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Air Force readies for return to enhanced CHES collaboration

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) --

As Microsoft Commercial Virtual Remote Teams phases out on June 15, a cross-functional team of Air Force communication and acquisition experts are working diligently to welcome the workforce back to the enterprise Office 365 platform, primed to offer more robust features than ever before.

“We’re not losing a capability when CVR Teams goes away,” said Maj. Jennifer Sayers, Office of the Chief information officer. “We already have an enterprise capability that we’ve enhanced to make sure our Air Force users have what they need to communicate and collaborate for mission success.”

Sayers is referring to the Air Force Cloud Hosted Services version of Microsoft Office 365 Teams, which the service rolled out enterprise-wide in 2019. It offers many of the same capabilities as CVR Teams, re-engineered to ensure the interoperability and security of information in the virtual environment.

“We need to protect information from our adversaries, which is why we have taken the extra time and steps to ensure our environments are secure,” said Justin Kline, CHES program manager. “Our enemies are watching.”

As the acquisition program manager, Kline oversees all of the Office 365 services for the Air Force. He led the service-wide roll-out of CHES Office 365 Teams in 2019, and today he is a vital member of a task force including members of the 16th Air Force, Air Combat Command, and the Air Force Chief Information Office, working closely with the Department of Defense CIO office and the other military services to ensure same communication and collaboration capability is ready to support multiple user needs.

Prior to COVID-19, the Air Force was the only military service using Microsoft Teams for internal collaboration. When implemented in 2019, it was an effort to bring the service in line with business and industry technology standards, which at the time, the Air Force lagged behind.

“We needed to bring the Air Force business enterprise into modern day,” Kline said. “Before that (2019), we were just using email, and it was very inefficient. Anyone from the private sector moving into the Air Force would immediately know this is archaic, and that we didn’t have the immediate collaboration tools to efficiently or effectively operate.”

When the Defense Department rapidly transitioned to telework at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kline’s expertise was sought as the department realized the services lacked a single tool for enterprise virtual collaboration to support mission needs.

“When COVID(-19) hit, the DoD didn’t have a way for people to effectively collaborate across services in the telework environment,” Kline said. “COVID(-19) actually helped the DoD and the Air Force to understand what teleworking really can do and how we can collaborate together.”

Kline worked closely with the Headquarters Cyberspace Capabilities Center, the DoD CIO office, and Microsoft, which provided 2 million temporary licenses to the commercial version of Microsoft Teams for DoD users. This gave users department-wide access to a single communication and collaboration platform to support successful mission execution in the virtual realm.

“While the other services were working on adopting Office 365 for their own communication prior to the pandemic, COVID(-19) may have accelerated the focus on getting the tool ready, as the benefits of collaboration using a single capability proved invaluable,” Kline said.

Today, as CVR Teams phases out, Kline and his team are working diligently behind the scenes to bring many of the robust capabilities available in CVR to the Air Force CHES Office 365 service platform. These include the ability for livestream events, dial-in meeting numbers, external guest user access, private channels, collaboration across the DoD, and more.

“We’ve grown accustomed to many of these capabilities during COVID-19, so the team is working hard to make sure that they are available for our users,” Kline said. “While all capabilities may not be ready on June 15, we will continue to roll-out more capabilities throughout the year.”

He is also watching closely as other services launch their capabilities which will enhance the collaboration opportunities department-wide.

“The entire DoD is moving to this Office 365 environment,” Kline said. “The Air Force is ahead since we’ve been using Teams since 2019, and now the rest of the DoD and many agencies are getting on board. Once complete, each organization will be a ‘tenant’ in an ecosystem designed for collaboration, with enhanced collaboration experiences for all.”

The Air Force is currently offering training on the CHES Office 365 capabilities through June 2021. Additional information on preparing for the shutdown of CVR Teams availability and CHES capabilities is available on the Air Force portal.

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