Environmental Protection Agency Chief information Officer Malcolm Jackson has embarked on a six-month, rapid-deployment plan to contract and implement a new email and collaboration platform to help improve work processes for EPA employees.

“We’re ripping the Band-aid off,” declared Jackson, acknowledging the initiative “is aggressive; it’s really aggressive.”

“We need collaboration tools like you would not believe,” said Jackson, speaking at a Government Technology Research Alliance (GTRA) forum Monday. “With the compression of budgets, we have to find a way to better enable our employees,” he said.

Jackson, an EPA assistant administrator, outlined the agency’s plans which involved tasking seven prime contractors to develop, negotiate and submit contract proposals for a new email system capable of providing a suite of collaboration tools, all within a 30-day window that began May 31.

Jackson said his office would take 30 more days to evaluate the plans and make an award. The selected IT providers will have four months to implement the new system. Jackson said the new system is scheduled to start up and “to go live by the end of this calendar year.”

Jackson said his urgency is based in part on the belief that “any kind of change that is slow is painful,” and that it has never been more essential to “make life easier for (EPA) employees.”

“We can do this,” he asserted, saying “we have the right set of skills, the right set of people,” and that other agencies have proven that email systems can be overhauled if done thoroughly and with proper transition and education support.

Jackson said the funding for the new system would come from capital account funding, and that each of the EPA’s various branches would be charged a fee for the new system.

“We’re at a pivotal point at EPA,” said Jackson, speaking more broadly about the IT demands at EPA. In particular, he said, the agency is looking at the how mobile technology can provide more productive tools for employees.

“We want to make (employees) feel good about being at work at EPA,” said Jackson. That raises the question of “how do you remove the technology barriers while continuing to protect our IT assets?” Mobile technology is clearly part of the answer, he said.

Jackson said the agency’s long standing reliance on BlackBerry’s as a primary mobile device is giving way now to new devices. Jackson predicted that “12 to 18 months, I think we’ll see Blackberry’s going away, primarily because of the growth of smart phones.”

Jackson said EPA is conducting 50 pilot projects using tablets, including Windows tablets, looking for ways to streamline work for EPA employees. He cited how EPA’ employees responding to natural disasters typically carry a “green book” to take notes while in the field, but then must return to the office to type up their notes and upload pictures.

“Our goal is to pilot these tablets in the coming months, and assuming we (overcome) all the security and technical challenges…we plan to offer tablets in the fall,” he said.

EPA also expects to install new wireless networks within its offices in the next 12-18 months, “so employees will be able to walk around…and work from anywhere in the building.”

But the underlying objective, he said, “is to begin to move to a different paradigm from a work perspective” by unleashing employees from their desks and “spur collaboration.”