Mar 28 2016

Interior Dept., Army Corps of Engineers Use File-Sharing to Enhance Collaboration

Federal IT departments say cloud-based tools enhance communication, productivity and mobility.

File management tools help make life easier. At the Interior Department, CIO Sylvia Burns reports that employees spend much less time tracking down the latest version of documents previously emailed back and forth or checked out from a file library. Such productivity gains help staff improve service to the public.

Many organizations now turn to enterprise file management tools to better secure sensitive documents and reduce the administrative burden of relying on email to transmit large documents. Enterprise products such as BoxCitrix ShareFile and Syncplicity provide organizations with an easier way to share graphics-intensive files and video. While these products offer great value, Burns says Interior deployed Google Apps for Government, mainly because the cloud suite offers a broader set of opportunities for collaboration and communication.

The agency’s main goal in looking for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution, says Burns, was to transition its legacy email and collaboration services from disparate, on-premises systems to a highly integrated environment. “Our objective was to reduce Interior’s service delivery costs, as well as equip and empower our employees with secure, modern, reliable communication,” she explains. “Our intent was to deliver capabilities that would act as catalysts to accelerate and improve the delivery of mission goals and services.”

From an IT perspective, Burns says one of the greatest benefits of Google Apps for Government was that it eliminated most of the on-premises hardware and associated infrastructure. Moving forward, the department is not as concerned about hardware lifecycle management, nor does the agency need to increase storage to support mailboxes.

On the user side, workers can share documents in Google Drive and access the vast array of Google applications, including Docs, Calendar, Sites, instant messaging and video chatting. Google Apps also integrates well with mobile devices, advancing Interior’s goal of becoming a more mobile workplace.

“The broad consensus is that these collaboration tools have decreased our execution times, increased our efficiency and time to completion and significantly reduced duplication of effort,” Burns says.

And while numerous organizations had employees who used Box and Dropbox on an ad-hoc basis, Burns says Interior’s policies didn’t allow for access to the various free file-sharing sites. “We knew we had to obtain a SaaS service that also gave our employees a secure file-sharing capability,” she says. “I’m pleased to call out this initiative as an example of getting ahead of the curve: We knew there was a need, and we were able to meet it securely.”

Terri McClure, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says that while many IT departments were put in a bind when people started using consumer-oriented SaaS collaboration tools, the Interior Department took a smart path by deploying Google Drive.

“Lots of organizations just restrict access to consumer solutions, yet still don’t source the secure, simple file-sharing solutions their employees want,” McClure explains. “So we see examples of people using personal devices or even public hotspots to get around those restrictions and still use the consumer services. The proactive approach the Interior Department took helps prevent that from happening.”

Getting Access to Documents from Anywhere 

The United States Army Corps of Engineers also took a broad view in launching a pilot of Microsoft Office 365.

CIO Gregory Garcia says USACE wants to leverage cloud-based email, instant messaging, chat, presence and awareness, shared documents, online meetings and web conferencing. The agency also aims to develop better ways to collect, process and synchronize relevant mission data within the Corps, with external partners and the public at large.

“We look to employ capabilities to seamlessly and persistently talk, chat, share, record and synchronize the critical aspects of doing our mission,” Garcia says, adding that USACE consists of 37,000 civilian and military personnel who support 159 Army and 91 Air Force installations across 90 countries.

Garcia says the Office 365 pilot has demonstrated an ability to improve collaboration through document sharing and co-editing. He says the greatest benefits are the ability to create, view and collaborate on a document from any connected device. And fairly soon, the pilot will include Skype for Business, supporting the voice, video and content-sharing critical to USACE’s worldwide mission.

“In my office, we have a geographically separated staff,” says Garcia. “We are able to bounce between checking presence and awareness, chat, video and email to craft critical, timely responses to local and regional concerns or challenges. This greater collaboration lets us develop coordinated and better-informed answers to our customers’ needs and requests.”

Enterprise File-Sharing Advantages

Terri McClure, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, identifies three main benefits of cloud-based enterprise file sharing systems:

  1. Improved employee productivity: These tools enable employees to share and access files more easily from wherever they are, increasing productivity. Overall, employees are happier when they can work the way they want.
  2. More efficient collaboration: Employees have access to version control, file logging, editing and messaging, which all help them complete projects quickly and thoroughly.
  3. Enhanced IT management: Security drives most organizations to use enterprise file-sharing tools. Administrators can set security rules, set storage levels and generate reports that offer a level of visibility into document usage that they’ve never had before.
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