switch control of the screen from one to the other," Biela said.
In addition to the internal communication capabilities, the software will allow users to communicate with organizations outside the center. Collaborating with external partners is an essential component to the success of NSRDEC's science and technology programs.
"Anyone who has MS Communicator can use it with us and still be secure," Kiser said.
Officials said cybersecurity is the biggest objective in implementing this system. The IMO owns the NSRDEC MS Communicator server, which provides both the continuity and security lacking in using outside online communication tools.
Previously, communication tools such as instant messaging, video teleconferencing and desktop sharing were unavailable to the workforce. NSRDEC leadership is encouraging employees to use MS Communicator as an alternative to other external means of communication that are make the center more susceptible to cyber-attacks.
"Users are constantly surprised that they are now allowed and encouraged to use virtual collaboration tools," Kiser said. "Now they have IM, web conferencing, high-definition video and the capability to read, edit and download files in a secure network."
MS Communicator can also be used as a backup to existing networks, Kiser said.
"If Outlook goes down, users will have all of their contacts available in a separate system, so productivity would continue," she said.
"When our leadership is off the installation or traveling, they can still conduct virtual town halls through MS Communicator," Kiser added.
In an effort to promote the program internally, the IMO has issued a challenge to the NSRDEC workforce in order to encourage use of the system.
The IMO asks leaders to encourage their teams to partake in a 30-day communication challenge by pledging to log into MS Communicator daily, add all supervisors and team members to their contact lists, attend or host two virtual meetings and participate in the feedback surveys.
Ultimately, the IMO envisions that this technology will enhance all future communication both internally between directorates and externally with the partners, parent commands and customers of the NSRDEC.
ABOUT NATICK SOLDIER RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND ENGINEERING CENTER
NSRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.