New tools allow for improved collaboration

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A joint government and industry team led by members from the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate headquartered here is providing new collaborative IT tools for Air Force users.

As part of the Cloud Hosted Enterprise Services, or CHES, personnel now have the capability to use Office 365 Teams, which is a shared workspace tool. On Oct. 7, the service launched to 600,000 Air Force Office 365 users, and in 2020 will expand to an additional 110,000 users in the Air National Guard and National Capital Region.

“I am proud to announce the general availability of Microsoft Teams as a hub for Air Force mission communication and collaboration,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, program executive officer for C3I&N. “It will provide a cloud-based, modern user experience for teamwork.”

Teams provides a window for all cloud services. Instead of tracking SharePoint sites, Skype messages and cloud storage through separate windows and applications, users can access all through a single application.

“When fully adopted, this service has shown to reduce email traffic by 60 percent,” said Justin Kline, Teams lead. “Rather than emailing information back and forth, communications can flow through Teams allowing real-time conversations, live document collaboration, and audio and video meetings.”

Kline added that Teams can be a benefit when an office has personnel changes because chat history and files are perpetual, or saved, so when a new member joins, he or she can see all previous communication.

The C3I&N-led team included members from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the Air Force Network Integration Center and industry partner Microsoft. The group has been Beta testing the Teams service with members of the AF community for the past four months and said they are “excited” to launch this capability to the user community.

“During the testing, once we enabled all the key capabilities, we began adopting the service within our Integrated Process Team,” said Kline. “We were surprised at how drastically it improved our communication.”

In fact, according to Dennis Polansky, Cloud and Mobile Service program manager for AFNIC, “This capability proved vital to troubleshooting with United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa and Air Force technicians around the world.” Technicians were able to instantly share data captures and ideas to resolve problems without congesting the network.

Learning events, to train users, will be taking place over the next few months. The first one has begun at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and future sessions will take place here at Hanscom, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

There will be two Teams Open Houses here at Hanscom in the back lobby of the Conference Center. The first one will be Oct. 31 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the next will be Nov. 1 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Kline said a frequently asked question is: “Can we use this tool externally, when not connected to the Air Force network, using our personal devices?” According to Kline, it’s a “not yet.” The tool is only accessible with Common Access Cards, or CACs, on the AF network.

“Hats off to the team for navigating the security, technical and programmatic hurdles to get this capability fielded,” said Schmidt. “As we work to encourage secure modern collaboration, this gives our workforce a needed tool to make that happen.”

Because Teams is a cloud-based service, Kline said, the Air Force will see new capabilities and features added incrementally over time.

“This enables the Air Force to get the most return on its investment in the cloud,” he added.