How to Choose the Right Collaboration Platform for Your Agency

By Barry Duplantis, Vice President of Customer Success at Mattermost

When a rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, both government and civilian agencies involved need to remain updated in near real time. In the past, many of these interactions were managed via email, which is cumbersome for real-world, mission-focused activities.

Today, secure collaboration platforms centralize communication across classified and non-classified networks and on military and non-military devices. Stakeholders get the information they need, when they need it, helping to keep people and property safe, and supporting a successful mission.

The U.S. Space Force’s approach to collaboration mirrors a trend among government organizations. Agencies that once used email and instant messaging for ad-hoc chat are now investing in a purpose-built collaboration platform.

Driving Toward Digital Collaboration

Several factors are driving the shift to a dedicated, secure collaboration platform that centralizes multiple communication channels.

Limitations of email – Email is ubiquitous. But for military and intelligence community (IC) agencies, email can’t easily be accessed across classified and unclassified networks. What’s more, employees receive hundreds of emails a day that aren’t organized by project or workstream.

Limitations of instant messaging – Only a small percentage of government workers have an agency-sponsored device. Chat permeated organizations as users embraced mobile devices. Endpoint security concerns limit standalone instant messaging to non-mission-critical collaboration.

Cybersecurity incidents – Agencies have been plagued by cyber threats such as the recent Apache Log4J vulnerability, which enables attackers to remotely execute code. For the first time in five years, external attacks are now a larger source of concern than insider threats, according to the Public Sector Cybersecurity Survey Report.

Rise of remote work – Covid-19 drove lasting change in the way agencies collaborate. When organizations pivoted to remote work, they resorted to personal devices and consumer apps. Now that remote work is established, agencies are seeking a more secure collaboration platform.

The Right Collaboration for Your Agency

To find a platform that’s suitable for mission-focused collaboration in a secure environment, look for these capabilities:

Reliability. If you’re managing mission-critical collaboration, you can’t afford slowdowns or outages. Look for a proven platform that’s robust, stable and highly scalable.

Security and privacy. Collaboration should take place in a secure cloud or in an on-prem, air-gapped environment. Seek out military-grade protections that can meet the needs of the Defense Department, FBI and Homeland Security Department, and that comply with standards such as those for HIPAA (the federal law restricting the release of medical information), GDPR, which governs how individual data is processed and transferred, and FINRA.

On-prem deployment options. While many agencies are shifting workloads to the cloud, a growing number realize that some data can be more securely managed on-prem. In fact, the vast majority of collaboration platform deployments I see are on-prem. For instance, when Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, needed to communicate with service members evacuating refugees from Afghanistan, it relied on a collaboration platform behind its own firewall.

Identity and access control. You need granular, role-based controls to keep data safe. That includes support for multi-factor authentication, certificate-based authentication, single sign-on based on Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), and user and group provisioning through Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

Centralized channels. Channel-based communication brings each team’s communication together for complete visibility and control. Channels organize conversations across topics so that stakeholders can easily keep up with every step in a project workflow.

Information governance. You need audit logging, compliance reports and global message retention policy to manage user conversations and behavior – and ensure compliance with regulations and internal policies.

Open source. An open-source platform will give your configuration flexibility and promote integration with other collaboration tools. It can also support your application development team with plug-ins for DevOps platforms such as GitLab, Bitbucket and Jenkins.

Email and chat can allow for ad-hoc collaboration. But as agencies seek to enable mission-focused collaboration and support long-term remote work, their needs for security, privacy and compliance become more demanding. That’s why more organizations are investing in a purpose-built, secure collaboration platforms to empower their teams and enable their most mission-critical operations.

Barry Duplantis is Vice President of Customer Success at Mattermost, an open-source, self-hostable collaboration platform empowering enterprise DevOps and InfoSec teams with secure messaging, file sharing, search and integrations. Previously he led customer success, support and services at Red Hat, HP and Hackerone. Prior to his career in open-source software, he served as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer.

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