I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
DoD Public Safety Communications (PSC) Solution
DoD Public Safety Communications (PSC) Solution leveraging the DoD-High Microsoft 365 Government Community Cloud (GCC). Partner description: ACES is a business productivity and solutions innovation company focused on helping government organizations leverage the Microsoft 365 GCC to streamline and automate government operations. As a Microsoft Charter Partner, we specialize in the areas of Content Services, Process Automation, Data Analytics, and Training. Industry: Federal Government / Defense. Products/Solutions: Use this space to list which Microsoft products were used in the solution you provided. Microsoft 365 Office 365 SharePoint Online Microsoft Teams Advanced Data Governance Solution Summary DoD has a Public Safety Access Point at each DoD facility that must be constantly manned with equipment that fully complies with federal government Public Safety Communications (PSC) regulations. The DoD CIO is responsible for ensuring the network and IT equipment in each PSAP complies with all PSC requirements. This ensures interoperability with all other National and Civilian Public Safety Communications services. The DoD CIO must have an accurate understanding of the hardware and software needs in all DoD PSAP facilities to effectively manage this broad, diverse, and critical emergency communications network. Until recently, there has been no way for DoD CIO to effectively track all the equipment and requirements for the thousands of DoD organizations that are required to operate a PSAP. ACES created a SharePoint solution to track information for all DoD PSAPs that has enabled DoD CIO to ensure timely upgrades to PSAPs while enhancing collaboration across the PSC community. Challenge DoD managed PSAPs are distributed across thousands of military bases and locations throughout the world, with a wide variety of power, equipment, and local regulatory requirements that would simply be too hard to manage centrally. For this reason, funding equipment and infrastructure to support the custom requirements at all these locations is distributed to the locations to enable local purchasing of equipment that will integrate into the local networks. Another important responsibility of the DoD CIO is to ensure all PSAPs have the necessary resources and guidance to ensure the interoperability of PSAP with all other PSC community networks and services. Due to large variations across so many globally distributed locations, keeping track of the status of equipment to ensure compliance has historically been accomplished via site visits and inspections. As the rate of upgrades and the importance of modernization efforts have increased, modernizing all sites to a globally connected, standards-driven environment requires a better approach to expedite results especially given the massive travel restrictions due to COVID. DoD requested ACES explore a technology-based solution to this problem. ACES analyzed the situation and discovered the PSC community has operated in an isolated and disconnected way since inception as their priority requirement was to ensure integration with local 911 responders. They developed close working relationships with local and regional organizations but had no need to collaborate on a broader scale. In addition, a wide variety of equipment was being used based on local vendor supply chains. The problem of modernizing the PSAPs was not just a major technology challenge but a deeply cultural one as well. Solution Strategy The ACES strategy was to start by using technology to connect personnel in PSAPs in a way that provided them with tangible benefits. Once they began to see themselves as part of a global community vs. a local service it would be easier for them to realize the need for standardization and modernization of equipment and processes. ACES used Microsoft Teams as the initial technology to start bringing personnel in the PSAPs together. The meetings were scheduled on a regular basis by DoD CIO to provide updates to the PSC community on changes coming while giving the PSAP personnel a direct voice to those at the top of the PSC chain of command in DoD. This strengthened meeting attendance and caused PSAPs no one was aware existed to surface in order to be part of the meetings. The simplicity of connecting in Teams along with the rich voice and video communication was a huge help in building confidence across the community that the new Microsoft 365 environment was an impressive and capable technology. After several meetings with no technical glitches the community began to get so comfortable with Teams, the members who were still dialing in over phone began to get chastised by other members where were joining over their computers and using VoIP. People often commented how surprised they were that Teams was able to work so well over DoD Networks which historically crippled video conferencing solutions to the point they were unusable. Next, we developed a contacts list of all the PSC and PSAP personnel to include their organization, job title, associated PSAP, and all the standard contact information. They could add things about their areas of expertise so if someone had a question related to that are they could quickly find someone who could help. We then created a list to track the equipment at each PSAP and enabled the personnel to fill in information about the equipment at their locations. We used a Lookup column to link the the personnel in the PSC Contacts list with each PSAP location. As the PSC community continued to meet, they had several heated discussions with senior leaders in DoD CIO as they got more comfortable expressing their ideas and sometimes strong disagreement with directions being given by DoD CIO. The heated exchanges almost always ended up with a better understanding of the problem by both sides and ultimately a more effective approach in unifying the community and modernizing their emergency services. Gradually, the PSC community grew strong integral relationships and began to form its own tribe that transcended the technology. When it came time to task the PSAPs to enter and maintain the data needed to understand their equipment and software status relative to modernization requirements, they had all been involved in establishing the proper data fields right down to the choices in the choice fields and descriptions that explained any business rules or considerations to be made when filling out each field. Filling out the data, keeping it accurate, driving toward a globally integrated network that used standard equipment and technology had everyone’s buy-in and support without asking. The power of the Microsoft 365 cloud fundamentally enabled the emergency response hotline community in the DoD to transition from locally bonded groups to a unified global tribe that is able to work together using Microsoft 365 almost as well as if