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DISA moves to integrate voice, video, email services

Sep. 12, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
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The Defense Department is aiming to have far fewer desktop phones, enhanced video and messaging features for employees and more applications delivered via the Internet.

“What we’re looking at is getting all of our voice and video over IP,” said Cindy Moran, director of the Network Services directorate at the Defense Information Systems Agency. “We’ve been talking everything over IP for years. The services are here now, and we’re rolling them out to try to eliminate legacy.”

Within DoD, 99 percent of employees still use a traditional desktop phone — a “hard phone” in DoD jargon — versus telephony services via a software application that resides on a computer, which DoD calls a “soft phone.” For example, a smartphone is considered a soft phone because there is an application that runs the voice capability, Moran told reporters at an Aug. 9 industry event.

DoD wants to increase the number of soft phone users to 80 percent and decrease the number of employees using hard phones to 20 percent.

Only about 200 DISA employees are using soft phones today, Moran said.

“What we’re able to do — and what the big change [will be] for us in the department — is instead of giving you a desk with a telephone and a computer screen, we can give you either a tablet or a computer with a telephone application as part of your software load,” she said. “It becomes an application on your computer instead of handing you a suitcase full of different devices to do work that can all be done on your computer.”

And DoD expects the move will yield big savings, she said. Installing a desktop phone can cost between $300 and $500, while buying a license to use telephone software from the same vendor costs about $50. With the hard phone, transporting phone capabilities to a new office when employees change locations costs about $50, but reprogramming a telephone application to accommodate an employee move costs $3 to $5.

To further integrate voice, video and other capabilities, DoD has to move off the desktop and into the cloud and mobile environments, said Jennifer Carter, DISA’s component acquisition executive.

The department’s term for delivering all that over the Internet is “unified capability.” DISA has a pilot program underway to test unified capabilities, said Chief Information Officer David Bennett. The agency equipped about 150 people with cellphones that provide access to integrated capabilities, such as email and voice. Bennett said he plans to increase the pilot to 2,000 users. The goal is for employees to have seamless access to voice, video, chat, email, calendar and other applications, Bennett said.

DISA is partnering with the Army to award a contract for unified capabilities in fiscal 2014.

The Army said it plans to roll out capabilities for integrated real-time communication services, including the ability to find people online and communicate via text, voice and video instantaneously.

“[Unified capabilities] bridges the gap between voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, and other computer-related communications technologies,” according to Army spokeswoman Margaret McBride.

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