How a National Security Lab Streamlined ‘Annoyances’

With a primary mission of protecting the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Sandia National Laboratories is not immune to the collaboration struggles most government agencies face.

Steve Pope, a Graphic Designer, and Business Systems Analyst who works in Sandia’s communications group, said that he and his team often struggled to find and share assets.

“We’d get these reply-all emails [in which] our designers, communication teams would be looking for an asset or an image, primarily the original or a native file,” Pope said. Once, 32 people were on one e-mail, with someone asking where to find an asset and respondents saying that they didn’t know.

The team would look for file names, but scattered naming conventions used throughout the lab’s siloed shared folders made it nearly impossible. For instance, a document with graphs showing spending information could be saved as “graphs,” “charts,” “spending,” or any number of things, depending on the whim of the worker.

Similarly, internal and external customers, such as the Energy Department and other national labs, would ask for a specific graphic to update. “Most of the time they’ve got a 72 dpi image that they put on the web or on a [Microsoft] PowerPoint slide and we’ve got to go find it because that person may or may not have been in our group or did work with our group at one time or was a contractor helping us out,” Pope said. “If we don’t have the original, then we have to spend the time recreating and making it look right as opposed to spending a little time just updating.”

Something had to change to decrease the time the team spends retrieving assets from shared drives, various collaboration solutions and myriad storage locations. So, about four years ago, they implemented the Adobe Experience Manager platform, including AEM Assets, which lets users manage and share their digital assets, such as images, videos, documents and audio clips, in a web-based repository. It also provides robust metadata for searching, curating, categorization and project management. Sandia also uses the AEM Assets Desktop App, which makes the assets in AEM available on the local desktop for use in native desktop applications.

“It’s basically helped us build a bridge [and] close the gaps of communication with our communications team by providing resources, tools, capabilities for our entire group and our customers within Sandia,” Pope said of AEM.

“We’re also able to provide pockets of teams the capabilities to manage their own assets and keep those locked down to just their communications teams and their customers so they can file-share, share assets easily, research and find those things. It’s brought an enterprise tool to our communications because, like I said, those reply-all emails, they’re not communications. They’re more of an annoyance.”

Pope and the Sandia team were able to configure and customize AEM Assets to fit into the team’s system and government policies, procedures, security and applications. “We were able to sit down, look at the code, look at the documentation, figure out how do we apply X and Y to make Z,” Pope said.

Once installed, AEM Assets allowed the team to determine how to develop a taxonomy and set a plan for managing files, permissions and controls so that users could have control over their specific areas, while there’s also enforcing enterprise-level controls. Security has improved as a result, Pope said, “because without a login, employees can’t access the system.”

Additionally, AEM helps digitize tribal knowledge around particular assets and project as personnel comes and goes. AEM allows users to see the comments, workflows, versions, source files and changes that have resulted in its current state.

“Our file sharing and our collaboration, where we can store all of our quick guides, our how-to’s, even templates, some of the old photographs…, the archiving, all that has been able to be bridged by using Adobe Experience Manager Assets,” Pope said. “It’s really helped us fill the gap because not just through attrition, but if somebody like Karen wakes up one day, hits the lottery, [and] decides she’s going to turn off her cellphone, never speak to anyone again, we have a way to go in and find her files.”

Today, Pope’s team is better able to focus on the task at hand because they experience far fewer interruptions from clients seeking help with finding assets. What’s more, they don’t have to waste time on duplicative work.

“Change is the No. 1 concept in life. You have to adapt,” Pope said.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Improving Digital Experience in the National Security Community.” Download the full report here.

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