they all lived in the same small town. Results The unification of the strongly divided and regionalized PSC community enabled PSC modernization efforts to achieve the local support needed for success. Ultimately, modernization of PSAP equipment will lead to dramatically improved response capabilities and while significantly reducing cost and maintenance due to standardization and homogeneity of equipment. This facilitates upgrades, replacement costs, and simplifies maintenance. Additionally, the ability of PSAPs with certain types of equipment to find other PSAPs using the same type of equipment were able to connect and learn from each other. In many cases, long-standing problems that local technicians were unable to resolve had been solved at another location. For the first time in the history of the PSC community, PSAP personnel were able to reach out to other similarly situated sites and either benefit from their innovative solutions or pool resources to solve a shared challenge. The PSC community and DoD have derived significant value from this solution thanks to the stable and performant capabilities in the Microsoft 365 stack. Customer Quote "The C31 SharePoint portal, you all have created is one of the most engaging SharePoint sites I've used. Having people on our team that can bring the technology in our Enterprise Services to life has started to revolutionize how we work." - CAPT Streeter, USN Acting Director, Command Control & Communications Infrastructure DoD CIO
DoD Command, Control & Communications (C3) Data Model
DoD Command, Control & Communications (C3) Data Model leveraging the DoD-High Microsoft 365 Government Community Cloud (GCC). Partner description: ACES is a business productivity and solutions innovation company focused on helping government organizations leverage the Microsoft 365 GCC to streamline and automate government operations. As a Microsoft Charter Partner, we specialize in the areas of Content Services, Process Automation, Data Analytics, and Training. Industry: Federal Government / Defense. Products/Solutions: Use this space to list which Microsoft products were used in the solution you provided. Microsoft 365 Office 365 SharePoint Online Microsoft Teams Advanced Data Governance Solution Summary There has been no centralized data repository for DoD organizations to report and maintain information related to Tactical Communications equipment and modernization efforts. The DoD CIO is responsible for ensuring interoperability throughout various upgrades and modernization efforts. The numerous non-standard data repositories have existed in the form of Excel Spreadsheets with an occasional SharePoint list or database. Due to high turnover, evolving mission requirements, and organizational changes, maintaining these repositories has been difficult and integrating them unreasonably complicated. The Microsoft 365 GCC has finally provided a DoD-wide accessible platform with the necessary tools to solve this long-standing problem. The ACES C3 Data Repository solution uses SharePoint Online and Power BI to provide organizations an unprecedented ability to access and maintain their C3 mission data for planning, analysis and reporting. The relational data model uses SharePoint lists with Lookups to relate the data. Data in the model can be combined with financial data, for example, to explore C3 financial characteristics. Challenge DoD Headquarters Organizations have been left to their own to manage their C3 equipment inventories and modernization efforts. As DoD has transformed into a highly integrated Joint Warfighting Organization with strong dependencies on Mission Partner interoperability the need to understand the status of C3 equipment within each unit has significantly grown. Before war planners can task units they must understand if the units all have compatible radios able to access to the necessary networks with the latest crypto updates. As the rate of hardware and software upgrades continues to increase, it has become too hard for planners to continue making phone calls to each unit to get a status on their equipment and capabilities. Additionally, HQ organizations required to oversee status of upgrades and ensure interoperability throughout modernization efforts have not been able to keep up given the rapid software-defined-radio change cycles. Trying to find, analyze, track, manage, and report C3 information to all the right people in such a large organization as DoD with so much change happening so fast in the C3 space requires an easy to access and maintain centralized data repository. Until recently, Excel Spreadsheets, siloed SharePoint Lists, and a few disconnected databases have been used for tracking this information in a wide variety of non-standard ways with no common data architecture. Architecting a common data model in a capable, enterprise-wide technology for DoD C3 data has been an extremely complex, difficult, and long-standing challenge. Solution Strategy The use of so many different places, processes, and products to track C3 data in DoD was a big problem that was being felt at every level in the department. There was little disagreement on the need to organize and centralize the data but who would lead the effort and where would the repository reside? The DoD CIO C3I government leadership looked to ACES Group to provide the thought leadership required in designing and developing the data model and data repository based on a long track record of success in building similar DoD-wide solutions. Although a variety of technology stacks were under consideration in DoD, ACES recommended the Microsoft 365 DoD GCC High environment since it had the full suite of integrated capabilities needed to develop and maintain the data model as well as visualize the data in reports and dashboards using Power BI. ACES Group developed a drillable dashboard demo using Power BI. The dashboard rolled up data from a variety of sources and applied the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Query (NLQ) capabilities in Power BI as part of the demo. The DoD CIO leadership were so impressed with the capabilities they asked for the demo to be provided to the CIOs for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Although the Service CIOs were impressed with the capabilities of Power BI, they had already directed their organizations to use the Advanced Analytics (ADVANA) platform developed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Comptroller since the vision of the Comptroller was for this platform to become the enterprise analytics platform for all DoD information and data. They also wanted us to store our data on their ADVANA platform. We showed how easy it would be for people to enter and update their data in SharePoint and how difficult it would be for users to access and update the data in the government’s ADVANA platform. The decision was made to use SharePoint to create, manage, and update the data and use