NATO Communications and Information Agency

Results and benefits

  • Extended training reach
  • Empowered employees
  • Time and cost savings

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RealPresence Media Suite helps bring NATO training into 21st century

When your organization’s purpose is to defend the security of 28 nations in North America and Europe via political and military means, the technology used to support critical communications is no small detail. Gus Mommers, Branch Head of Conference Management Services at NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI), knows that effectively keeping the peace largely depends on a secure, reliable collaboration system.

Mommers, whose background includes 19 years in the Army, followed by work in telecom, cryptography, signals intelligence, and cybersecurity engineering, is responsible for managing video conference technology deployment across NATO NCI, as well at the NATO training school. From his office at SHAPE headquarters in Mons, Belgium, he works alongside Catherine Galoppin who manages all NCI Agency conference and meeting rooms and Harry Casp­ers who manages the internal Video Teleconference Services in five major NATO locations worldwide.

Catherine Galoppin ensures the logistics of each meeting are properly organized and well-equipped to facilitate member discussions to negotiate diplomatic missions, plan humanitarian interventions, or confidentially strategize on crisis inside; to big—150 people in the room with the full gamut of requirements. Harry Caspers ensures the readiness and functionality of multiple projectors, audio recording, and video teleconferencing (VTC) with members from remote locations joining.

Collectively, they have set a high bar for the technology that helps support the agency’s mission to defend NATO’s data cyber-networks and connect the Alliance—hence the slogan, “A Connecting Force.” Those technologies include Polycom Group Series 500, RealPresence Desktop, and RealPresence Media Suite.

Training NATO members: Media Suite expands reach at fraction of the cost

Years ago, Mommers was watching a BBC program when a particular story caught his attention. The program featured a little girl undergoing cancer treatment in a hospital. Suddenly, the camera cut to her school classroom, where her video image appeared on a screen from the hospital. The girl, despite her condition and location, was still able to participate in class.

Mommers became inspired to make that type of video teleconferencing available at the NATO training school. Some member nations don’t have the funding to attend NATO school trainings. Someone could potentially miss an opportunity to take a course because he or she becomes suddenly ill or injured in an accident. Video teleconferencing makes learning possible even under these circumstances.

RealPresence Media Suite, an enterprise recording, webcasting and portal solution that enables users to create and deliver high-quality videos, was introduced to the school as a pilot to make that possible.

The NCISS (NATO Communications and Information Systems School) in the city of Latina, Italy, provides personalized training to NATO members. NCISS-Latina courses range from C2 (Command and Control) systems training, to Crypto-Custodian courses, to cultural and political courses.

In 2018, the school will be rebranded into the NCIA Academy and relocated from Latina to Oeiras, Portugal. Until recently, every training session was filmed by a camera person standing in the back of the classroom that consisted of chairs, tables, chalkboard, chalk, “And a big stick to point to things on the chalkboard,” Mommers added, amused.

“We wanted to go more modern and prevent the students from having to travel all the way from all 28 nations just to take a course and return. This saves time and money on travel,” Caspers says.

Media Suite allows students to watch classes independent of location and time zone. For instance, trainees in the U.S. can watch a recorded version of a class that was held on a six-hour time difference and send in their questions by email for the instructor to answer in the following day’s class.

Harry Caspers says, “A lot of the non-hands-on training and non-security related training courses are repetitive and being given two or three times a week. Now, the idea is to film it just once. For the following sessions, we use Polycom VTC.”

Working through the growing pains

As with any organization undergoing technology changes, NATO NCI is working through initial growing pains. Media Suite, though introduced in March 2016 at the school, is still in the beginning phases of adoption. Some instructors quickly mastered the technique and are comfortable with attendees joining the class live from other countries. Other instructors have yet to fully embrace a video-enabled classroom in which some of their students dial into the virtual meeting room and ask questions via a screen. Mommers is running awareness campaigns that include posting instructional videos from Polycom to get everyone comfortably on board.

