Technology Teamwork: Two Agencies Team Up To Tackle Email

Productivity and budgets benefit from agency collaboration.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Department have joined forces to implement cloud-based email and collaboration software this summer.

The FAA plans to migrate its 60,000 users to Microsoft Office 365 beginning in July, and once it completes the move, the FAA’s IT staff will help Transportation migrate its 20,000 users to the cloud service, says Darrin Donlon, the FAA’s acting manager of the optimization branch in the FAA’s Office of IT Optimization.

The FAA and Transportation Department hold meetings together on a regular basis, and the new suite of applications — from instant messaging to video conferencing — will make it easier for both organizations to communicate.

“Now, we can collaborate like we never have before,” Donlon says.

The FAA began shopping for a new email system in 2010 when its IBM Lotus Notes application was 10 years old. Email was the primary focus, but collaboration tools were a secondary need. After considering several options, the FAA chose Microsoft Office 365 and has been preparing for implementation since last summer.

According to Donlon, the agency is taking a three-phased approach to implementation. During the initial planning stage, from July to September 2012, the FAA’s IT leaders met frequently with its cloud provider to discuss the agency’s needs and requirements.

Software as a service is a highly configurable environment, so we basically gave them information about our environment. We made choices on what to enable and disable, and all those agreements were captured in documents,” he says.

During this period, Microsoft addressed the FAA’s security requirements. For example, Microsoft employees who work on the project must acquire security clearances. In addition, the Microsoft infrastructure that will handle FAA/Transportation cloud service must reside in the United States. The infrastructure must also be dedicated to the two agencies and not shared with other users, Donlon says.

In September, the FAA launched the project’s second phase, the preparation phase, in which Microsoft configured its cloud service to meet FAA’s specifications. During this period, the FAA IT staff also prepared for the migration by consolidating its dozen Active Directory servers down to two, to simplify identity management and authentication into the cloud. The agency aims to get down to one Active Directory server by next year.

The FAA in March began piloting the technology with 1,100 users. The FAA chose IT staffers for the pilot because they are experienced and knowledgeable users, so when the technology is rolled out en masse, the IT staffers can aid with help desk calls, Donlon says.

In the project’s final phase, the FAA plans to begin migrating its users in July, and once that’s complete, the FAA will migrate Transportation Department users to the new cloud service, he says.

The cloud-based email and collaboration software will make a huge difference for both agencies, Donlon says.

“We’ve taken a giant step forward,” he says. “The world is moving faster and faster, and having real-time communications — instant messaging, file sharing, and voice and video integration — is really an expectation in today’s workforce.”

<p>iStockphoto/Thinkstock</p>
Apr 29 2013