the ADVANA platform to visualize the data in QlikSense dashboards and reports. Results The C3 Data Model has enabled the DoD CIO to track progress for modernization efforts and manage updates to C3 equipment and networks across DoD. It has also provided transparency to other services and combatant commands regarding the status of upgrades within their own organizations as well as other organizations of interest throughout DoD. Furthermore, this capability has enabled the identification of several issues related to funding, timing of upgrades, and interoperability that would have been undetectable without this solution. Mission Planners are expected to get significant value from this as well by using it to quickly determine which operational units have complete necessary C3 upgrades and are able to be combined into a Joint Force or Coalition Warfighting package as required to support military operations. Although an exact dollar figure is hard to quantify, one Air Force Tactical Radio Subject Matter Expert expressed this solution will easily save him 10 hours a week that he would normally have to spend digging up C3 information for reporting and analysis. He also estimated it will do the same or more for hundreds of others across the department and give the DoD and decision advantage in the C3I space far beyond anything it has experienced in the past. Customer Quote “Your team has turned technology into a force multiplier for C3I when we needed to interface with our PSC, SATCOM and TCMP community. The C3I SharePoint portal, database solutions, and your Teams ability to get results in the Microsoft 365 environment have exceeded expectations and are a bright light on the SharePoint scene in CIO.” - Government Lead Tactical Communications, C3 Infrastructure DoD CIO
Tesla ‘big battery’ fire fuels concerns over lithium risks
Latest incident comes as utilities around the world increasingly rely on lithium-ion to store renewable energy Fire crews cannot use traditional techniques to extinguish fires started by lithium-ion batteries, such as that which burnt for three days in Australia © Fire Rescue Victoria/AFP via Get Batteries updates A fire at one of the largest Tesla battery installations in the world has drawn fresh attention to the risks of batteries used to store renewable energy for electricity grids. It took three days for the blaze to be extinguished after it started during testing in a shipping container holding a 13 tonne lithium-ion battery, at Moorabool near Geelong in Australia, and spread to a second battery pack. The “Victorian Big Battery” project using the Tesla Megapack is the largest in the country, with 210 packs capable of storing up to 450 megawatt-hours of energy for the electricity grid. Owned and operated by the French renewable energy developer Neoen, it was scheduled to begin operating before the peak summer demand period this year. Neoen said it was too soon to tell how the commission would be affected and testing would resume only once safety conditions were met. The incident comes as utilities around the world from Australia to California increasingly rely on large lithium-ion batteries to store renewable energy from the wind and the sun. The same type of batteries as those used in electric cars, they can deliver power quickly to the electricity grid. The amount of energy storage deployed last year rose 62 per cent, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie, and the market is set to grow 27-fold by the end of the decade. Yet there have been a total of 38 large lithium-ion battery fires since 2018, according to Paul Christensen, a professor at Newcastle University. In Beijing, a fire at a lithium-ion battery installation in April killed two firefighters and took 235 firefighters to control. Last September, a large lithium-ion battery in Liverpool, owned by Danish renewable energy company Orsted, caught fire in the middle of the night. Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire after a process called “thermal runaway”, which results when a battery is overcharged or crushed. Heat as well as a mixture of gases are produced, which when released form a vapour cloud that can ignite or cause an explosion. In 2019 in Arizona, a grid-scale lithium battery fire threw a firefighter more than 20 metres from the container door, leaving him with a brain injury and broken ribs. That fire started after a short circuit in one lithium-ion battery cell, according to a report released after the incident. Because of the release of gases “we don’t have a definitive answer of what is the best way to deal with an EV [electric vehicle] fire or energy storage fire,” Christensen said. “They [lithium-ion batteries] are essential to the decarbonisation of this planet but their penetration into society has far outstripped our actual knowledge of the risks and hazards associated with them,” he said. The risks will only increase as individual households increasingly install lithium-ion batteries to store energy from solar panels, or to reduce reliance on electricity grids following a spate of extreme weather events, he said. In Australia, fire crews wore breathing apparatus and hazmat suits as they attempted to contain the flames, Fire Rescue Victoria said. Drones were also deployed. Matt Deadman, lead officer for alternative fuels and energy systems at the National Fire Chiefs Council in the UK, said lithium-ion battery fires burn for much longer than usual fires and water only reduces their spread. “It’s about cooling the batteries and you can extinguish the flame but lithium-ion batteries will produce their own oxygen as they break down — they will keep catching fire again, we just take as much as heat as we can out of them,” he said. “At the moment we rely on tried and tested firefighting methods using water which is effective but it’s not a golden bullet for solving these things as quickly as you possibly can,” Deadman said. Tesla said last month revenues from its energy storage and generation business, which includes sales of its Megapack batteries, more than doubled in the latest quarter to $801m. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, said safer variants of lithium-ion technology such as lithium-iron phosphate batteries — which use iron and phosphate instead of the metals nickel and cobalt — are suitable for its large battery installations. Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “It is essential that we don’t stifle new innovation as it is imperative that we decarbonise rapidly, but at the same time, we need to take a precautionary approach as we deploy new technologies at scale.”
DoD CIO Collaborative Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment
Summary 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. Challenge: 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. Solution: 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. Result: 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.
