As much of the federal government continues to operate under maximum telework, federal employees are evaluating what tools are necessary and available for them to complete their work. Collaboration tools are particularly hit-or-miss, as some have security issues, while others offer only voice or video, but don’t integrate file-sharing, making cooperation and follow-up a disjointed experience. But some agencies are discovering that the best tool for collaboration was right in front of them the whole time.
Federal agencies with Office 365 already have access to Microsoft Teams, a collaboration tool that helps employees provide context around what they’re working on through a seamless user interface that combines chat, collaboration, meetings, video and data sharing with a consistent experience across laptops and mobile devices.
Teams also satisfies agencies’ security requirements by meeting compliance and accreditation standards for all different kinds of business, including FedRAMP and the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Interoperability and Cybersecurity certification. Teams also encrypts all of its data, including audio, video, desktop sharing, chat and files.
“We get feedback from federal customers that they find great assurance that we use the same rigor in our services and in the development and operations of those services, as they do in their own environments,” said Steve Faehl, security CTO at Microsoft U.S. “So all of the same compliance standards that they are required to follow, we follow as well.”
But Teams isn’t just for collaboration and coordination among small groups. Teams also offers the capability of broadcasting live to massive audiences of up to 10,000 people. That means most independent agencies, and even some cabinet level departments could host their entire workforce in a single townhall meeting.
It also offers public-facing agencies an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to the public they serve. For example, last month NASA presented an online event titled “The Most Dangerous EVA in US History”. Powered by Microsoft’s Teams Live, more than 2000 people tuned in to watch NASA EVA Office Manager, Chris Hansen present lessons learned from an incident that occurred during a spacewalk on July 16, 2013. Just 44 minutes into this spacewalk onboard the International Space Station, European Space Agency Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet began filling up with water. As the water level continued to rise it propagated around to the front of Parmitano’s face, which could have resulted in a fatal accident. What followed became the most dangerous EVA incident in US history. Hansen’s mishap presentation identified and shared with the audience many lessons that can be applied to make any hazardous operation safer.
To set up a live event, agencies need to designate a few roles: organizer, producer and presenter. The organizer schedules an event and sets up permissions for both the attendees and the event group. The producer manages the event, controlling the live stream and switching between presenters. Presenters share audio, video, a screen, or some combination of the three with the audience. And that can be done on a level as simple as using a personal device with a camera and a microphone, like a laptop. Or it can be scaled up to the level of a professional production, with external apps and equipment like multiple cameras or a media mixer.
And Teams offers interactivity at a level that would be impossible in a live venue. Presenters and participants within an organization can share files, use a digital whiteboard, and access meeting notes. Chat makes Q&A sessions easy for organizers and presenters. And the whole thing can be recorded for later reference or distribution. And most of these features are available before, during and after the meeting.
But it’s also possible to control what people have access to, in case agencies are presenting to an audience that wouldn’t normally have access to agency resources. Different tiers of participation can lock viewers out of any or all of these features except the chat during the presentation. So a public-facing agency could use Teams Live Events to share information with the public and take questions without exposing itself to security risks. Credentialing for these tiers is handled through Azure Active Directory.
“When we’re not meeting face to face, and these meetings are taking place remotely, there’s chat, there’s data sharing, and not only do you have confidence that the environment is built with the necessary rigor in order to maintain a safe and secure environment, but also that the individual users that you’re interacting with are actually the people you think they are, as a result of our high assurance identity capabilities,” Faehl said.
Azure Active Directory provides these capabilities across various platforms, including mobile devices. That starts with two-factor authentication through phone numbers or the authenticator app, and can also use Windows Hello for Business, which is biometric facial recognition software that helps make multi-factor authentication more transparent.
Teams also provides governance controls to IT departments within an organization. That means every agency can set its controls according to its mission and business needs. Some of these controls include how groups are named and classified, who can add people to groups, and who can be added. IT administrators can also control how long content can be retained and accessed, and policies can be applied at the global level, or to specific users.
“Agencies have that choice,” said Rima Reyes, senior program manager for Microsoft Teams Engineering. “We want to empower government agencies to be able to make the choices they need to accomplish their mission.”
 Extravehicular activity (EVA) – any activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s appreciable atmosphere