IBM Takes Cloud, Collaboration to Government Agencies
IBM has announced new cloud-based collaboration services to help U.S. federal government organizations adopt social computing.
The new set of social collaboration services, delivered on IBM's Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)-compliant Federal Community Cloud, addresses the administration's drive to adopt a "cloud-first" policy which is designed to help the government improve its overall IT efficiency and delivery of services to citizens, IBM said in a press release.
IBM's new cloud services include social software such as wikis, microblogs, communities, staff profiles, instant messaging, web conferencing and email. IBM's services also support popular mobile devices including Android phones and tablets, Apple iPhone 4 and iPad, BlackBerry, and Nokia Symbian platform. Industry analyst firm IDC ranked IBM first in the social platforms market share for 2009 and 2010.
Accessing social software as a cloud service can help federal agencies introduce new capabilities at a lower cost and in a more timely fashion, IBM said. These services can be provided for staff on demand without long term commitments and help the government reduce waste and consolidate IT spending.
"The rise in Big Data and the demand for transparency and collaboration will continue to put pressure on agencies to embrace new computing environments such as cloud to improve IT capabilities," said Todd S. Ramsey, general manager of IBM's U.S. Federal organization, in a statement. "IBM cloud collaboration solutions will help agencies gain faster access to the latest technologies, increase innovation across departments and ultimately improve citizen services."
IBM's social software, which is part of the new service, has many useful productivity tools including blogs to allow staff to gather and prioritize community ideas, present their own ideas and learn from others. And the software's communities feature enables people to exchange and share information with others through a web browser, instant messaging, or email software.
Other productivity enhancing tools in the IBM solution include: File sharing and microblogs to facilitate collaboration with dynamic networks of co-workers, partners and customers; instant messaging and online meetings to work seamlessly across geographies; and profiles allow people to find and work with others who share common interests and expertise as well as expand their social networks. Tags and social analytics technologies assist with this task.
IBM's Federal Community Cloud is specifically designed to help federal government organizations respond to technology requirements more quickly. The secure, private cloud environment is part of IBM's established and dedicated Federal Data Center that provides secure and comprehensive certified computing capabilities to federal government clients.
The new services will be ready for the required FISMA certification when they become available late this year.
IBM is experienced at providing tools for organizations to collaborate both on premise and in the cloud. For example, the U.S. Army is already using a variety of on premise IBM collaboration tools including electronic IBM Forms which helps reduce the time, costs, and problems inherent to paper-based forms processes to help speed process automation. Additionally, several Federal government organizations use IBM services that provide cloud and data center capabilities to quickly build, manage, operate and analyze complex computing environments.
Meanwhile, in a another government-related deal, this one with a state government, IBM and Silanis Technology announced that the State of Vermont is using cloud computing to transform its business operations to improve efficiencies, boost profits and more cost effectively collaborate with vendors.
IBM said Vermont is lowering costs, reducing paper consumption and increasing efficiency in its Department of Information and Innovation (DII). The DII is transforming the way it processes vendor contracts with IBM cloud services and Silanis' electronic signature technology.
"Our department signs as many as 80 vendor contracts a month," said Kris Rowley, DII's chief information security officer, in a statement. "A Cloud-based business process using Silanis and IBM technology helped us keep up with Vermont's commitment to the environment and our plans to adopt productivity-enhancing technologies. Hand-signing also meant many of our people were spending valuable time chasing down multiple signatures or correcting errors."
The integration of Silanis' subscription-based, secure online e-signing service, e-SignLive, with IBM's LotusLive cloud-based collaboration service enables Vermont's DII to gather, approve and process signatures and contracts in an efficient, environmentally friendly, paperless manner.
While many of its contracts and relevant forms are downloadable from its website, the need to sign them by hand meant added potential for errors, extra work for staff, long wait times, and high processing costs. To address this problem, DII is using a Web-based service that doesn't require any software downloads. The service captures strong electronic evidence during the signing process which makes it extremely difficult for signers to repudiate their signatures should there ever be a dispute.
DII's use of a cloud-based, electronic signing service provides a cost-effective, easy to use and set up alternative to enterprise licensed solutions.
"Silanis e-SignLive provided us with an extremely cost-effective, yet secure means to relieve the signing bottleneck," Rowley said. "Contracts only got printed so they could be signed and then were routed via interdepartmental mail, snail mail, to different cities, and offices. Employing the software also encouraged us to re-evaluate our business process and signing procedures and we ended up achieving efficiencies we hadn't even expected. Not only have we reduced paper, but we have cut courier costs and the turnaround time for a typical contract approval has dropped from weeks to minutes."
Due to the success of this solution, DII is considering using additional IBM cloud collaboration capabilities in the future. IBM LotusLive's cloud collaboration service includes a range of tools such as project tracking, web meetings and instant messaging, all of which serve to promote team work, help quickly find expertise needed to get projects done, and create effective partnerships.
e-SignLive enables organizations and individuals to invite their customers, partners, and suppliers to instantly sign documents over the web, while harnessing the power of online collaboration and social networking during the negotiation and pre-signing process. Silanis' e-SignLive e-signature service allows multiple users to review, modify and sign a single document in a secure and compliant extranet environment.
"This initiative is our way of taking a positive approach to the downturn in the economy," Rowley said. "It's a challenge that has led us to seek out ground-breaking technologies like the combination of e-SignLive and LotusLive, which is improving the way we do business while costing us less."