4-page Case Study
Posted: 11/14/2011
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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Federal Government Employees Embrace Collaboration Solution to Drive Efficiencies

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees face the challenge of collaborating among globally dispersed offices to deliver immigration and naturalization services to applicants and to enact immigration policies. USCIS provided its employees with a global collaboration framework to help them address these challenges. The Enterprise Collaboration Network was built on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. It was readily adopted by staff across the organization because the governance process encouraged high levels of user involvement. Empowered by the easy-to-use collaboration solution and the technology’s familiar user interface based on Microsoft Office, employees are devising their own solutions to business problems and collaborating better to provide more efficient services for the public.

Situation
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the administration of immigration services by providing accurate and useful information to its customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of the U.S. immigration system. Its employees work in 250 offices around the world. They develop immigration policies and programs, assess requests for asylum, provide useful information to members of the public, and support immigrants’ integration into U.S. civic culture.

USCIS is a relatively new government agency, created only eight years ago when the Immigration and Naturalization Service was abolished and its functions split into three entities. USCIS is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We are a young agency, and so the mature processes and the technological advancements that other agencies rely on were simply not in place,” says Melvin Brown II, former Chief of Staff, Office of Information Technology at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We need technology that staff, such as the 10 Policy Review Working Groups (PRWGs) could use to better consolidate, search, and share information.”

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* For mission impact, it’s hard to beat the speed and depth of the adoption of our Enterprise Collaboration Network built on Microsoft technologies. We went from 30 to 19,000 users in less than a year. *

Melvin Brown II
former Chief of Staff, Office of Information Technology, USCIS

*
Also, communication challenges existed for USCIS field staff. For example, USCIS field offices conduct thousands of naturalization/citizenship ceremonies every year across the United States. The Field Operations Directorate (FOD) tracked these ceremonies in a National Ceremonies Schedule by using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet stored on a network shared drive. Field offices had difficulty reporting real-time data to the three FOD headquarters (HQ) in three different locations.

Similarly, the Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), which handles all of the agency’s interactions with Congress, has a team of 15 people in Department of Homeland Security headquarters that support more than 120 field liaison personnel across the United States. OLA answers constituent inquiries, conducts outreach briefings to Members of Congress, and manages the preparation of testimony for USCIS witnesses. However, OLA staff relied on email communication with attachments and had no centralized location to organize their resources, which reduced their productivity and negatively impacted teamwork.

Another collaboration roadblock occurred in the Office of Security and Integrity (OSI), the entity in charge of the safety and security of USCIS employees, information, and assets across its offices. Routine reports and requests for information were accomplished by sending an Excel spreadsheet as an email attachment. There was no central location where stakeholders could view real-time data related to the office’s operations functions.

”We needed to find a collaboration solution that our staff would adopt,” says Brown. “I have a policy: I don’t do technology deployment; I do technology adoption. Deployment deals with how fast I can get the technology up and running; adoption is how fast I can get people to use the technology every day so that it has business value. If a piece of technology is not user-friendly, familiar, and adaptable to how people work, it won’t be adopted, and you won’t get a return on your investment from it. We needed to find a collaboration solution that fit my criteria for user adoption.”


Solution

It turned out that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services already had such a solution—Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. And Brown had already completed an enterprisewide program to adopt the collaboration advantages offered through Office SharePoint Server 2007 at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), working with Applied Knowledge Group (AKG), a Microsoft Partner with Gold competencies. This successful project started with 2,000 employees and grew steadily to include 42,000 people. Today, the FAA is adding its air traffic controllers to the solution and migrating all air traffic control towers’ voice-data records to a burgeoning 4-terabyte data management solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 software that supports the Office SharePoint Server 2007 installation.

Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an integrated suite of server capabilities that USCIS can use to improve organizational effectiveness by facilitating global collaboration, enterprise search, and information sharing across departments and offices. It also supports intranet, extranet, and other web applications and interoperates with Microsoft Office programs. For example, with Office SharePoint Server 2007, USCIS can use the Microsoft Office InfoPath information gathering program to automate paper-based processes, which enables field officers to fill in online forms directly in the browser.

