Security is top concern for government telecom managers

According to a recent survey, funding and security are top concerns for government agencies when it comes to unified communications systems that integrate voice, video and data over Internet Protocol.

Twenty-eight per cent of U.S. telecom decision-makers surveyed in April said funding was their greatest challenge to achieving their communications goals. Another 20 per cent said security was the top concern, and 17 per cent said educating co-workers about the benefits was the biggest challenge.

“We’re talking to the boots-on-the-ground program managers, IT directors who are really charged and tasked with getting some of this stuff done,” said Aaron Heffron, vice president of Market Connections Inc., which conducted the survey for Cisco Systems Inc. “They said, ‘There’s a lot of…concern over security in my agency’.”

A unified communications system could include services such as VOIP (voice over IP), instant messaging, remote access to agency files and mobile data or voice devices, all managed together.

There are heavy demands for unified communications in federal agencies, especially in the military, said Brent Byrnes, federal unified communications manager for Cisco. The U.S. military has “increasing needs to rapidly stand up services” in combat zones, he said.

Asked of the benefits of a unified communications approach, 93 per cent of respondents said better security would be a result of integrating IT and telecom systems. Ninety-three per cent also believed system reliability would improve, and 91 per cent said productivity and collaboration would improve.

There seems to be a difference of opinion about a unified approach’s effect on security between top-level managers in agencies and the IT and telecom managers, Heffron said.

“Those individuals know that bringing these two systems together can improve their security and reliability,” he said. “However, they’re swimming upstream in some cases, with other agency management.”

Another 88 per cent said a unified communications system would allow agencies to improve their plans to continue to operate during a disaster, a major focus of the U.S. government since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

But only 44 per cent of respondents said their agencies have the ability to notify employees in real time. Twenty-eight percent said their agencies have no plans to use real-time notification.

Four in five respondents said their agencies already use audio conferencing and mobile devices. Three-quarters said their agencies allow remote or mobile access to agency files, and 71 per cent have wireless networking access. Only 50 per cent said their agencies use instant messaging, and 26 per cent said they have no plans to use it.

The survey also found that 35 per cent of respondents said they had projects delayed or deadlines missed at least sometimes because of communication difficulties. Only 11 per cent said they never have experienced delays.

But only 38 per cent of respondents said they are rolling out or have rolled out a unified communications system. Another 13 per cent said they have either conducted pilot tests or identified a vendor, while 23 per cent are investigating it, and 21 per cent have done nothing more than talked about unified communications.

Finally, 84 per cent of respondents said communications devices have been a “blessing” in daily life. Eleven per cent said such devices are a “curse.”

The survey solicited comments from 201 U.S. government telecom decision-makers.

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