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E-mail or Collaboration Systems for DoD?

Achieving interoperability in communications is the stated goal of all current attempts to consolidate e-mail services for DoD. However, tackling only e-mail is insufficient. There is a much larger need for services to support effective collaboration regardless of the user’s technology or location. With increasing dependency on cross-functional communications there is a rising requirement for high quality and real-time global capabilities such as synchronous and asynchronous data connectivity; voice mail; document management; instant messaging; audio and video conferencing as well as support for technical and training support.

When plans are made to achieve DoD-wide standardization of mail communications, provisions must be made for enlarging what are relatively simple features of commodity e-mail to extensions for the large domain of “collaboration” systems. Achieving such interoperability requires a standardization of software and communication transmission formats.

The leading vendors in the existing e-mail and collaboration systems are Microsoft and IBM, though there are at least sixty more firms. There is a large variety of software that is incompatible even across vendor’s own offerings.

Microsoft offers the following: Microsoft Exchange Server and the Microsoft Outlook client; Microsoft Windows Live messenger, office web apps, sky-drive, mail; Microsoft Live Meeting; Microsoft Office Live Communications Server; Microsoft Office desktop tools for collaboration; Microsoft Project Server; Microsoft SharePoint Server and Microsoft SharePoint Foundation; SharePoint Workspace, desktop collaboration application; Microsoft Team Foundation Server, developer collaboration platform.

IBM offers the following: IBM Lotus Notes and Domino; IBM Lotus QuickPlace; IBM Lotus Team Workspace; IBM Quickr; IBM Lotus QuickPlace; IBM Workplace-branded products; IBM Lotus Sametime.

The task of specifying how DoD should proceed with unification of its cross-service mail communications is more complex than just choosing a standard software suite for e-mail. The mail applications currently in place have already built-in a variety of enhancements to perform some of the collaboration functions.

Though there are other offerings than Microsoft or IBM, such as Google Apps, the task of coming up with an all-inclusive approach to the DoD unified communications now appears to be a formidable challenge.

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