DoD CIO is responsible for the governance and oversight of Information Technology in
the DoD. When the COVID pandemic forced millions of personnel into a telework situation, Microsoft teamed with DoD to deploy a DoD Microsoft 365 Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment in which DoD workers could more effectively operate. Initially, DoD CIO personnel were unaware of the capabilities and value the Microsoft 365 Teams environment had to offer so few were attempting to use it. ACES leadership reached out to DoD CIO leadership and provided a Microsoft Teams capability demonstration. This was an eye-opening event that resulted in several follow-on demos, discussions, and ultimately direction by DoD CIO leaders to use the new environment. After consistently experiencing unprecedented high-quality audio and video in Teams meetings, one of the Deputy DoD CIOs mandated his personnel be video capable when meeting with him.
The DoD CIO is the Principal Staff Assistant (PSA) and advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense for Information Technology (IT), including National Security Systems (NSS), and Information Resources Management (IRM). The DoD CIO is responsible for all matters relating to information and the DoD information environment, including Command and Control (C2), Communications, Radio Frequency Spectrum, Network Operations, Information Systems, Information Assurance (IA), Defensive Cybersecurity, and Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT).
When the COVID pandemic workforce restrictions took effect, there was no capability for DoD personnel to effectively meet and collaborate. Although DoD had some legacy collaboration capabilities such as the DoD homemade Defense Collaboration Service, most people avoided them as they were plagued with performance, quality, and usability issues. Remote access to DoD networks via VPN and remote desktop were never scaled to support a situation with nearly all DoD personnel teleworking.
Since DoD CIO drives the evolution of the Department's network and information capabilities to meet its ever-changing mission needs, it needed to find a solution to reconnect its fragmented workforce considering the new normal. By partnering with Microsoft to stand up a DoD-wide Microsoft 365 Teams capability in a DoD secure commercial cloud tenancy- the CVR Environment-the seamless, secure Microsoft 365 Teams environment immediately delivered agile and secure collaboration and information sharing capabilities back to its workforce to re-enable them to continue enhancing our Nation's combat power while ensuring effective decision-making in support of our National Defense.
Unfortunately, the modern Teams environment was a massive leap for an information workforce used to working in technologies that are 10-15 years older. Personnel within DoD CIO largely ignored the capability as they had no idea how to leverage it. The Managing Director of ACES Group reached out to a Navy Captain in DoD CIO to provide a demo of the environment’s capabilities along with several recommendations on how the environment could be used to turn lemons into lemonade. Once the Captain saw the capabilities of the Microsoft 365 Teams environment, she was able to communicate those capabilities to other DoD CIO senior leaders which led to several follow-on demos, one of which was with the Deputy DoD CIO for Command, Control, Communications and Infrastructure (C3I). The Deputy CIO stated at the end of the demo that there was so much capability in this platform he needed some time to digest what he had just seen and consider the many ways the DoD CIO and DoD could leverage the capabilities.
ACES took ownership of the DoD CIO C3I Teams environment and began to build out pages and capabilities within the associated SharePoint site to assist with collaboration requirements. One of the first things the organization needed was training and assistance with DoD network-specific connectivity questions. ACES provided several training links and worked with personnel to get them established in the new Teams environment, and the ability to access it from both their government and personal computers to collaborate, screenshare, co-author documents, and share content with personnel across the DoD as well as personnel in other federal agencies, industry and academia. For the first time DoD CIO had a rich capability to meet and collaborate with anyone on a variety of levels from conducting meetings with video telepresence to collaborating on documents and content in screen share sessions.
Several personnel in DoD CIO have testified they feel as if the COVID pandemic has actually improved their productivity, largely due to the Microsoft Teams environment and associated SharePoint capabilities. For the first time, DoD personnel have a collaboration tool they can use to pull anyone together from any organization in government or industry, and can collaborate on content with people they could have never conducted a screen share session with in the past. Teams are able to be more productive and work together more effectively than if they were together in the same room according to one person. They noted when everyone is in a physical meeting room only one person usually has a keyboard. In a Teams meeting, everyone has a keyboard, and everyone can be working simultaneously with all their resources at their fingertips throughout the meeting. It is revolutionizing how people work and how they think about work. ACES has continued to stress the importance of DoD CIO personnel developing an understanding of the Teams environment and how to best use it and govern it in DoD. As the Microsoft 365 Defense Enterprise Office Solution (DEOS) comes online for DoD, ACES is using the CVR environment to orient DoD CIO to what is coming so they will be equipped to lead with policy and smart governance for the major paradigm shift taking place in DoD, thanks to Microsoft 365. ACES Group and DoD CIO are definitely turning lemons into lemonade with COVID.