Cisco_John_Allison_HCS-DNote: HCS-D is now Webex for Defense. All references in the original blog have been updated to reflect this change. You can learn more at Webex for Defense.

Guest Author: John Allison is the Product Manager for the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution for Defense (HCS-D), which is in the process of being approved by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and is Cisco’s first DoD Impact Level 5 SaaS offering. John joined Cisco in 2015 after serving 24 years in the United States Air Force, where he focused on systems engineering and program management for a wide range of Air Force systems.

I’ve been with the Webex for Defense team since its earliest days and have spent countless hours and sleepless nights to make sure it delivers secure collaboration to the DoD. So for me, Webex for Defense is more than a product—it’s a passion. And it’s personal.

The need for secure communications

Cisco does an outstanding job hiring veterans, and I’m one of them. I spent 24 years and 6 days in the Air Force before retiring in 2015. When I entered the Air Force in 1991, office IT was in its infancy. This let me see, first-hand, how the Air Force moved from one technology to another, always several years behind what was available commercially. So I’ll give a shout out to MIRC Chat, which gave the DoD instant messaging years before it became popular in the civilian world (and is still in use in some areas).

As someone that loves technology, this was beyond frustrating. What was more frustrating was adapting an approach to collaboration based on the technology instead of the mission. We used “this or that” because it was available, not because it was the best approach. For much of our work this was fine, but if you think about the variety of use cases within the DoD (from combat operations to making multi-billion dollar acquisition decisions), effective and efficient teamwork, and by extension collaboration, is absolutely critical.

Serious collaboration for a serious mission

We now live in a world filled with smartphones, tablets, wearables, and some truly immersive video teleconferencing capabilities. In some cases, you can go nearly seamless from one to the other and quickly add new users for increased collaboration. Unfortunately, next-generation collaboration is not yet the norm in the DoD. Instead we see pockets of potential being explored, and a commitment (out of necessity) to keep aging legacy systems operational. Building and maintaining these systems is hard, trust me, so it’s unreasonable to expect the DoD to educate and retain the technical workforce necessary to operate these systems. This is even more true now as more focus is being put on cybersecurity, which is driving the DoD to increasingly shift limited IT expertise towards security efforts.

This is why Webex for Defense become a passion of mine, and not just another product. And why we’ve assembled the best collaboration technologies Cisco has available to our enterprise customers for the DoD to now leverage. Plus, we’re putting it through the intensive DoD Impact Level 5 assessment process. This will let the DoD, for the first time ever, collaborate in the way the mission requires instead of adapting the mission to work with a patchwork of legacy systems.

Four key themes for DoD collaboration

Best of all, Cisco will deliver Webex for Defense over the DoD’s own network, and it will work with most of their existing hardware. We also take on the burden of running it, securing it, and keeping it up to date. This frees the DoD to focus on collaborating as the mission requires; from making a simple phone call to transitioning from instant message to call with just one click. Or, share your screen or host an ad hoc conference from your desk or tablet. Or perhaps you have a bunch of legacy VTC hardware that doesn’t interoperate well, Webex for Defense will even have you covered there. The bottom line is: don’t worry about the technology, instead collaborate as you need to get your mission done. That is what the DoD is all about, getting the mission done, and IT should help, not hinder, that mission.

Throughout the development of Cisco Webex for Defense, we’ve focused on four key themes for DoD collaboration:

  • simplicity
  • security
  • flexibility
  • mission enablement.

And as we near the finish line, these still stand at the core of Webex for Defense. For me, personally, mission enablement has been, and remains, the most important. Why? Every day, every person in the DoD has a mission to accomplish. And although I’m no longer active in our nation’s military, I, like many other veterans at Cisco, see Webex for Defense as our continuing contribution to help the DoD protect everything that matters. I guess you can take the person out of the Air Force, but you can’t take the Air Force out of the person.

Additional resources

Secure Cloud for Defense

Cisco Solutions for Defense

Video: How to protect everything that matters