By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing
Last year, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) released an ambitious, modern and highly connected model for soldier learning and training. As the TRADOC Army Learning Concept 2015 video highlights, the U.S. Army is moving toward a model of mobility, where e-learning, videoconferencing and gamification will be integral parts of a soldier’s work.
TRADOC isn’t the only branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that has embraced a digitally savvy approach to warfighter communication. The Navy, Air Force and others have initiated connected and collaborative e-learning programs to support soldiers with training and just-in-time resources.
As consumer and business technologies evolve, the Department of Defense (DoD) finds new uses for unified communications (UC) solutions to support military personnel at home and overseas. This includes the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as well as platforms and solutions, like videoconferencing, voice and presence. Now, DoD has migrated and renamed “UC” from “Unified Communications” to “Unified Capabilities” to better describe the modern transition.
Adopting new technology is no easy feat for any organization, but due to the highly secure and classified nature of military operations, the challenges of upgrading and introducing new digital communication tools are magnified. This is what keeps defense organizations on the “trailing edge” of new technology trends. Due to the unique and stringent requisites of the military, it is unrealistic to invest in tech the moment it becomes available. However, this does not dampen defense agencies’ motivations to take advantage of the latest UC innovations.
Support and Secure
The DoD is working to support the use of mobile devices and digital communication within its divisions, but as always, the safety and security of warfighters is the top priority.
The use of mobile communication technology is rampant among civilians, so it should come as no surprise that this trend is seen with servicemen and women too. According to a report from the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, 96 percent of soldiers with a mobile device make voice calls and 95 percent use text messaging on a weekly basis.
The survey findings also reveal that nearly a third of soldiers own more than one mobile device, and younger soldiers are more likely to have mobile devices other than a smartphone, such as a tablet or e-reader.
There are obvious benefits for men and women in uniform who are able to better connect with their friends, loved ones and colleagues, particularly while on deployment. In fact, last year CNBC published an article about the benefits warfighters experience by feeling more connected while on deployment thanks to the modern technology on hand. But with these benefits come serious risks that cannot be ignored. If left unchecked, communication within the digital realm could inadvertently expose sensitive or classified information, putting individuals or entire missions in harm’s way.
Advancements in Devices and Infrastructure
Fortunately, civilian and private sector tech is bolstering the UC strategy for military personnel. Siloed point solutions like walkie talkies, GPS trackers and traditional RFID connections have morphed into smart, connected, rugged devices that can perform all of these functions at once. This transformation helps servicemen and women better connect with each other and conduct their duties more efficiently.
Advancements go beyond handheld devices, to the services powering communications in the field and on base. Platforms that offer tools like VoIP, messaging, IM and video solutions mean the UC industry has become a critical factor in the DoD’s technology strategy. This also includes internal collaboration tools, such as blogs, wikis and other knowledge-sharing portals as outlined in a report from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).
Cybersecurity is now an integral piece of UC solutions as well, rather than an afterthought. This makes new UC tools more appealing to the DoD, as it allows for easier securing of warfighter communications.
Interoperability is Key to UC Strategy
Despite the myriad communication tools available for our nation’s warfighters, the DoD is working to consolidate its cyber infrastructure and technology platforms. It is a concerted effort to better secure, upgrade and enhance the digital experience for military personnel, and UC is no exception.
Defense agencies certainly need to consider endpoints, but perhaps more importantly, they need to consider the backend infrastructure and platforms that will enable dependable and scalable communication now and in the years to come. With so many UC vendors in the market, the DoD needs to be sure any technology investment will validate and enhance the military’s overall IT capabilities.
Interoperability should be an essential component of the DoD’s consolidation effort. It is imperative that existing legacy solutions work seamlessly with new platforms to ensure communications are truly unified. A good interoperability strategy will also anticipate the various ways UC technology will evolve five or ten years from now.
Agencies can expedite communications technology adoption by using Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certified vendors. These companies have completed rigorous on-site testing with the military to ensure their technology solutions are held to the highest security and reliability standards set forth by the DoD, and that the solutions can be swiftly integrated into an agency’s IT schematic.
Interoperability is an important way for the military to stay on top of tech innovation while balancing openness and control for personnel. By prioritizing interoperability as a key component of the military’s IT consolidation efforts, warfighters across all branches of the military will be better equipped with the latest devices and UC innovations to support their collaboration, e-learning and daily duties.