DoD CIO Modernization and Transition Planning
Summary: DoD CIO is responsible for ensuring the governance and oversight of Information Technology in the DoD. One of the most critical IT capabilities in DoD is the ability for warfighters to communicate over secure radios during real-world operations. As international threat capabilities increase in sophistication, DoD must modernize both networks and terminals to ensure reliable, secure communications with Joint and Coalition Forces in the modern battlespace. To transition the Military Services and subordinate units effectively and smoothly to modern capabilities massive, coordination must take place both within and across Military Departments (MILDEPS). Internal MILDEP coordination is handled within each branch of Service (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines). But coordination for implementation between MILDEPs and Combatant Commands (CCMDs) requires DoD CIO oversight to accomplish. SharePoint and Microsoft 365 enable Modernization and Transition Planning solutions that provide centralized management, governance, and oversight capabilities along with transparency that empowers a mutual understanding of progress across Services and Combatant Commands. Challenge: 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). Achieving and maintaining Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) superiority in the increasingly congested, contested, and constrained electromagnetic environment is critical for DoD to successfully execute its mission. Our adversaries have recognized the U.S. military’s reliance on EMS-dependent systems, and they continue to work aggressively to exploit this perceived vulnerability. Current EMS threats attempt to detect, exploit, deny, disrupt, and deceive our capabilities from navigation and communications to sensors. DoD must continuously modernize existing capabilities to ensure ubiquitous connectivity and military overmatch in the modern contested and congested communications environment. To modernize existing capabilities, transition planning must be accomplished to ensure the ability for units to interoperate throughout the transition. This becomes a complex planning challenge when considering the various advanced waveforms, secure networks, and a variety of encryption algorithms and devices involved. Add to this the size of DoD and the separately governed and managed Services and the level of difficulty to manage the transition increases immensely. Trying to coordinate and execute transition strategies in DoD using Email and Excel is unreasonably difficult and riddled with risk. Solution: By developing a plan with the right level of detail and making it transparent for stakeholders, everyone could assess their situation against other dependent units and assist in highlighting any issues early. Transparency during execution dramatically increased the likelihood of issues being handled swiftly so units could consistently complete transitions on-time. Since some units had already started transitioning on their own in various areas, a data call was required to snap a chalk line on everyone’s status. A SharePoint-based solution that established the plan and enabled progress reporting in a central, web-based repository was clearly the best way to tackle the problem. Since many DoD organizations were used to Excel Spreadsheet driven data-calls over email, it was likely there would be a learning curve for some related to entering information in centrally managed SharePoint-based solution. While one part of the team went to work on the data model and data that needed to be captured, another part of the team started working on how the data call would be presented to users to provide a good user experience when clicking a link to a SharePoint list vs. opening an Excel spreadsheet. Since the services and units tracked status and information related to the modernization effort very different, there was no easy way to capture all the data from existing sources although some information helped to provide a better starting point than a blank slate. The existing data sets were exceptionally helpful in starting conversations with stakeholders regarding what data elements were important and why. Stakeholders often commented the experience of walking through each data element with the ACES team was very educational in that it forced them to define why they were capturing certain data elements. The why question led to the removal of several data elements items and the addition of a few not previously included. Meanwhile, the Data Call Team determined the first thing they needed was a list of unit POCs able to provide the information needed to populate the data model and accurately report the status of each unit throughout the transition effort. By sticking to a simple data call that only required contact information, the focus could be on training the user base to get comfortable with entering information in SharePoint. This worked great as the first day people started entering data, they appeared to get the hang of SharePoint very quickly and generally reported enjoying the speed at which they could enter the data. The Data Model Team worked to define data elements that were choice fields so users could quickly click to fill fields fast and feel freedom from poorly designed forms that regularly require long explanations to vague, nebulous questions. The goal was to make the data call experience fast and fruitful in the sense that users would finally be putting data into a repository that was transparent and could be used and referenced by them in the future. Many found they no longer needed to maintain their local spreadsheet as they could reference the new enterprise repository and even leverage it for reporting. Speaking of reporting, this was a big part of the solution once the data call went live as we were able to visually show Services that had the most responses and those that were lagging. It’s amazing what a little competition will do to drive results. As the information in the data model matured reports showing the status of the overall modernization effort were put on display and briefed regularly to senior leaders. This provided several opportunities to either shine or gain undesired attention. AI, ML, and NLP were leveraged to assist with uncovering potential issues as well as enabling a Natural Language Querying capability. Result: ACES is leveraging the Microsoft 365 DoD-High GCC to revolutionize data calls and save staffers throughout DoD hundreds if not thousands of hours aggregating spreadsheet responses. By developing integrated, well-defined, centralized data models at the enterprise level, the need for each individual organization to develop a solution to the same problem is eliminated saving the government countless manhours that can be redirected for greater productivity. This approach also enables faster, more accurate reporting and enables effective data visualizations to assess situations from the unit to the enterprise level. The modern tools in SharePoint and Microsoft 365 are presenting a new paradigm to how we work in DoD and is enabling progress and productivity at levels never experienced for those who work with ACES.
Modernizing USAF Knowledge Management with Office 365
ACES Group was hired by the Headquarters Air Force (HAF) Operations in 2017 to help them modernize their Knowledge Management and Business Operations. Legacy systems and manual processes were bogging down the headquarters organization. ACES evaluated all options to modernize the environment and recommended HAF transition to the Microsoft Office 365 IL-5 Government Community Cloud (GCC) even though HAF top technical experts had advised against this. ACES was put in charge of the HAF pilot tasked to be the pathfinder for the HAF to transition to Office 365 and recently presented its solution at a USAF Sponsored, Microsoft Hosted, 2-Day Office 365 Security and Compliance Workshop in Reston, VA.
One of the comments made by and Air Force attendee was that they were blown away, by the solution and that it answered every problem they were struggling with when it comes to using this new Office 365 environment. Even the Microsoft Senior Engineer who led the 2-Day event shared with everyone in the room how impressed he was with the model and emphasized that no one could have done this without a deep understanding of the organization and how it functions. The Knowledge Management model ACES created in Office 365 was developed to standardize how the USAF and DoD would use the Office 365 services to modernize Knowledge Management and Business Operations in the USAF and DoD. The model centers on Microsoft Teams Workspaces as the focal point for collaboration and content creation. The AF Knowledge Management Officer in HAF Operations refers to the Teams Workspaces as "sausage factories" where all the work is done. Once content is finalized it is automatically migrated to a SharePoint Online Communications site which functions like a museum that securely distributes, manages, and automatically dispositions the final content in accordance with NARA and USAF Records Management requirements.
