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Life after email at DoD

May 19, 2014
The end of email might be inevitable when you factor in that today's young sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines have grown up with instant messaging, chat, text and social media.
The end of email might be inevitable when you factor in that today's young sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines have grown up with instant messaging, chat, text and social media. (General Dynamics)

Still using email? You might already be behind the curve.

Despite the fact that the Defense Department is well into a broad transition to defense enterprise email – with the Army fully migrated, the Air Force partially moved and several Pentagon executive offices on board – at least one top defense official believes email is on its way out.

However, that does not mean it’s already known what comes after email.

“I’m not sure what the medium is going to be, that’s what we’ve got to build now,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency. “But I’d suggest if we’re still using email [in five years], I think that from a collaborative perspective and also from a social media perspective, that’s not the right means.”

Hawkins spoke as part of a panel of executives in a press briefing at the AFCEA Joint Information Environment conference in Baltimore, Md., May 12.

Already, several new modes of communications are used across DoD and the military worldwide. The end of email might be inevitable when you factor in the today’s young sailor, soldier, airman or Marine – a generation brought up in the era of instant messaging, chat, text and social media.

“Part of it is moving from a single tool or single capability into an integrated suite of collaboration capabilities,” said Jennifer Carter, DISA component acquisition executive. “So we really want to evolve [past] just, what’s the next generation of this one capability, but really to an integrated suite where people can choose the capability that’s appropriate from them…and they can integrate seamlessly between one to another and really increase the scope of collaboration.”

It may be that instant communication and collaboration is an organic shift for those looking to work together with mission partners who may be thousands of miles away, others pointed out.

“In cyber you’re already seeing the adoption of technology that will allow you to establish a community based on what you’re working on,” said Mark Orndorff, DISA program executive officer for information assurance and network operations. “Collaboration isn’t based on who you happen to be sending and receiving email with; it’s based on who has a common interest in the activities you’re working on today. I think that’s going to be broadly adopted as part of that set of tools we’ll use in the future.”

Overall, the goal is to provide official – and secure – channels for information-sharing that hew closely to what users are doing every day outside the office. That includes the ability to do nearly anything on a mobile device that can be done on a traditional computer.

“In addition to coming up with a variety of toolsets, whether it’s IM or social media, the reality is taking advantage of mobile devices and being able to take advantage of capabilities on the move in whatever environment you’re in,” said Dave Bennett, DISA CIO. “As we go forward the reality needs to be that the functionality needs to be seamless across platforms.”

Read more from the JIE Mission Partner Symposium Show reporter.


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