Future of the NICSS

In the future, when the school is in Oeiras, class attendees will be given the choice to enroll in the physical school or take the course via VTC. “In some cases, they won’t even have to enroll—just follow the course on Media Suite,” Caspers says.

Mommers, Galoppin and Caspers envision a future in which every classroom and conference room has a Polycom VTC system. Teachers will link with other locations to demonstrate real live scenarios of what they previously had to explain in words. When using Media Suite in a training course about Afghanistan, the teacher can point the camera to where the action is—in Afghanistan. The chalkboard classroom is going to change, Mommers says, “It’s going to be intuitive, interactive, and 21st century.”

Changing climate at NATO NCI Agency

As plans for the pilot at the NATO school take shape, NATO NCI has been using various Polycom technologies for internal collaboration. The mobile client, RealPresence Group Series, immersive telepresence rooms, and most recently, RealPresence Centro, are staples of the agency’s workspace. The team plans to integrate the recording, streaming, and capability of Media Suite into the existing platform to maximize the tool’s capability.

In the last half year, there’s been tremendous growth in the use of RealPresence Desktop. Simply dialing “99” to create a virtual meeting room in the Polycom RMX Collaboration Series has been attractive for employees, as more go peer-to-peer and quickly create ad-hoc meetings without leaving their desk. “Employees really enjoy seeing and hearing each other and sharing content so easily,” Caspers says.

In parallel, NATO has an in-house Creative Media Center that hosts an internal YouTube-type channel. It’s likely that Media Suite will eventually replace it, as Media Suite allows the sharing of both private and public channels, in which the user can share videos with certain colleagues, specific workgroups, or the whole company.

NCI Agency can do all productions in-house, then push them out to a media server within the agency on the network. With the right credentials, everyone has unlimited access to post. “With Media Suite, the world is your oyster,” Mommers smiles. “It’s a new way of working.”

Empowering employees with self-service workflows

Mommers is initiating cultural change in the agency by encouraging employees to take more control via self-service capabilities of Media Suite. In the current climate at the agency, funding is decreasing while workload is increasing. At one point the staff of two was fielding 2,100 support calls a month from employees while managing their own busy travel schedules.

“You can’t sustain that. That’s why you have to automate,” Mommers says, “You can’t manage if you don’t have the oversight.” “I can only juggle so many balls, and there’s one ball I can never drop—the management ball.” Mommers gives the example of a Harrier jet pilot who crashed in Oxfordshire in 2006. The pilot was tending to a technical malfunction rather than focusing on flying and landing the aircraft. He likens it to attending individually to each of those 2,100 calls. Effective oversight frees up Mommers to oversee his employees and firefight where he is needed most. Oversight goes hand-in-hand with employee empowerment and enable them to connect independently—an effort that’s been successful, as most employees generally don’t mind dialing a six-digit number to instantly build their own meeting.

Self-service is catching on rapidly. Upon RealPresence Desktop’s initial introduction, Caspers was manually installing it on each person’s system. In December, they stopped distributing the instruction sheet and instead Caspers shared content and showed users how to do it from his desktop by demonstrating step-by-step on camera. The number of self-installations has reached 1,000.

A recurring meeting that used to take place in the same conference room is now empty and can be used by others thanks to the Polycom software client on their laptop, Galoppin reports

Workplace of the Future

Mommers echoes the sentiments of modern, tech-enabled workplace leaders who champion the practice of remote working. “I don’t need an office. I don’t have a glory wall with all sorts of certificates. I hate to use a lot of paper. As long as there’s a corner where I can plug my laptop in, that’s all I want,” he asserts. As for his employees, he takes a firm stance against micromanaging: “I don’t mind how they plan their day as long as they complete their projects.”

Much like the future of the NATO school, NATO NCI’s workplace of the future is quickly taking shape to be intuitive, interactive, and 21st century.