Virtualization as Platform for Collaboration

global information networkThe coming years will undoubtedly see a surge in virtual workplaces. Virtualization enables a level of location transparency that makes collaborations inexpensive and almost instantaneous to assemble. Organizations now have unprecedented access to collaboration as a problem-solving business tool, and they are leveraging its power.

Just a few short years ago, all but the most forward-thinking decision-makers greeted the news that the time had come to consider “migrating to the cloud” with skepticism.  Yet today, non-IT managers see the productivity gains that flow from the ability to link personnel in strategic collaborations, lowering the perceived risks and raising their comfort level as they reach out for help planning and navigating their options.

The fact is, a majority of business leaders who have taken critical steps away from reliance on physical infrastructures report wishing they had made the leap sooner.  As an organization advances beyond the first stage of vertical, distributed hosting towards a more fully centralized platform, it becomes inherently more adaptive and nimble, offering flexibility in assembling internal teams and communicating deftly to satisfy the dynamic needs of the customer.  This makes everyone’s jobs easier and more effective.

An increasingly mobile workforce is becoming more comfortable interacting with colleagues in the cloud.   For managers, the “need you here, see you here” mindset has become at best, a quaint relic, and at worst, a roadblock to avoid as business models evolve and embrace the compounding benefits of managing teams, which are more or less location-agnostic.

Indeed, tools are available to reach out and touch off-site personnel to a degree that surprises skeptics and proponents alike.  Telepresence, voice over internet protocol (VOIP), email, text, instant messaging, and SharePoint all help provide location awareness of distributed teams and keep workers accessible to each other in real time.  In addition, network cards with IP addresses can be inserted into a range of devices, making them universally accessible to teams while expanding the traditional definition of IT.

These technologies must, however, be selected thoughtfully and their uses curated from a knowledge management perspective to ensure they are used consistently and with confidence.  Proper training and ongoing support must be matched by solid information assurance during all stages of the initial migration.

As part of the Army Data Center’s master consolidation plan, for instance, hundreds of data centers were recognized to be nonessential after duplicative capabilities were identified.  Plans called for collapsing, merging, and implementing the “pack and port” of all systems in a fluid way so that no capability was lost during the streamlining process.

What the organization gained from this massive overhaul was the ability to move quickly and allocate resources dynamically to compensate for sudden failure of any localized piece of infrastructure.  For any organization undergoing a process of virtualization, the newfound portability of services results in much less vulnerability in the face of natural disasters, power outages and other unpredictable, external events.

Meanwhile, the cost savings stemming from eliminating spaces which formerly housed equipment for IT infrastructure and static workstations have been well documented and acknowledged.  Reduction in space needs also shrinks an organization’s total footprint, improving sustainability.

Greater access to an openly collaborative environment is arguably the most important direct benefit of virtualization, helping organizations to remain keenly competitive.  At the Army’s Materiel Command, for instance, uniforms, firearms, helicopters, tanks, ships and other categories of inventory must be accounted for with precision and redistributed according to the needs of various missions.  In working out the logistical challenges, similar functionality based out of California and New York can be leveraged to proactively share expertise, prevent problems and align distributed teams.  With the right office communication systems in place, and personnel trained in their use, it becomes possible to perform quick and accurate internal searches for people with applicable experience. This shared awareness of expertise in the workforce helps workers become more efficient and addresses a need for continuous improvement.

This is an instance of knowledge management fueled by an interconnected, mobile workforce made possible by virtualization.  The fulcrum for success in delivering this platform for strategic collaboration is an ability to achieve intuitive, high-performance function while meeting or exceeding security standards.  This balance must continually be re-examined and fine-tuned.

With ever-growing trust in cloud computing and the accessibility of comprehensive toolkits, which customize IT needs for specific industries and organizations, the possibilities multiply. For example, The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a component center of the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE), is taking steps toward psychiatrists’ use of electronic health records to conduct virtual appointments with their patients.  This plan – currently being researched – saves money, time and headaches for customer, practitioner, and administrator, while proving the worth of these kinds of applications in even the most sensitive of contexts.

While compliance and certification standards are yet to be nailed down for most virtualized work functions, enterprise IT  experts are already fleshing out the frontiers, debating, deliberating and defining emergent mobile technology trends and factoring their influence.  Those closest to government organizations and their highly distributed commands have an accrued depth of experience to draw from to make the economies and benefits of migrating to the cloud better understood and the process fluid and seamless.

When the pace of change in an industry is rapid, early movers are rewarded and delay can be costly or even fatal.   When it comes to virtualization, pain points associated with letting go of physical infrastructure-reliance have been eased through collective experience, making it more risky, in fact, for an organization to continue to avoid the unfamiliar.

Substantial cost savings to organizations opting to take logical first steps towards virtualization are immediate.  Yet even more valuable in the long run, an advanced platform complete with strategic business process integration unlocks a distributed workforce’s ability to cultivate collaborative teamwork.  With the right experienced guide to navigate options that have proven beneficial for others, an organization can become better prepared to compete intelligently and respond to what future waves of inevitable change in the environment will bring.