FORT BELVOIR, Va., May 19, 2020 —
When the COVID-19 pandemic made mass telework a necessity for many government agencies, the Defense Logistics Agency was prepared. Over 26,000 civilian employees, contractors and service members began working from home March 17, more than doubling the agency’s routine number of teleworkers.
Years of work by DLA Information Operations employees building telework resources, modernizing information technology infrastructure and encouraging a telework-friendly culture enabled DLA to quickly implement mass telework, said Eric Fegley, head of DLA Information Operations’ Customer Experience Directorate.
“Over the last decade, DLA has invested considerable time, effort and resources to enable a mobile DLA workforce,” he said. “We’ve put iPhones in the hands of a large percentage of DLA employees, and we have been leaders in the DOD in building out a virtual desktop environment that allows DLA employees to securely connect to the DLA network and perform their duties from anywhere.”
DLA laid the groundwork for telework in 2010 with Citrix and Juniper network connections for remote workers. DLA’s IT specialists have since built upon those foundations to ensure the network could securely support large-scale telework.
Budget management reform in 2013 also expanded funding for new technologies and led to agencywide IT advancements, Fegley added. Blackberries were traded in for iPhones and DLA apps like the DLA Dashboard were created.
The Virtual Desktop Initiative was a key factor in the push toward mobility, he continued. Testing began in 2015 and by 2017, VDI was rolled out to the enterprise. VDI improved DLA’s cybersecurity posture by not directly connecting to the network and allowed employees to work from any location. In 2018, VDI was upgraded to improve performance, reliability and user experience, Fegley said, and additional improvements were made last year.
“In the past, it was a constant challenge to maintain security patches and updates on tens of thousands of end-point devices. The move to a virtual desktop environment has been the key in allowing DLA to simultaneously improve cybersecurity and workforce flexibility,” he said. “Now we only need to worry about patching a few servers rather than tens of thousands of devices.”
DLA Information Operations also purchased communication and collaboration tools like Skype to make telework more effective. Jabber Softphone allows users to forward calls from their desk phones to their computers when they’re at home or travelling. Video teleconferencing tools also allow employees to participate in meetings and events like global town halls and other live events from home or the office.
Efforts to change the DLA culture paralleled IT advancements, Fegley said. Recognizing the benefits of a telework-ready workforce, DLA leaders changed the telework policy in 2012 to encourage supervisors to approve employees’ telework requests. The same year, Kathy Cutler became the chief information officer and began working to further modernize the workforce. She introduced the mantra that work is an activity, not a location, and reinforced the value of telework while challenging IT employees to keep the agency current with the latest technology.
“DLA’s initial push into a virtual desktop environment was not easy,” Fegley said. “Our DLA CIO, Ms. Kathy Cutler, faced a lot of criticism about the impacts to the DLA user experience and overall productivity. Certainly, our first generation VDI devices and infrastructure were not perfect, but they were essential steps in our evolution. If not for the vision and resolution of past DLA leadership, we would not be enjoying the success we are today in this mass telework scenario.”
With more employees working from home, DLA Information Operations offered resources to help employees with IT issues, he continued. How-to articles and videos available in a searchable database empower employees to find self-help resources and answers to common IT questions. DLA Information Operations also introduced a virtual agent – VAL – to help employees find answers and help with IT issues.
“We made it a priority to have self-help resources available,” he added. “Employees can often solve simple issues faster using these resources than if they would call the Enterprise Service Desk for help. They save time and are more prepared for issues that arise in the future.”
Continuing technology investments are essential, said DLA Chief Information Officer George Duchak.
“In the past, we were able to innovate and expand our capabilities because we had a budget that allowed us to prepare for the future,” he said, adding that recent budget cuts force leaders to choose between priorities and could have a dramatic, long-term effect on DLA’s ability to remain technologically advanced.
However, DLA Information Operations will “prioritize and modernize to the best of our ability,” he said.