Management

US Navy eyes permanent solution for post-pandemic collaboration tools

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s top IT official said Wednesday that the service is working to deploy a solution to prepare for the shutdown of the Defense Department’s temporary collaboration platform, which he expects to “likely” happen in June 2021.

Navy Chief Information Officer Aaron Weis said the Pentagon’s Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, a temporary Microsoft Teams platform that provided collaboration tools during mass telework for department employees, has changed the service’s approach to post-pandemic work.

“What’s happened is we’ve created a capability that we now have an expectation, and that expectation is now becoming a requirement,” Weis said at the virtual Navy Gold Coast webinar. “People are saying: ‘I need that going forward.’ ”

The service has about 200,000 users on the CVR platform. The virtual environment, however, has led to realizations by senior IT leadership across the department that collaboration tools will have to stay, meaning when the CVR goes dark, the Navy’s IT office will need a plan in place.

The Navy and Marine Corps, Weis said, are working to deploy Microsoft Office 365 “more broadly” because that platform includes the Teams service. The two armed services started a pilot program with 10,000 users for the Microsoft Office 365 environment in January, but like several IT programs across the Department of Defense, the pandemic rapidly shifted that deployment timeline from years to weeks or months.

Office 365 will also give the Navy benefits beyond collaboration tools, such as document sharing and integrated telephony. “We will then have the ability to actually move away from a big chunk of infrastructure that is kind of a boat anchor for us today, this legacy infrastructure ... which is obsolete,” Weis said.

The Navy has long struggled with IT and cybersecurity. Weis took over last year months after a report detailed a concerning lack of cybersecurity within the Navy. He continuously notes that the Navy’s networks are too difficult to defend because they are too complex.

“As we move to this new environment which will enable these capabilities, we will obsolete that legacy infrastructure, and there is goodness to be gained there from a cybersecurity perspective, from an operational perspective, from a cost perspective,” Weis said.

“There’s a bunch of moving pieces, it’s not just a CVR discussion. It’s what has to happen over the midterm,” he added. “And when I say the midterm, I mean probably by this time next year for having that capability deployed that will allow CVR to go away.”

The pandemic also presented a cybersecurity challenge to the Department of the Navy, along with the DoD enterprise, due to a spike in phishing attempts. Weis said his office made a concerted effort to communicate the exploits with Navy users early on and is looking to make another push to educating its workforce on cyber hygiene.

Other changes to the Navy’s IT efforts include the creation of a chief information security officer council that includes CISOs across the Navy and Marines Corps. Weis said that was stood up in the early days of the pandemic to assist with the “pivots” to telework, but will likely be made permanent.

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