Brown worked with Andy Campbell, Senior Partner at the Applied Knowledge Group, on the FAA collaboration project. “During the FAA project, Andy and I created an adoption model for collaboration that’s based on four pillars: people, process, technology, and learning,” says Brown. “This experience proved to me that a Microsoft collaboration solution is flexible and familiar. People don’t have to change how they work or learn their way around a new program. With Office SharePoint technologies, field staff can expand the IT skills they already have working with Microsoft Office programs and tailor the technology to enhance business processes. It made sense to repeat the success we had with the FAA and Office SharePoint Server 2007 at USCIS.”

“I can’t think of collaboration software that pushes as far into the daily work processes of an organization as Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies,” adds Campbell. “So when Melvin asked me to help with this new project at USCIS, I was eager to apply our adoption-based approach to another government department.”

*
* We are a young agency, and so the mature processes and the technological advancements that other agencies rely on were simply not in place. *

Melvin Brown II
former Chief of Staff, Office of Information Technology, USCIS

*
The First Pilot Projects

In March 2010, USCIS and AKG began to deploy Office SharePoint Server 2007 and named the initiative the Enterprise Collaboration Network (ECN). First, they isolated specific business pains experienced by individual user groups. “We started with early adopters and asked them to join a strategic ECN planning team that represents the business owners,” says Brown. “Then we began a series of pilot projects that would showcase a fast solution with Office SharePoint Server 2007.”

USCIS and AKG were joined by a Microsoft senior technology consultant who built prototype solutions for the pilot projects. “AKG was very good at distilling the business challenges we faced. From there, we took the prototypes that Microsoft built and created solutions for the entire pilot projects concurrently, in less than a week,” says Brown.

The first pilot project addressed the challenges faced by the FOD. The ECN team took the National Ceremonies Schedule spreadsheet and put it into a SharePoint list. Each region’s ceremonies are published in a centralized National Ceremony Schedule hosted on its ECN SharePoint site, so field operations can better coordinate resources for naturalization ceremonies. “USCIS now posts announcements for the contributors, so there is open communication about HQ’s needs,” says Karen Karas, Field Operations Directorate at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “The views allow us to segment the data so that the three HQ offices and the four regions can easily sort the data. It is a complete solution.”

The second project was a solution for the OLA called the OLA Congressional Liaison Toolkit. This is an ECN site with a shared calendar of all OLA events, a response letter document library, contact directories, a library for standard OLA Microsoft PowerPoint templates, and an announcements section for real-time updates to the OLA community.

The third pilot project targeted the OSI. By using Excel Services in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, OSI now pulls the data it is tracking from various data sources, including ECN sites, and exposes it through a user-friendly dashboard that presents an overview of important OSI metrics. The data provides a consolidated view of reports and metrics that the Chief Security Officer and other managers use to gain a better view of real-time security needs and the security support that the OSI provides.

Brown hoped that things would go as they did at the FAA; that the rapid resolution of specific problems would validate the solution for the rest of the enterprise and encourage key stakeholders involved in the pilot projects to evangelize a Microsoft collaboration solution throughout USCIS. That is exactly what happened. The pilot projects were completed quickly, illustrating the power of Office SharePoint Server in action and jump-starting the adoption process. “This fast turnaround time and on-target solution delivery got everyone’s attention,” Brown says.

A Different Training Model
USCIS and AKG devised a different approach to both training and deployment. USCIS uses a combination of web-based seminars and classroom training and offers two levels of courses. “Anyone can teach employees how to use Office SharePoint Server; I want to train our employees how to use it to solve their business problems,” Brown says.

Soon people were lining up asking to get involved, all through word of mouth. “Our Microsoft technology consultant built the solutions, and we ensured the business users were trained to use the technology to meet their needs,” says Brown.

To handle the demand for ECN training, the ECN team created a solution based on Office SharePoint Server to manage all USCIS training classes. By using a customizable training registration site from Microsoft, the solution includes simple directions for online course registration and automates the workflow for confirmations, alerts, and reminders. It also includes a custom list with a calendar view to post classes and a document library for course materials and webinar training.

