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Government accreditation of NEC's UNIVERGE 3C platform opens many doors

Kurt Jacobs

Director for Global Market Management, NEC Enterprise Communication Technologies:Kurt Jacobs

In 2014, NEC's UNIVERGE 3C software-based unified communications and collaboration solution was accredited by an organization that arguably demands the most stringent and rigorous standards in the world: the United States Department of Defense (DoD). Kurt Jacobs fostered a successful government-industry partnership for unified communications advancement that is providing global public sector organizations with a high-performing, cost-effective and secure communication platform for today and the future. Leading a diverse development and engineering team, he extended the capabilities of NEC's Smart Enterprise framework (*) into new markets that have challenging global requirements and expectations.

(*Smart Enterprise framework is a modular set of NEC technologies which enables IT organizations to create a strong IT platform by integrating IT and communications.)

Unified communication and collaboration: the new gold standard for software communications?

Photo: Kurt Jacobs

--What exactly is UNIVERGE 3C?

UNIVERGE 3C is a new type of unified communications and collaboration product that provides everything from voice, video, text, collaboration, instant messaging and mobility on an all-in-one communications platform running on enterprise IT infrastructure. The platform is user centric because it offers a seamless unified communications experience across any device, including desktop, tablet or mobile, without the need for complex integration. It is IT centric because it can be deployed using standard IT infrastructure as a software service with industry standard protocols and technology. These attributes make it especially valuable to government customers because they can simply extend their existing data infrastructure to enable unified communications with UNIVERGE 3C rather than install separate systems. This architecture is unique in the industry in providing a range of secure, mission critical communication means and methods for diverse and distributed organizations such as government, defense and public sector markets. Additionally, the services are an integral part of NEC's Smart Enterprise solutions available to any customer today.

--NEC's unified communications platform earned accreditation from arguably one of the most demanding institutions in the world – the United States Department of Defense. How significant is that?

It is hugely significant because of the sheer volume, scope and depth of the requirements the US Defense Department established for a globally deployed, all-encompassing unified communication platform. The US government has an audacious objective to convert a three-million line legacy voice-only system to a standards-based, end-to-end IP unified communication system for voice, video, messaging and mobility within a decade. Given the nature of its mission, the requirements include everything from security, IPv6, interoperability, performance, scalability, and a capability to support future unified communication, collaboration, devices and technologies require.

Our team engaged and worked with the government stakeholders over many months to both meet the current requirements but also to build out a roadmap for what has become a "unified capabilities" vision of a flexible and scalable platform for the future. The project had a much longer-term view than what we typically see in the general enterprise market. Fortunately, NEC is one of the few companies in the world that allows a team like ours to invest in the long game, not just with a customer but an entire market segment. NEC has become a trusted industry partner helping to fulfill the DoD's vision of unified capabilities at and above their high standards. NEC knows that if we meet the military's standards and goals, we also meet the majority of requirements for other public sector and government organizations across the globe.

US DoD certified communication solutions to benefit organizations worldwide

Photo: Kurt Jacobs

--Why was NEC's unified communications platform specifically selected for US DoD accreditation?

In order to be selected, a military customer has to recognize your unique value and capabilities and then nominate you as a sponsor. NEC's distributed architecture, commitment to standards-based technology and willingness to work with not only the US DoD but also other accredited technology partners were key reasons for our selection. NEC was the first to be accredited with an end-to-end standard SIP solution that also meets all the IPv6, security and assured services requirements. Other solutions were and are dependent on propriety products and protocols. NEC's UNIVERGE 3C session controller supports commercial off-the-shelf third-party gateways, end instruments, devices and applications. This future proofs the organization's communication platform while lowering costs and providing choice. By using open standards, we connect different solutions, vendors and value to create an ecosystem of products and solutions that is more flexible and powerful.

