As an integration team, one of our most important responsibilities is to support new technology implementation. When OCIO introduces new tools and systems, we help with everything from IV&V testing to user acceptance and pilot testing to communication and outreach. Our current focus is Microsoft Office365, the cloud-based suite of Microsoft products. Microsoft describes Office365 as “a productivity cloud across work and life.” With web-based tools for communication, collaboration, planning, and analysis, it represents a substantially different daily computing experience than most Office users (including our team!) are accustomed to.
With nearly all HHS employees and contractors teleworking to comply with local stay-at-home orders, Office365 and other collaboration tools are especially important right now. The sharp increase in telework is placing strain on the HHS VPN and external services, such as WebEx; and because HHS is vital in the COVID-19 response, it is critical to make sure that the agency has alternative technology approaches.
This is where O365 and its suite of collaboration tools comes in. Microsoft Teams, for example, offers videoconferencing capabilities that support both immediate one-on-one, face-to-face discussions and scheduled meeting with as many as 250 participants at once. Teams users can share documents and applications, participate in group chats, conduct virtual whiteboard sessions, and even record meetings. Recordings upload automatically to Stream, the Office365 video streaming service. This on-the-fly video capability offers many possible uses: Managers can record short training demonstrations; and meeting facilitators can record discussions and share the recordings with team members who cannot attend live. Teams is a viable WebEx alternative, which can support critical meetings and discussions even when WebEx is not available. Because Office365 is web-based, it will also eventually allow OCIO to offer remote work capability without VPN.
DSFederal’s NGITS team is supporting the O365 initiative by testing O365 applications in everyday use. We’ve begun holding our internal meetings in Teams, and have learned many of its features and quirks. We’ve also created short training and demo videos, and published them on our team’s test Stream video channel. To support a new effort to retire Internet Explorer 11, we created an application owner survey in Forms; and we are using Planner to organize topics and content for our weekly internal and customer meetings. With continued practice, we’ll become Office365 power users!
Like most other everyday users, we find new technology a little bit intimidating but we’re facing our fear and diving into O365 headfirst so that we can help others overcome their resistance to this new way of working. During this critical time, DSFederal’s NGITS team is helping HHS to strengthen telework capability, and improve the work-from-home experience for thousands of users.