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GovLoop Member of the Week: Dean Halstead, Collaboration Architect, Microsoft Federal

Happy Father’s Day!

Father’s Day is a day to remember, an opportunity to stop and honor our dads; this year, it also marks the beginning of summer – barbecuing on the 4th of July, sunny days at the park, or rainy nights at the pool (not to mention all that humidity and those special uninvited guests: mosquitoes).

This week, I want to thank Dean Halstead for taking the time to answer my questions. As a “non-techie”, I feel I learned a lot from this interview. I hope you do as well.


Celia, GovLoop Community Leader

1.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Anything you’d like to share about yourself, about growing up?

I think the most interesting thing growing up was being an “Army brat.” My Dad was a Data Information Officer. Like many others who self-profess to be Army brats, I grew up all over the place. The first 3.5 years of my life was spent in Germany. Then, we moved to Aberdeen, Md.; and lastly to the El Toro, Calif., area. Having lived in Germany, I studied German for my high school language and then applied and won a scholarship to Switzerland (Naters). This constant moving and exposure to different cultures really helped me keep an open mind to different ways of doing things that still guides my life today.

2.What has been the highlight of your career?

I actually have three career highlights:

#1 – Being hired at Microsoft in 1999 was a career high. I had worked in the computer industry for years, but I never thought I was “smart enough” to work at Microsoft – much less a product team at Microsoft. The interview process was grueling, but actually fun and challenging. That fun and challenge hasn’t stopped and is why I am still at Microsoft almost 10 years later.

#2 – Getting a U.S. patent for a Microsoft shipping product (SharePoint). It is a great feeling to be faced with a unique problem and think of something that is truly original. The SharePoint feature that I created the concept for was called Alternate Access Mappings. It took a talented team of developers and others to help bring this feature to reality, but thinking of the solution and getting the development team to invest is a huge highlight!

#3 – In my military career, the highlight was being deployed to Kuwait in support of operation OIF I/II. While the act of being deployed is never a highlight due to the family strain, the mission to run the port operations for all ships in and out of theater was greatly gratifying. Setting a Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) record for the most ships in port uploading and discharging was bonus.

3.Can you share with us any significant experiences or challenges you experienced while working for Microsoft Federal in Bagdad?

The most significant experience is how heroically our troops are dealing with lack of computer resources (hardware) and how they are pushing the envelope. Things I saw soldiers and airmen doing over there were 12 to 18 months ahead of their “state-side” counterparts. Without training or support, they were setting up social networking, targeted information channels and collaboration systems that were truly amazing. Being part of Microsoft, it was a wonderful feeling seeing that SharePoint and other Microsoft products were significantly and positively impacting operations — and helping to literally save lives. The biggest challenge for me was keeping my head “in the war.” Where I worked and lived was much like any other state-side base. I would sometimes forget that it was a dangerous place. Only the sound and shock of mortars and IEDs in the area would snap me out of my blissful ignorance.

4.What are the major challenges the government is facing in your opinion?

Agency-to-agency collaboration is an immense challenge today. In fact, for most customers I talk with agency-to-agency collaboration is the most difficult aspect of any conversation. I see there are 3 main reasons for this which are partially policy-based and partially technology-based:

#1 – No Global Government Logon (Identity and Authentication) – Each agency has a different logon authentication and username. For instance, Joe User at Agency A (AgencyaUser.Joe) and Jane Doe at Agency B (AgencybDoe.Jane) can’t invite each other to their collaboration site, since either their agencies don’t trust each other or the type of credentials are different. There is work being done to create a unified Logon/Username (identity) store, but as it stands today there is no single authentication provider or standard. Additionally, there are multiple standards for those smart cards throughout the government (read: DoD CAC vs HSPD-12). Until the federal government — and I would also add state and local governments as well — can standardize on a universal identity, they will continue to experience the challenges of agency-to-agency collaboration. (Today there are solutions to solve these issues without a unifying store. I would be happy to chat more with anyone that has a deep interest.).

#2 – Different security policies and standards for users and employees – Most agencies have an internal information assurance and security office. Those offices generally create a letter of network worthiness that each person that has access to the agency network or a logon has to sign. This network worthiness education and agreement letter is a great idea, but there is not baseline standard. Therefore, if User A from Agency A want to get access to Agency B collaboration site, they would need to be trained, read, and sign “Network Worthiness” that enumerates the network policy of Agency B. When agencies are trying to move quickly or share information, the lack of a unifying network policy to satisfy the agency’s IA only slows the speed they can move and react.

#3 – Standardized Collaboration Tools – While a much greater issue in the past, using non-standardized tools is also a challenge for agency-to-agency collaboration. With the wide-spread adoption of SharePoint and the movement to SOA, this issue is slowly disappearing (re: data.gov). I think the government could greatly benefit from a virtual tools group that could help recommend tools and solutions across the board. This would include vendor products (COTS) and “in-house” developed solutions (GOTS). The benefit of this standardization is that the government would be able to “re-use” solutions developed on a common platform and training wouldn’t be required for agency-to-agency collaboration.