NEC took a race car approach to this program, focusing much time and energy on both development and working with the test labs. We cooperatively fine tune tuned the under-the-hood mechanics powering the latest unified communication features and functions. Security, device management, fault tolerance, interoperability and performance are not the things an everyday user or administrator sees, but they would feel the an impact if they weren't done right. NEC maintains a consistent presence in the US DoD test facilities to make sure the system stays current and adaptive to the changing "cyber track" conditions. It's our teams' tireless efforts in the labs and with the customer that pay big dividends because government organizations need platforms that offer secure, cost-effective, interoperable platforms with a very long tenure.

--What are the key advantages for public sector, government and defense customers?

From police and fire departments to military operations and defense, all public sector customers are mission critical and demand high availability. Our unique active-active redundancy architecture for communication session control provides system continuity in the case of network outages or disaster. Whether deployed as premise, cloud or hybrid, the system adapts to maintain robust communication availability for users. Since the platform is software-based, it has the native ability to be virtually infinitely scalable and divisible. Public-sector installations are distributed and located over the span of cities, counties, states, or nations. For military and defense clients, installations can span the globe from satellite communications to mobile units on vehicles, ships and aircraft.

Furthermore, public sector organizations are complex institutions encompassing both fixed and mobile call centers, operation centers and knowledge workers. The unified communications and collaboration solutions have to be flexible and capable of supporting a broad range of existing and future applications. The UNIVERGE 3C communication services, NEC's Smart Enterprise framework and our ecosystem of accredited solution partners are easily deployed in whole or part to meet those diverse internal requirements and needs. In many cases, the capability is already available in the software application suite or is incrementally licensed. Such cost-effective, use-as-you-need services are ideal for clients who have to demonstrate appropriate spending and responsible stewardship to tax payers and constituents.

Forging a successful government-industry partnership

--How difficult was it to steer a successful government-industry partnership with the DoD?

You certainly have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work. Building the technology and aligning on a common vision took a couple of years of engagement because the technology and industry is always a moving target. As with any lasting partnership, both sides have to invest time and energy to forge a relationship based on mutual understanding and objectives. The strong partnership allowed us to reconcile the intersection of future vision, technology realities and resource constraints to plot an optimal path forward. It made sense on both sides to make the commitment to a cooperative research and development arrangement because we were in uncharted territory. The partnership was important because all sides knew we were in it for the long haul, and it enabled us to focus our energy on the objective, not the relationship.

NEC's ability to offer a standard-protocol, software-based, IT infrastructure-compatible unified communication platform greatly facilitated the partnership because this was exactly what the US DoD was looking for to fulfill their vision for end-to-end unified capabilities. NEC's demonstrated capability to natively support mobility then led us to the cooperative research arrangement accelerating the requirements definition for those capabilities. NEC benefited from the cooperative development arrangement which earned us a spot on the global information grid test network, deployment on the joint interoperability test system, and upfront access to each other's architects and engineers. Both sides continue to learn a great deal about the challenges facing us, from the reality of today's end user to the vision of a future end result.

Photo: Kurt Jacobs

--How tough was the DoD's rigorous testing process?

NEC is known for our quality and ability to develop and deploy complex communications systems, so we had the fundamental talent and capacity available going into the testing process. What is different with this accreditation and certification process is that they test every dimension of the product in one of the most advanced and complex configurations. Each dimension is tested for interoperability and performance on a global test network and includes every other US DoD-approved system and application. Over three thousand pages of requirements, thousands of test cases and scenarios, tens of thousands of items in checklists, audits and assessments, not to mention numerous undisclosed automated tools for security scans and attacks, were used to validate the system operations, IPv6 and cyber security. It takes months to go through the testing with full-time on-site support and a responsive development team working through any issues. Often we are working with our ecosystem partners, and even competitors, when an interoperability issue is found to make sure we resolve any problems before the next customer release. While rigorous, the testing we have done through this process has furthered NEC's shared vision with the US DoD for an end-to-end and standards-based IP unified communication system. Knowing that the systems we are developing offer broad interoperability and high reliability, and meet the highest levels of security and cyber defense is important for all of our customers and markets.

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