*
* I can’t think of collaboration software that pushes as far into the daily work processes of an organization as Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies does. *

Andy Campbell
Senior Partner, Applied Knowledge Group

*
A Framework for Policy Management

ECN was also introduced as a comprehensive environment to support the work of the PRWG. Once PRWG members were trained, team leads began to build the ECN environments they needed to support their processes. PRWG members use ECN to share and work on memos and to house resource libraries for policy documents selected for revision and collaborative drafting. Tasks are assigned and tracked in the system. The PRWG also developed a way to increase the number of people who could identify, categorize, and tag policy documents for review. A “tagging session” was held with more than 20 volunteers, and more than 1,000 documents were tagged and categorized. “There is no way we could accomplish any of this without ECN,” says Mark Phillips, Office of Policy and Strategy, PRWG. “We would have sent duplicates and had massive email dumps and one gigantic Excel spreadsheet.”

To keep up with the latest Microsoft collaboration technologies, in 2011, USCIS will be upgrading to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

Benefits
After years of trying to integrate an enterprisewide collaboration solution into field staffs’ everyday work lives, USCIS found success with Office SharePoint Server 2007. It provided the underpinning to support an innovative deployment methodology that had been honed in the FAA. Today, USCIS has achieved a paradigm shift in how employees work across globally dispersed offices, one that has increased productivity and encouraged innovation through employee empowerment.

“For mission impact, it’s hard to beat the speed and depth of the adoption of our Enterprise Collaboration Network built on Microsoft technologies,” says Brown. “We went from 30 to 19,000 users in less than a year.”

Rapid Adoption Speeds Time to Benefit
Government work environments can be hierarchical, bureaucratic, and slow to change, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies. But with a radically different approach to introducing new IT, USCIS has evolved a way to circumnavigate traditional pitfalls of failed deployments.

“The key is user ownership,” explains Brown. “You have to pick technology that people feel they can own, that they can take hold of and run with, instead of turning to the IT department to get things done. And if you train people in such a way that they use the technology to make change, that’s how you get real business value. I’m convinced Office SharePoint played a huge role with the flexibility and seamlessness of the adoption of our Enterprise Collaboration Network.”

USCIS began with two goals: to put in place an enterprisewide collaborative environment and to support employees as they adopt the new technology through training that focused on solving real-world issues. The measure of success is user adoption: the more people who use the technology to meet their needs, the more impact it has on helping USCIS enact its mission. Given this criteria, the Enterprise Collaboration Network has been an unmitigated success. At the end of the first year, more than 19,000 employees were using the ECN. The 19,000 users include anyone who accesses the ECN or has been granted explicit access to content in the ECN, such as government employees; USCIS contract employees; and employees of other components who access the ECN to collaborate with USCIS users. By July 2011, more than 95 percent of the organizational departments in USCIS are using the ECN to meet their business needs, with significant buy-in at both headquarters and in field offices. Search queries on the system have gone from an average of 10 per month at the beginning of the project to an average of 3,200 per month. The number of unique users per day has increased by 45 percent, with more than 7,300 users over any given 30-day period. More than 140 power users have taken the more advanced training; another 500 individuals have taken basic ECN training. Classes are still filling up as soon as they are offered.

Increased Productivity
With high adoption rates driving improved employee productivity, there are many instances where USCIS employees are working differently today than they did last year. The results of the four pilot projects are an example of the variety of productivity benefits enjoyed by departments around the organization. These include:

  • The ECN trainer reduced the time required for registration from 30 hours per week to five.

  • OLA staff now has a global collaboration site, so liaison officers see themselves as a collective group working together instead of individually.

  • OSI staff members can quickly access metrics in a centralized location to gain a better view of real-time USCIS security position and address security needs earlier.

  • The PRWG groups have reduced the review process for policy documents from several weeks to one or two days. With ECN, they have a one-stop-shop for policy information.

“I would approximate that each regional lead took five to seven hours per week to enter data—adding, deleting, or modifying ceremonies—and now the 90-plus field office individuals probably spend about 20 minutes a week to complete the same work. A real timesaver!” says Karas.