DoD Deputy Secretary of Defense initiated Business Process Review
Challenge: When a new president is elected, it’s mandatory for the DOD to have a Business Process and Systems Review (BPSR). The review process involves an architecture assessment where top companies like Mckinsey or Deloitte bring in high dollar analyst to try and gather information from unwilling people. Because of this, they ultimately had to make many assumptions so that recommendations could be made quickly to high ranking political appointees about current issue the incoming president could face. This process was started again in 2014, where ACES Group provided a SharePoint based analytics dashboard to visualize the data and track performance. Solution: ACES Group lead the Business Process and Systems Review (BPSR) for the Department of Defense (DoD). This effort was a Deputy Secretary of Defense (DSD) initiative focused on finding ways to save money and improve business operations across the DoD. The DSD tasked one of the DoD Federal agencies to co-lead the effort. ACES was chosen to develop a portal to manage the overall effort, aggregate authoritative DoD data sources, present dashboards to visualize the data and track performance/savings across the department. ACES used existing infrastructure and enterprise IT services such as SQL Server to aggregate data from authoritative sources in the areas of Finance, Manpower, Personnel, Contracts, IT Systems, and Real Property. ACES used existing reporting services and dashboarding capabilities within the environment to generate reports for senior leaders. In an easily digestible manner. Using SharePoint, ACES was able to manage content and processes and present visualizations to enable well-informed decisions. Results: ACES Group led the effort to aggregate data from the various authoritative sources in the DoD and developed senior leader dashboards to aid in quick decision making. In the end, several inefficiencies were discovered and addressed. One of these was the need to consolidate several of IT service providers supporting the Pentagon and DoD within the National Capital Region. The Joint Service Provider was formed and recently celebrated their 2-year anniversary as an organization. They reported a savings of over $343M in IT costs as a result of the consolidation.
For the first time in history, the overall cost of DoD organizations real property, IT systems, contracts, and personnel can be compared and assessed. Redundancies continue to be identified and eliminated. The millions in savings resulting from this transformation continue to be realized and tallied along with the significant improvements to operational efficiencies that are happening every day.
Challenge: One of the DoD Federal agency’s primary responsibilities is to manage and maintain IT policies. Over 75% of policies were outdated (older than 5 years) and only one person was tracking the status of all policies on a share drive stored spreadsheet that was accessed only by that user. This was a time consuming, manual process in place at the Office of General Council and through further digging, we were able to map the existing process. An individual staff member would print out several hard copies and hand them out to all the attorneys who had equities in the policy being reviewed. They would write their notes and hand them back and the staff would have to try and read everything and incorporate changes. The staff member would then have to go back and validate the updates and submit the results back into the process. This was time consuming, unsecure, manual in all aspects, and would often take several months or get lost. Solution: The need for process automation was evident at the DoD Federal. Since policy development was strictly an internal function for DoD Agency at the time, the OSD SharePoint Enterprise Service was chosen to get the organization's technology working for them more effectively. The information was transitioned from excel to a SharePoint list to enable better tracking and transparency. For the first time, everyone in the organization could view the complete list of policies and their status in the process pipeline. The process was streamlined and implemented in the DoD Agency Operations Portal. Live status and performance reporting based on the information in the policy tracker was implemented using SQL Server Reporting Services reports. The policy tracker allowed everyone to provide input on the policies. ACES then created a workflow process to track policy changes through a defined set of steps and measure how long each step took. This provided live visualizations that revealed a significant process bottleneck with the legal reviews. As part of the DoD Agency's process automation, ACES Group created a Legal Reviews Tracker to provide more process insight to the Office of General Council (OGC). We created a specific list for the legal reviews and showed them how to use Tracked Changes and Co-Authoring in Word documents hosted on SharePoint. All documents were locked down so that no one could see comments until the users were done were ready, which was the main reason they wrote comments by hand. This allowed for accountability for lags in the process and eventually things began to move much faster. To help users quickly grasp how to interact with the Legal Reviews Tracker, a process page was created. It contained details for a process owner to learn how to manage the solution by watching a short video tutorial. Result: With each and every process that was streamlined, integrated and automated, countless hours were returned to the organization and its workforce to reallocate. As ACES worked with process owners, one of the most common statements we heard from the DoD personnel was how much they enjoyed coming to work because of the improvements and innovations we had made to the major processes they either managed or interacted with. It's sometimes hard to put a value on returns in moral such as this. The DoD agency's overall improvements in process efficiency and increased transparency resulted in a reduction in the average cycle time for a policy to be created/revised from over 263 days to under 36 within a few months.