5. From your perspective, what would you say is the biggest difference between working in the private sector versus the public sector?

Very difficult question! I would have to say Return on Investment (ROI). In the private sector, ROI and revenue drives innovation, drives individual actions, and drives GDP. While the government uses ROI and total cost of ownership (TCO) as guidelines, I don’t really think it drives the culture. The government is not in the business to make a profit and therefore doesn’t have that constant pressure to the system. With the new Obama administration, I am happy that accountability is a pillar of his goals for Gov 2.0. However, I would like to see something like Congressional Budget Office value placed on agencies. I know this is a wild idea, but I think if the value of the services that are delivered could be quantified vs. the amount invested, and agencies would end up much more accountable and efficient.

6.In one of your blogs you describe Gov 2.0 through a very helpful table; can you define Gov 2.0 briefly for those of us who are not as familiar with the concept and who have not yet read your blog?

I would define Gov 2.0 as the next generation of government that has as pillars participation and accountability through a transparent interaction with employees, other agencies, and the public at large through the use of collaborative, interactive tools like social networking, information sharing, real-time collaboration, and the like.

7.How can government agencies use SharePoint?

SharePoint has a variety of uses:

• Collaboration
• Executive or public dashboards and reporting pages
• Automated Business Processes
• Gov 2.0 and communities
• Public or Enterprise Portal
• Automated Document Property and Metadata extraction and search platform

I would like to clarify what SharePoint is for those who may not have heard of SharePoint before. SharePoint comes in three main flavors:

• Windows SharePoint Server (WSS)
• Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS)
• Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Enterprise (SharePoint Enterprise

The short explanation of each flavor is that each version builds on the version prior and has more capabilities and features, but a different cost. WSS is part of Windows server. Therefore, if an agency owns a Windows Server, they can deploy WSS without purchasing any additional licenses.

However, if they want all the business intelligence, web-based forms, external business data integration, and enterprise and federated search, they would look to SharePoint Enterprise which would have an additional cost, if they didn’t already own the correct licenses.

The good news is that most federal agencies already own MOSS or SharePoint Enterprise, so then already own or have access to some of these great enterprise collaboration capabilities.

SharePoint has been used to help solve a number of challenges in government including:

• Citizen Service Platform
• Digital Town Hall
• ECM/RM Contract Management
• eDiscovery Search
• Healthcare
• K-12 Portal
• Traffic Analysis
• Stimulus 360 Tracking
• IED Tracking and Education of Threat Mitigation
• Case Management and Tasker Management
• Digitizing Paper-based Processes

Many of these solution uses are available for anyone to do a self-paced walkthrough at http://fs.mspublicsectordemos.com/Default.aspx.

I hope that everyone can see there is really no end to the uses of SharePoint. If you need a web-based solution, chances are mixing and matching the integrated features of SharePoint will give you a solution in a matter of days…not a matter of years!

8.How can they maximize the use of SharePoint?

I think education and engaging with Microsoft or a Microsoft Certified technology partner with SharePoint expertise to understand the capabilities of what they already own is critical to maximizing the use of SharePoint and the benefit it gives back to the agency. Most agencies don’t realize that they have access to help directly from Microsoft as part of their agency Enterprise Agreement and Service Agreement at likely no additional cost. We frequently will engage with agencies to help them see how SharePoint can be used to solve a new challenge that has arisen from the current economy crisis.

9.How did you first hear about GovLoop and what keeps you coming back?

I was doing research on Gov 2.0 searches using Bing, our new search engine, which we call a “decision engine.” One of the results was a posting on GovLoop. I looked at the cached version of the page and decided to join. I keep coming back since this is the type of community I have been looking for. One of my goals in leaving the SharePoint product team to join the Microsoft Federal team, after returning from a year deployment in the Army, was to help the Federal government better use tools and capabilities they already own, and to understand what challenges they are facing and need help with. I think this will be a great forum to lend my expertise and experience to help government organizations solve the many pressing issues they face today.

10.Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or about your work?

Yes. I know GovLoop has people distributed throughout the world, but I must say I love the Washington, DC/Virgina area! Having lived in Redmond, Wash., I can tell you that abundance of sunny days is a wonderful change. My wife and three children — love the area. It has helped me pick up some of my old hobbies like bicycle riding and swimming.

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Anita Arile

Excellent interview! I am now no less than 10% more of a techie than before! Thanks for such great opinions Dean, I will definitely pass on your views on the challenges our government faces. Especially here on Guam, we’re definitely doing our best to get up to speed on the Worldwide Web’s Information Highway.