Agencies Using Groupware Products for Electronic Messaging
n less than a decade, electronic messaging has revolutionized the way federal workers communicate. Agencies are using it to do everything from exchange simple notes to collaborate on major projects. That's because e-mail is faster, easier, cheaper and more confidential than phone calls, faxes, mail services or personal messengers.
Gone are the frustrating games of telephone tag or the hassles of photocopying documents and addressing envelopes. E-mail users can attach files to messages and send out copies to dozens of people simultaneously. Copies of messages and the responses they generate are automatically recorded for easy retrieval.
E-mail is ideal for agencies whose employees are geographically dispersed. The Federal Aviation Administration, for instance, uses Lotus Development Corp.'s cc:Mail program to improve communications among 31,000 workers in offices around the country. Flight inspectors use the program to send in reports from the field, while office workers use it to send memos or schedule meetings.
Electronic mail is no longer exclusively for short text messages. Most e-mail packages now enable users to attach graphics, voice and even video files. New technology also has made mobile e-mail a reality. Workers on the go can use wireless modems to send e-mail messages from their cars. Ground troops in Bosnia are using e-mail to help manage logistics. The Army reports that the mobile network has cut shipment times from six weeks to one week.
The Air Force's Air Mobility Command recently awarded a $6 million contract to LandSea Systems for providing e-mail capability on more than 300 cargo planes. The Air Force says that the messages, which are sent via satellite, are more reliable than high-frequency radio communications in some parts of the world.
An increasing number of agencies are using groupware products for their e-mail applications. Groupware is a type of software that enables multiple users to work on the same application at the same time. Packages such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange make it easy for workers to collaborate on big projects via e-mail. Both the Commerce Department and NASA plan to use groupware-based electronic messaging for future electronic-commerce initiatives.
Groupware is available on the government's largest e-mail contract, the Defense Information Systems Agency's $500 million Defense Message System. The contract, which was recently awarded to Loral, will provide 2 million DoD and civilian users at more than 500 sites with secure electronic messaging. The procurement replaces the Defense Department's 30-year-old Automated Digital Network.
More routing options exist than ever before for federal e-mail users. Messages can be sent via the Internet, using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and packages such as Netscape's Navigator or Qualcomm's Eudora Pro. E-mail also can be transmitted via public on-line systems such as CompuServe or MCIMail.