DoD Inspector General Knowledge Management and Audit Process Automation
Challenge: The Office of the DoD Inspector General (IG) Government Accounting Office (GAO) Affairs branch is the focal point for all GAO audits and inquiries into the Department of Defense (DoD). With reduced manpower and no reduction in work load, the GAO Affairs team required a more efficient way of interacting with DoD organizations and personnel throughout the Audit Cycle. Specifically, they needed a way to coordinate and manage all coordination, meetings, information from interviews, and content generated during the GAO Audit process including accurately managing the authoritative content and critical communication between GAO Auditors and DoD organizations which was done using emails and file shares. It was really time consuming and unorganized due to data duplication, without versioning and un-managed storage that took DOD over a year to complete most of the GAO audits. Documents associated with each audit were stored in every participant's inbox with multiple copies also saved by each person on local and network drives in many cases. With DoD-Wide Audits commonly involving well over 20 people receiving, storing, changing and forwarding documents. A 1 MB file could easily consume over 500MB-1GB of storage space across DoD. With hundreds of files commonly involved in these engagements that regularly extend for time frames beyond a year, having a central, authoritative location for users to work on and store content has tremendous advantages beyond basic storage costs and data security. The DoD IG operates on its own proprietary network which was created for the purpose of restricting other DoD organizations from having access. This posed a significant obstacle to the GAO Affairs team who wanted to leverage their in-house Microsoft SharePoint collaboration platform to drive more effective collaboration with GAO and other DoD organizations throughout each Audit Life Cycle. The IG had a dedicated in-house SharePoint team but they were unable to produce results after several attempts. This was due to their lack of knowledge and experience in streamlining business process and integrating them into SharePoint using SharePoint and Knowledge Management best practices. Key GAO Affairs team requirements were: Accessible, customizable virtual collaborative work spaces enabling GAO auditors to collaborate directly with DoD Primary and Collateral offices both synchronously and/or asynchronously Private virtual location for GAO Affairs team to manage sensitive information Customizable permissions from the site down to the item/document level GAO IG Affairs team must be able to self-manage without significant developer dependencies Ability to display dashboards with measures of performance and effectiveness Ability to automate processes to maximum extent possible Solution: ACES Group developed a fully functional, scalable, web content management system using free government Enterprise Services. The DoD IG team was not previously aware of these enterprise services and did not understand the importance of platform selection based on audience. ACES Group showed them how best to unite users from different government agencies, GAO and DoD in this case, in a way that enabled rich, virtual collaboration. ACES created a solution that centralized all parts of the audit process from initiation to execution, where some of the key solution elements are presented below: We developed roles based DOD contacts list that enabled everyone to collaborate and communicate. Our solution included document libraries that helped DOD to store information, processes and reports centrally and permission groups were used to limit access to sensitive content. SharePoint calendars were used to organize and advertise meetings that included alert system to lets users be informed via email of any changes to events, or any content in lists or libraries for monitoring the changes. Reports were drafted using co-authoring and routed for review and approvals using SharePoint workflows and online reviews. Result: The content management system model developed by ACES Group is currently being considered by GAO as a whole of Government solution. Its ability to scale to a Whole of Government solution is due to the proper selection of the platform/network on which it is hosted (Intelink.gov). The solution’s ability to satisfy business process requirements is largely the result of which application was chosen to develop the solution (SharePoint). This is also based on the IT professional’s ability to work with the process owner to streamline their process and implement it within the context of the SharePoint application model using SharePoint best practices for accomplishing the various components of the solution. This is where few IT professionals are able to operate and it is where ACES Group flourishes. The average GAO audit time was reduced from years to weeks and the head of the GAO Audit agency stated the ACES solution reduced their manpower requirement by 2 FTEs.
Audit Process Transformation Project
Overview The Office of the DoD Inspector General (IG) Government Accounting Office (GAO) Affairs branch is the focal point for all GAO audits and inquiries into the Department of Defense (DoD). With reduced manpower and no reduction in work load, the GAO Affairs team required a more efficient way of interacting with DoD organizations and personnel throughout the Audit Cycle. Specifically, they needed a way to accurately manage authoritative content and critical communication between GAO Auditors and DoD organizations. The DoD IG operates on its own proprietary network which was created for the very purpose of restricting other DoD organizations from having access. This posed a significant obstacle to the GAO Affairs team who wanted to leverage their in-house Microsoft SharePoint collaboration platform to drive more effective collaboration with GAO and other DoD organizations throughout each Audit Life Cycle. The IG had a dedicated in-house SharePoint team but they were unable to produce results after several attempts due to their lack of knowledge and experience in streamlining business process and integrating them into SharePoint using SharePoint and Knowledge Management best practices. Key GAO Affairs team requirements were: Accessible, customizable virtual collaborative work spaces enabling GAO auditors to collaborate directly with DoD Primary and Collateral offices both synchronously and/or asynchronously Private virtual location for GAO Affairs team to manage sensitive information Customizable permissions from the site down to the item/document level GAO IG Affairs team must be able to self-manage without significant developer dependencies Ability to display dashboards with measures of performance and effectiveness Ability to automate processes to maximum extent possible Challenge One of the challenges articulated by IG business process owners was difficulty translating their business process requirements into technical requirements for their internal IT Shop and SharePoint Team. Internal IT personnel also validated their main challenge was getting accurate technical requirements from business process owners. This is the classic language barrier between IT professionals and business process Owners/Managers and this is one of the staple areas ACES Group thrives. This project is ongoing and continuously improving. The foundational work for this new paradigm took place during the initial build (Phase 1). The details described below relate primarily to the work accomplished in Phase 1. Solution ACES Group was able to develop a new, fully functional, scalable, web content