*
* I’m convinced Office SharePoint played a huge role with the flexibility and seamlessness of the adoption of our Enterprise Collaboration Network. *

Melvin Brown II
former Chief of Staff, Office of Information Technology, USCIS

*
“ECN enforces a discipline on people, which is good,” adds Phillips. “We can document steps and not lose documents in shared drives. This definitely boosts productivity. What was taking us hours to do, we figured out in five minutes.”

One reason why USCIS staff are so effective when working with Office SharePoint technologies is the integration these technologies have with Microsoft Office programs. For example, task management is hugely simplified. “Being able to create a task in Microsoft Office Outlook and then publish it to a SharePoint list—which in turn notifies other people in their Outlook inbox that they’ve got a task—is invaluable,” says Brown. “To have a shared calendar that is linked to my Office Outlook calendar so that I can see all the members of my team and where they are, saves me so much time in organizing my team. It’s a small thing, but I use it many times a day.”

Inspired Employee Innovation to Deliver Business Value
Another success factor in the rapid adoption of the solution is that almost all of the organization components that are participating in the ECN have taken an active role in designing and implementing a solution based on Office SharePoint Server 2007. Personnel are using Office SharePoint to launch intranet sites to manage projects or promote departmental collaboration; publish new web content; automate manual work processes; deploy shared calendars; and build shared document libraries. These are just a few examples of how USCIS staff members are taking advantage of the inherent flexibility in a Microsoft collaboration solution to solve business issues that involve people working together.

“ECN is a key component of our strategy for increasing our responsiveness to the business’s needs,” says Mark Schwartz, Chief Information Officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“Where Office SharePoint Server 2007 shines is where you empower people to configure and control their own SharePoint environments,” adds Campbell. “At USCIS, the more they pushed support for the Enterprise Collaboration Network to the operating units, the more impact it had.”

When Dan Kight, Congressional Outreach Specialist at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office of Legislative Affairs, talks about the OLA Congressional Liaison Toolkit, he is impressed by how the site has empowered staff: “It’s become a central point that our liaisons can go to that they didn’t have before … in some ways, I really think it’s helped them to see themselves as more of a collective congressional program. That’s one of the goals we have in the Outreach Branch and one of the things that ECN has allowed us to build on.”

USCIS established four full-time equivalents to support adoption of the ECN in the field and to help employees as they came forward with business issues and ideas to solve them.

“We are encouraging individuals who think beyond the scope of their current projects to other ways they can use the ECN to improve operations,” says Brown. “As a result, we are seeing a rapid growth in the number of ECN sites addressing specific business issues, and we get one or two calls a week from new departments within USCIS asking to join the network. It’s gratifying to hear personnel ask questions like ‘What else can we do with ECN?’ Microsoft technologies, together with our adoption strategies, are key underpinnings to progressive thinking about how to collaborate across the USCIS.”

Microsoft Government
Microsoft applications, solutions, and services help to empower public servants and government employees to share critical information and serve their constituents more efficiently.

For more information about Microsoft Government, please go to:
www.microsoft.com/industry/government
www.microsoft.com/industry/government/federal
www.microsoft.com/industry/government/state

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Applied Knowledge Group products and services, call (703) 860-1145 or visit the website at:
www.akgroup.com

For more information about United States Citizenship and Immigration Services products and services, call (800) 375-5283 or visit the website at:
www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 18000 employees

Organization Profile

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees lawful immigration to the United States. Its more than 18,000 employees and contractors work in 250 offices around the world.


Business Situation

USCIS needed robust collaboration technologies to manage complex immigration policies and documents in the agency’s efforts to improve service to the public.


Solution

USCIS deployed a collaboration solution built on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. In less than a year, 80 percent of organizational components in USCIS are using the system.


Benefits

  • Rapid adoption speeds time to benefit
  • Increased productivity
  • Inspired employee innovation


Hardware


Third Party Software


Software and Services
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007

Vertical Industries
  • Government
  • Public Safety & Justice

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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