By Calvin Clessas, Celia Lee, and Waqas Feroze
The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is responsible for acquiring, designing, constructing, and maintaining Department of State facilities abroad, with more than 16,000 properties in various life cycle stages across 290 locations. In July 2020, the OBO team working on the construction of Embassy New Delhi faced an impasse. Due to file size limitations on OBO’s existing HTML exchange platform, the onsite contractor, BL Harbert, could not share the required 3D models of the project’s construction detailing activities. The project team needed a secure file exchange platform that could accommodate large files.
During the same summer, a domestic OBO project team tasked with designing a new office annex in Rangoon struggled to find a technology stack to transition their lean construction big room into a virtual work environment. The team required a platform for real-time coordination and communication, but all available options were either not certified by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) or did not allow external collaboration with non-Department users.
Tasked with finding a solution for both project teams, an OBO team led by Planner Alyssa Lapan set out to research potential platforms. The Department’s Foreign Affairs Network (FAN) Google Workspace platform came up in the team’s search, but there were misconceptions about what FAN was and the technical capabilities it could provide. After reviewing the FAN page on the Department’s Diplopedia site, and an impactful first meeting with the FAN support team headed by FAN Product Manager Waqas Feroze, OBO had finally found the solution they had been looking for.
FAN provides a cloud-based, sensitive but unclassified (SBU)-capable software suite for secure communication, collaboration, and productivity. FAN is based in Google’s FedRAMPed “Workspace for Government” offering. The platform also holds an active Department Authority to Operate at the Federal Information Security Modernization Act moderate impact level, which provides FAN users the ability to process SBU and personally identifiable information data on the platform. FAN is also centrally-funded by the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) Cloud Program Management Office (CPMO).
FAN’s workspace applications provide a complete suite of communication and collaboration tools to enhance team productivity anywhere and on any device. Department teams worldwide are using Gmail for secure email; Meet for video and voice conferencing with up to 250 Department and non-Department participants; Jamboard for real-time “whiteboard-style” team brainstorming and project planning; and Docs, Sheets, and Slides for file collaboration.
OBO was ecstatic to learn that FAN was FedRAMP compliant, centrally-funded, and its capabilities exceeded the needs of both of their project teams in need of a solution. For file management, the New Delhi team could leverage Google Drive to support file uploads up to 5 terabytes—well exceeding the legacy system’s file upload limit of 500 megabytes. As for the Rangoon Office annex project team, FAN provided a complete digital workspace to enable real-time collaboration in a virtual environment.
Excited to onboard both project teams into FAN, a team coordinated by Calvin Clessas, a planner in OBO’s Master Planning Division, as well as representatives from the Information System Security Office, Security Management, Project Management, and Design Coordination offices, developed a pilot process to employ FAN in collaboration with the FAN team.
A month after the pilot began, OBO sent out an anonymous survey to each team to evaluate if the pilot was heading in the right direction. Using Google Forms, each team provided feedback which ultimately showed to be uniformly positive, echoing excitement about having access to a robust environment that could facilitate dialogue between OBO and external partners.
“Our experience with the FAN platform was primarily positive with the tools being a particularly key resource for SHoP Architects to collaborate with both OBO and their subcontractors,” said Embassy Rangoon Project Manager Kamilla Pollock. “Overall, a tremendous tool and an incredible resource for our projects thus far.”
Based on the results of the pilot, OBO was ready to roll out FAN across the bureau. To ensure CPMO could scale FAN to that magnitude, OBO Chief Information Officer Dan Stapula met with FAN Government Lead Kenneth LaVolpe to clarify the bureau’s needs. Once both teams understood what would be required for the bureau-wide deployment, the two teams got to work. CPMO set aside 3,000 licenses for OBO at no cost, and then outlined a plan for account provisioning, identity management, and user onboarding.
Rolling out FAN across OBO was an iterative process. Existing contract language had to be amended, security requirements clarified, and custom account provisions needed to be developed with the support of the CPMO team. Through close coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and other entities, the group was able to develop a framework that allayed contractual concerns while still enabling the deployment of the collaborative platform. By Spring 2021, the program and processes had been finalized.
“CPMO created a special routine synchronizing OBO internal users with OpenNet Active Directory accounts, which was critical to user adoption of the system,” said Stapula regarding CPMO’s role in helping to ensure user adoption.
OBO and IRM implemented a training program to support users as they transitioned to the platform, enhancing user adoption at the source. For example, OBO provided hands-on training for its industry partners as they transitioned to Google Meet from their previous web conferencing platform.
At present, there are more than 1,000 new OBO users working in FAN’s secure Google Workspace environment in support of OBO’s mission. Through the partnership with the CPMO FAN team, OBO has successfully replaced legacy systems with a modern technology toolset.
As OBO approaches one year of utilizing the FAN platform, the bureau is actively engaged in developing new initiatives to support the bureau as it returns to the office after the pandemic.
“We are also using FAN and CPMO to implement digital signage in SA-6 (state annex) as individuals return to the office,” said Stapula.
According to LaVolpe, CPMO is glad to have built a successful partnership with OBO throughout the bureau’s FAN onboarding experience.
“CPMO’s focus is to enable customer success,” he said. We offer secure, customer-tailored cloud platforms that meet the Department’s diverse mission needs. Our FAN Google Workspace platform provides OBO the ability to work seamlessly with internal and external stakeholder groups. We’re glad to support OBO’s security and usability requirements through FAN, at no additional cost to the bureau.”
Because of CPMO and the FAN teams’ nonstop support and innovative technology, OBO project teams have overcome the challenges of remote work and thrive in this new digital environment. To learn more about FAN, visit their website.
For more information on OBO, visit their website.
Calvin Clessas is a planner in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Master Planning Division. Waqas Feroze is the Foreign Affairs Network product manager within the Bureau of Information Resources Management’s Cloud Program Management Office (IRM/OPS/CPMO). Celia Lee is a project manager and communications specialist currently supporting IRM/OPS/CPMO.