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COMM TOOLS 101: A user’s guide to the latest, greatest

Email, websites, and Blackberries are all communication tools we’re used to. But there are a few new ones that the 162nd Communications Flight would like to introduce you to. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Email, websites, and Blackberries are all communication tools we’re used to. But there are a few new ones that the 162nd Communications Flight would like to introduce you to. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Are you (like me) a technology-challenged individual in this day and age of advanced technology? Well fear not, ye fellow technophobe! Let us unite, define those terms that scare us the most, and (insert gasp here) even click away until we become comfortable with some of the base's newest technologies.

First, repeat after me, "The 'comm guy' is my friend. He is here to help."

Whew - I feel better already. But really, there is no conspiracy in comm to intimidate or frighten us. As a matter of fact, the 162nd Fighter Wing Communications Flight here actually has tools available to make our jobs easier and faster with the benefit of additional options to better protect our data.

"We want to get the word out that these tools are available, and that there are options for learning how to use them," said Capt. Tricia Pacheco, communications flight commander here. Be not afraid - she's really one of the good guys.

The Air Force and Air National Guard are currently transitioning to three newly deployed collaboration tools; Office Communicator Server (OCS), Rights Management System (RMS), and SharePoint. Each of these tools brings a new weapon to the fight, and each is fairly simple to use.

Office Communicator Server

The big deal with OCS is that it displays presence and availability information, meaning it indicates to others when someone is logged on to their computer. It is a real-time communications server, indicating immediately to others when you either log on or off, or when you simply remove your Common Access Card.

It provides instant messaging (IM) (come on - everybody knows what "chat" means), file transfer (the ability to download a file from the Internet or send attachments via email), and desktop sharing so your coworkers can see what's happening on your screen - very helpful for group projects.

OCS offers peer-to-peer and multiparty voice and video calling. More importantly, it is what also allows users quick and easy access to information via the Global Address Listing in MS Outlook.

That was easy, right? It gets even easier when you practice. Go ahead. Take just a few minutes to IM one of your battle buddies (yes, I really used "IM" as a verb here). Can't figure out how to IM someone? Check back for my follow-up story on this function but, in the meantime, read on for some other cool tools.

Rights Management System

Rights Management System capabilities aren't as fun or as fancy as some of the OCS tools, but they can certainly keep you out of trouble. RMS allows for the protection of information using technology included with Microsoft (MS) Exchange, MS Office, and MS Active Directory, or, in simpler terms, your email.

These tools provide information protection by means of digital signatures and encryption or decryption.

"With RMS, it's important to know what to protect and what not to protect," said Master Sgt. Teresa Laguna, Knowledge Operations Functional Manager here. She's one of the good guys, too.

"Throwing a blanket encryption on all emails, for example, uses way too much server bandwidth. Users should only encrypt emails that contain privacy act and personal identifiable information so that it doesn't become a waste of our resources," she said.

Please tell me you ALWAYS encrypt when you email copies of your orders to the commander's office. No? Well, that's one way for the enemy to obtain OPSEC information AND some of your personal identifiable information.

Don't know how to encrypt emails? Oooh, I just sucked you in for another follow-on story! But don't stop reading - I've got a few more things to cover here.

SharePoint

SharePoint is our next topic. You'll notice two browser windows open when you launch Internet Explorer from your government computer here. One page opens to the site you're on now, the 162nd Fighter Wing official public website. The other, entitled "Comm Focal Point," is our local SharePoint site.

SharePoint makes it easier for people on base to work together. Using SharePoint, you can set up sites to share information with others, giving you the ability to manage documents with others from start to finish while in separate locations, and publish reports to help everyone make better decisions. A big advantage to using SharePoint is that it doesn't utilize storage on our local server (meaning it slows down other computers out there in computer land instead of here on base).

While SharePoint was only recently available base-wide, we were just upgraded to "global" status also known as the Airman's Collaboration Environment, or ACE. Although you won't be able to access other active duty Air Force SharePoint sites yet, access is granted to all National Guard Bureau sites, and vice versa.

I'll walk you through how to access global SharePoint sites in another story, but it's important to note now that this is the up-and-coming way to store and share documents so you had better get with the program and learn how to navigate the site.

Lucky you - to make your life even easier, the Communications Flight has created a resource with a plethora of SharePoint self-training tools.

From the SharePoint homepage, go to the "Resource" tab. Under "Lists," select "Links" then "Knowledge Operations Management Newsletter." There are embedded links within the "Notes" section to take users to a newsletter and an Air National Guard SharePoint site with an extensive pool of training materials.

"There are so many tools available. People just have to be willing to learn how to use them," said Laguna.

The communications flight here is looking into the possibility of onsite SharePoint training in the future. In the meantime, there are administrative group points of contact available to answer questions: Master Sgt. Holly Tek, MXG (295-6102), Tech. Sgt. Erica Seehaver, MXG (295-6449), Tech. Sgt. Robin Hinton, OG (295-6108), Tech. Sgt. Dana Watson, HQ (295-6877), Master Sgt. Tonya Blackwell (295-6100), and Master Sgt. Amy Brownell, MSG (295-6184). Sergeant Laguna is the wing point of contact for SharePoint. She can be reached at 295-6853.

Think about all of the comm tools we currently use and couldn't live without: email, our local network, the Portal. These new tools of our trade may just work similar wonders for our efficiency and the way we protect information. Happy clicking!