management system using free Government Enterprise Services. The DoD IG team was not previously aware of these enterprise services and did not understand the importance of platform selection based on audience. ACES Group was able to show them how best to unite users from different government agencies, GAO and DoD in this case, in a way that enabled them to collaborate virtually and seamlessly. Prior to the creation of this solution by ACES Group, documents associated with each audit were stored in every participants inbox with multiple copies also saved by each person on local and network drives in many cases. With DoD-Wide Audits commonly involving well over 20 people receiving, storing, changing and forwarding documents. A 1 MB file could easily consume over 500MB-1GB of storage space across DoD. With hundreds of files commonly involved in these engagements that regularly extend for time frames beyond a year, having a central, authoritative location for users to work on and store content has tremendous advantages beyond basic storage costs and data security. Value to Client The model developed by ACES Group is currently being considered by GAO as a Whole of Government solution. Its ability to scale to a Whole of Government solution is due to the proper selection of the platform/network on which it is hosted (Intelink.gov). The solution’s ability to satisfy business process requirements is largely the result of which Application was chosen to develop the solution (SharePoint). This includes IT professional’s ability to work with the process owner to streamline their process and implement it within the context of the SharePoint application model using SharePoint best practices for accomplishing the various components of the solution. This is where few IT professionals are able to operate and it is where ACES Group flourishes. Following are the solution based and result oriented bullet statements performed at DoD: Content Services Capture and Information Tracking Document Management using Meta tags Collaboration and Communication Permission Management Train the Trainers
ACES Group Strategic Plan for One of the DoD Federal Agencies
Estimated savings 300 man hours per week / $1.65M annually reoccurring Several of the most time-consuming activities in the DoD Agency revolved around the Agency's weekly review of progress being made with the organization's Strategic Plan. Four hour sessions were being led weekly by the Agency to review massive PowerPoint presentations averaging 250 slides prepared by the offices scheduled to provide a status update that week. The ACES solution transitioned the Strategic Plan being managed in a Word document to a SharePoint list. Reporting was shifted from PowerPoint slides to integrated Business Intelligence solutions with drillable reports that presented real-time data entered by Action Officers in the SharePoint list. This allowed senior staff members to identify problem areas at a glance and easily drill into specifics. live reports in SharePoint based on real data entered by Action Officers in the SharePoint list that functioned as the new Strategic Plan. At first the teams transitioned to briefing their status off the live reports on the portal which saved hundreds of hours in slide preparation. After a few weeks the 4 hour sessions were terminated as the only thing the Agency was trying to find was where people were having problems. When they realized one could now find that information any time by reviewing the live reports, they shifted to small meetings as required when an issue showed up in the live reports. Challenge The Office of the DoD creates and manages all policy and governance of DoD Information Technology (IT). It has a staff of several hundred personnel nested within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) where the DoD Agency directly reports to the Secretary of Defense. Creating and managing IT policy and governance has become more complex that ever requiring greater coordination and transparency. No where is the job of an Agency more daunting than in the Department of Defense, which represents the 6th largest economy in the world. This, as well as the work required to administratively manage the organization with a combination of military, civilian, and contracted workers is required. Continued manpower reductions in the DoD required an innovative approach to organize, track, and manage work related to IT policies, audits, cybersecurity, governance, congressional inquiries, software, computers, networks, IT budgets, and systems for the entire DoD. Although the DoD Agency hosts a variety of skilled and experienced senior staff members, action officers, analysts and engineers, the technical content management knowledge base was not strong enough to naturally drive best practices in the areas of information, content and ultimately knowledge management. In August of 2012, cuts in funding with looming threats of sequestration drove Agency leadership to focus on transforming the way information and business processes were being handled within the organization. At the time there was no organized, central repository for content with business rules to guide users.. The organization was not in compliance with many of its own IT policies. Solution ACES Group implemented a 3-portal structure to serve the three major audiences the DoD Agency needed to support: 1) Internal Agency members, 2) Broader DoD and Whole of Government audience and 3) The public at large. Each had fully tested PKI authentication (where required), active backups and a disaster recovery capability. All solutions used in place enterprise services being provided to everyone in DoD. The Portals were architected to make all content and processes discoverable within a few clicks, and most content and process were hosted on the Internal Portal. As content was brought into the environment, how it was created and the processes that were involved in managing it were governed through automation. For example, if a process required approval from a new person, ACES would add the new person to the SharePoint approval workflow and it was transparent to anyone the process had changed. No one needed to be trained on the new process. Each process was defined using a Wiki page on the portal. This provided continuity as responsibilities shifted, and the process page was updated whenever changes were made. This ensured non-technical business managers always had clear insight into the mechanics of their processes. Other key features of the ACES solution Intuitive navigation removed road blocks to finding and collaborating on content New site architecture simplified content and permissions management Innovative content structures enabled content and process automation Portal framework provided foundation for integration of organizational processes Transparency into Security groups ensured security of sensitive content Easy, enjoyable, engaging user experience enhanced user adoption Reduction in number of sites reduced overall management burden
Beyond Declining Battery Prices: 6 Ways to Evaluate Energy Storage in 2021
