Collaboration is Key

The ability to collaborate—within an agency, among different agencies, among federal and state agencies, and with the private sector—has never been more important. Effective collaboration fosters shared services, saves money, increases efficiencies, and leads to more effective services.

It can even improve security. In fact, collaboration has become an important way to share effective cybersecurity practices. It’s so important that NASCIO, the organization representing state CIOs, recently made it a priority to partner with federal agencies to improve cybersecurity across the board. NASCIO’s efforts to foster collaboration even extend beyond cybersecurity and federal government to state-to-state collaboration and state-to-local collaboration.

The federal government is equally interested in increasing collaboration. According to the Office of the Federal CIO, far too few federal workers and teams are using modern collaboration tools. The Office notes federal departments and agencies don’t often use collaborative capabilities compatible with those of other federal departments, or even with state, local or tribal entities.

To address this issue, GSA is exploring ways to increase the use and breadth of collaboration tools throughout the federal government. It’s looking for tools to promote more effective asynchronous collaboration (where people can collaborate, but not necessarily at the same time), and synchronous collaboration (where users are in different locations, but communicating with each other simultaneously).

What GSA is getting at is something agencies have been grappling with for some time—the lack of modern, secure, integrated collaborative tools that go beyond simple chat and text. SEWP V, a fixed-price, government-wide IDIQ contract, offers a full array of collaboration tools; from file sharing and online tools to conferencing technology to full unified communication.

File sharing and online tools like Box and Microsoft Office 365 can help team members quickly access information and distribute it throughout a group. Those tools also help them share reports and work on documents in a secure space. Google’s GSuite for Government is another option. This provides simultaneous real-time collaboration from any device, via Docs, Hangouts, Sheets and more. It can also help create sites specific to a project or team.

Google’s Jamboard is another collaborative tool—one with a whiteboard-like surface that lets team members add images and notes. There is also Cisco Spark Board, a touch-based collaboration device that lets participants share documents, drawings and presentations on a screen, sketching them directly on the screen if desired. Team members can participate from their own devices, adding details or making changes.

Conferencing technology—either room-based or via the cloud—also fosters collaboration. Avaya, Cisco, Polycom and Lifesize are major vendors in this area, providing high-quality, low-latency solutions to improve the quality of meetings and help foster collaboration. These solutions are more than high-quality video and audio. They also provide 360-degree cameras, sensors, and intelligent switching, and everyone is included in the collaborative experience.

Then there are comprehensive collaborative solutions based on the unified communication (UCC) model. These typically include telephony, conferencing, messaging, presence and instant messaging, clients, and communications-enabled business processes. According to IDC, more than one-third of organizations currently use UCC and another third plan to implement it within two years.

Top UCC vendors include Cisco, Microsoft and Mitel. Most also have cloud-based alternatives that are certainly worth considering. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), the cloud-based version of UCC, provides the most options and benefits for large-scale collaboration in a proven, lower cost model. A survey from IHS Markit found that organizations are gradually moving toward cloud-based UC services as they realize the potential benefits.