Feds Covet Modern Collaboration Tools, Survey Says

Federal workers say they want to use more current IT solutions but are held back by legacy infrastructure and limited budgets.

Feds just want to be able to work in the 21st century.

A recently released survey found that federal workers long to be able to use more modern and effective collaboration tools to get their work done, share content and increase productivity. However, they feel they are being held back by outmoded IT infrastructure, tight budgets and security concerns.

The survey, released earlier this month, was conducted by the Government Business Council (GBC) and underwritten by Avaya and Black Box. It comes as the Trump administration pushes agencies to adopt more modern collaboration tools.

In December, the White House's IT modernization plan called on agencies to "provide support for migration to cloud email and collaboration suites that leverage the government's buying power."

"We're the federal government, and we're stuck with legacy systems right out of the 1970s," one survey respondent said, according to GBC. "Come on, it's the 21st century"

GBC issued surveys to a random sample of government workers in November, and 539 senior leaders responded, with 56 percent holding positions at the GS/GM-13 level or above (including members of the Senior Executive Service). Respondents represent a variety of job functions, but the highest input came from program/project managers, technical/scientific specialists and administrative officers, according to GBC.

"The tension revealed in this survey reflects an evolution in the federal workplace, with the basic concept of telework giving way to a more sophisticated vision of a unified office that bridges traditional and remote work environments," Chris Meilhammer, vice president and deputy general manager of Black Box Government Solutions, says in a statement. "This demonstrates an increasing need among federal agencies for unified communications and collaboration tools that enable employees to work seamlessly across multiple devices and locations."

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Feds See the Need for Modern Collaboration Tools

It's no secret that agencies' work is increasingly going mobile. Indeed, 47 percent of survey respondents say they need to collaborate daily with colleagues who are stationed in other locations. Further, 52 percent acknowledged needing an online connection to do work beyond their regular office space at least once a week.

However, a plurality (40 percent) reported they are dissatisfied with the mobile access provided by their agency, and 38 percent have little to no confidence that current infrastructure can support recent advancements in collaborative technology.

Email is by far the most common tool used to connect with colleagues in other locations, with 96 percent of respondents saying they use it. However, voice-only teleconferencing (73 percent) is also widely used. A sizeable contingent also use videoconferencing apps (47 percent), office chat services (45 percent), and screen sharing tools (40 percent).

Despite the growing use of collaboration tools, some are getting short shrift, including document-sharing services such as Google Drive. According to GBC, one respondent said, "a huge problem is the inability to share large files or documents externally. We are restricted  due to security concerns  from using Dropbox or similar services; but that makes collaboration very difficult."

Why do federal agencies want to use collaboration tools? Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) believe higher levels of productivity and more efficient use of time is driving their agency to improve the use of such tools. "By removing communication barriers and coordinating decision-making processes, agencies see collaborative tools as a viable way to raise workforce effectiveness," GBC notes.

Over a third (35.3 percent) also believe such tools can alleviate pain points and facilitate an improved user experience for employees, not to mention significantly faster delivery of results (34.5 percent).

Legacy IT, Budgets and Security Concerns Hold Back Adoption

If there is a strong desire among workers to use more modern collaboration tools, and if there are so many benefits to be reaped, what is holding back adoption?

Part of the issue is outdated IT infrastructure within agencies themselves. When asked whether their department's current digital infrastructure could integrate the latest advancements in collaborative technology, a plurality of respondents said they are skeptical, expressing either little confidence (28 percent) or no confidence (10 percent).

Conversely, less than a third of respondents (30 percent) show any level of confidence in their agency's capability to incorporate such tools.

That is one of the reasons why the administration is urging agencies to upgrade their infrastructure to support such tools.

However, that is not the only factor holding back adoption. More than half (52 percent) say limited budgets inhibit adoption of collaboration tools. GBC notes that even as the Modernizing Government Technology Act "looks poised to alleviate this handicap in part, the current administration's focus on cost-cutting measures will likely keep financial considerations top of mind for many going forward."

Additionally, 39 percent cited external security concerns such as malware and ransomware as factors that inhibit adoption of new tools. Another 35 percent cited difficulty integrating legacy systems and 32 percent cited a lack of buy-in from agency leadership.

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Jan 30 2018