Balance of systems, software, supply chain constraints, and reliability and performance guarantees all weigh on total costs. The energy storage market in the United States is booming, with 476 megawatts of new projects installed in the third quarter of 2020 alone, up 240 percent over the second quarter, according to industry analysts at Wood Mackenzie. 2021 is expected to be another record-breaking year for storage, but with technological innovation accelerating across the market, renewable energy asset owners need to carefully select safe and reliable systems to protect their storage investments. As the market accelerates, these are a few of the essential questions asset owners should be asking. 1. Evaluate pricing beyond the cell When analysts speak about declines in storage pricing, they are referring to battery pricing, which continues to decline every year. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest report states that current lithium-ion pricing stands at about $137 per kilowatt-hour and will drop as low as $100 per kWh by 2023. However, purchasers of energy storage systems may see substantially higher prices for their projects, depending on a range of factors. For example, the lowest pricing for lithium-ion batteries is generally available for either a major supply contract or for very large-scale deployments of 500 megawatt-hours and above. Since most projects today are not that large, that $137 per kWh figure will be closer to $150 to $170 per kWh, and perhaps as high as $200 to $210 per kWh on the battery-pack level, depending on the size of the project. Beyond battery pricing, the total cost of a fully integrated battery energy storage system will also include the thermal management system, battery management systems, and power conversion system, as well as fire prevention and suppression technology, SCADA and metering. When considering all-in pricing, many storage companies are building their systems in standardized, modular containers that are quicker and easier to install and connect to the grid. While this kind of system may simplify the evaluation process, these business models may include ancillary services, such as operations and maintenance contracts, performance guarantees and liquidated damages. In short, based on price alone, conducting an apples-to-apples evaluation of storage systems from different suppliers is challenging, if not impossible. 2. Evaluate the chemistry and safety Procurement and pricing evaluation also need to consider the variable of battery chemistry. In 2021, the two leading choices are lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) and lithium ferro (iron) phosphate (LFP). NMC has a higher energy density — energy stored in proportion to weight — which also increases the risk for overheating and thermal runaway when overheating, which can lead to fire quickly spreading from one battery cell to another. NMC is also more expensive and at present only available from a limited number of suppliers. Based on its chemistry alone, readily available LFP is expected to replace NMC in the next few years as the less expensive and safer of the two battery chemistries. LFP is safer because it has a lower energy density and discharges at a steady, sustained rate. In general, LFP chemistries will also last longer than NMC, even at higher rates of charge and discharge, reducing the frequency for replacement and augmentation during the lifetime of a project. However, because LFP cells have lower energy density than NMC cells, they require more space to store the same amount of energy. Nevertheless, NMC storage is a mature technology and will remain competitive and effective for all applications. The biggest challenge here is to reduce the risk of thermal runaway and safety failures in integrated systems. 3. Assess supply chain and availability Another major consideration is assessing the battery system’s supply chain in the context of the commissioning date. Global demand for battery products is increasing with electric vehicle adoption, rechargeable consumer electronics, and utility-scale solar and wind projects coupled with stationary energy storage. Consequently, once the battery chemistry is chosen, other considerations include system capacity, timing and the risk of supply-chain disruptions. For example, a 2-gigawatt-hour project will likely have different supply-chain challenges and much longer lead times — two or three years — than will a 5 MW/20 MWh project that can come online within 12 months. Longer timelines can raise concerns about core metal shortages, especially for lithium, nickel and cobalt, that could delay the production of storage systems. It is critical to monitor such supply-chain shortages and assess a manufacturer’s suppliers, supplier commodities and commodity pricing, all of which may affect the cost of purchasing storage. 4. Evaluate bankability and quality As with pricing, evaluating energy storage quality requires a systemwide approach. Although battery quality may be the top concern, the quality of the enclosure, thermal management systems and the power conversion system (PCS), or inverter, are equally important. Just as with solar projects, when the PCS fails, so does the storage system. Even if due diligence has led to the selection of the highest-quality battery with the best energy management software, the PCS can cause a complete shutdown of revenue for days or even longer. In terms of assessing battery cell quality, with so many new storage companies entering the market, it is increasingly important to commission a manufacturer bankability report that includes both financial and technical due diligence. Second, asset owners should conduct a thorough on-site factory audit that reviews the entire manufacturing process. The evaluation includes a factory acceptance test, which verifies that the cells and systems are being built to design specifications and are safe to operate. Finally, it is critical to perform in-line production monitoring and final product audits to verify the storage system’s individual components. 5. Evaluate battery management software A battery system’s software is another increasingly sophisticated component of an installation that needs evaluation for various “value-stacking” applications. Utilities and developers are now using storage systems for peak-demand shaving, frequency regulation and resiliency, and the storage company or its vendors will manage those applications with software. If the software cannot properly and optimally manage charging and discharging at the right amount and the right time, then the chosen storage system may thin the value stack and reduce project profitability. Additionally, rudimentary battery management software can decrease cell longevity, causing premature battery augmentation or replacement outside of warranties and performance guarantees. In worst-case scenarios, it can fail to detect and prevent a thermal runaway event, thus putting the entire energy storage system at risk. 6. Evaluate performance guarantees Finally, asset owners should independently review any contracted performance guarantee, as well as the warranty. While a standard warranty covers parts and labor, the performance guarantee ensures that the battery system will produce the required amount of power and energy or be available for a certain amount of time for the life of the project. Performance guarantees are evolving with storage technology and markets, but the trend is toward flexible and throughput guarantees that address the owner’s current and potential future value-stacking applications. Independent energy storage supply management and quality control Energy storage technologies have been steadily evolving, but as we head into a period of accelerated growth, innovation and deployment, these considerations should not be overlooked when developing your energy storage strategy and purchasing an energy storage system in 2021. As new manufacturers and technologies enter the market, managing the supply chain and ensuring quality and safety become more complex and critical tasks. Energy storage will play a critical role in fostering a global transition to a clean energy economy, but at the end of the day, there is no shortcut or replacement for quality.