USAF improves mission information availability by 4x with Mattermost
"Using Mattermost offers a huge benefit in mission velocity and safety. We found that also gave us a lot more time to fix cargo and fuel problems before the crew even shows up at the airplane."Major Justin Poole Phoenix Spark Innovation Cell Director at Travis Air Force Base
Platform One is the centralized team providing DevSecOps/Software Factory Managed Services with baked-in security to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) programs. The program is aimed at rapid software development, delivery, and deployment for defense missions, with a strong emphasis on using open source software wherever possible. Leveraging open source allows Platform One to inspect source code, evaluate security risks, and adapt solutions to meet the DoD’s strict compliance requirements.
From feature tickets to flight plans, information sharing is an essential part of daily operations across the U.S. Department of Defense. But with a highly distributed team and heavy compliance and security demands, sharing communication and documents can become a significant challenge. After using the free Community version of Mattermost for a year and receiving positive feedback from users, Platform One upgraded to Mattermost Enterprise to help support a large-scale modernization of communication and collaboration across the Department.
Enabling secure, reliable cross-organizational communication
While the Platform One team initially used the tool internally to chat and track development tasks, Mattermost’s high availability and scalability were essential. Scalability became critical during the COVID pandemic, during which the DoD had to move to a fully remote workforce almost overnight. “Our goal is to promote collaboration across organizations within the Department of Defense,” says Mitchell Moushon, Product Manager for KBR. “We chose Mattermost for its ability to scale.”
Moushon also says that introducing the DoD to Mattermost on Platform One helped centralize communication on secure channels. Platform One deployed Mattermost on-premise, giving them complete data sovereignty while ensuring that no third parties could access DoD data. “Before there was an official, approved chat channel, people were sharing information on Slack, Signal, and WhatsApp. While those are all encrypted, we wouldn’t have been able to track them if there was a security leak. Now that we have an official DoD-approved chat application, we have seen a mass migration to Mattermost.”
Organizations across the DoD now trust Mattermost on Platform One to share information, ask questions, and collaborate. “I’ve had conversations that include people from the Navy, Space Force, and Air Force—all talking in the same channel,” says Moushon. “We’re all working on the same problems, and Mattermost is great for getting people to collaborate across different organizations.”
Open source extensibility to scale repetitive workflows
Mattermost’s plugin infrastructure has also been essential for the Platform One team, as they wanted the ability to integrate Mattermost with other tools in the team’s workflow. Many groups within the DoD use plugins like Jira and Matterpoll as part of their day-to-day communication. Additionally, the Platform One team has built custom integrations and plugins to meet the needs of different users within the DoD.
One custom plugin is designed to help onboard large groups of people to Mattermost at once. “If you’re onboarding 2,000 people because your unit just merged, it’s a hefty workload both for the people who want to get on the team and the team admin,” says Paul Qualls, a software engineer for Platform One. “This slash command allows users to request access to private team channels that are visible but private. This plugin lets the team admin approve access quickly, and we’ve gotten great reviews from that.”
Remote access for Air Mobility Command field operations
The Air Mobility Command (AMC) is among the most active users of Mattermost at the Department of Defense. Before deploying Mattermost on Platform One, flight teams for AMC didn’t have a way to access critical documents on mobile devices. Pilots and crews could only access these documents from computers at designated offices, which was sometimes impossible when they were in the field during an operation. With the introduction of Mattermost, flight crews can securely access documents from mobile devices anywhere in the world.
“Often [flight crews] are disconnected from command and control. They operate in a grey area where timely information is critical but difficult to obtain,” says Major John Cockburn. “AMC, by its very nature, is a command filled with remote teams. Those teams need secure, global command and control across a resilient and distributed network that is not behind a common access guard wall.”
Mattermost has also helped streamline pre-flight preparations for the AMC. Flight and mission paperwork must pass through four or five different offices for approval before every flight, which can be a slow and time-consuming process. With Mattermost, the flight manager or command can share flight plans and mission packages directly to aircrew on their electronic flight bag approximately two hours before every flight, giving flight crews additional time before the mission to study and prepare. Previously, aircrews only received this information about 30 minutes before flights.
“For us, using Mattermost offers a huge benefit in mission velocity and safety. We found that also gave us a lot more time to fix cargo and fuel problems before the crew even shows up at the airplane,” says Major Justin Poole, Phoenix Spark Innovation Cell Director at Travis Air Force Base. By using Mattermost to increase the efficiency of pre-flight activities, AMC has reduced fuel consumption and saved money.
Next steps for the Department of Defense
Moving forward, organizations across the DoD plan to expand usage to increase collaboration across teams; Space Force plans to onboard all 20,000 employees to Mattermost on Platform One, for example.
The Platform One team is continuing to work on leveraging Mattermost’s app framework to develop new integrations and functionality to help scale the adoption of Mattermost across different organizations within the DoD.