Unified Portal

Giving comms officers a unified view of their mission

Since 2016 Viasat has been the primary provider of global inflight broadband and communications services to the United States government fleet, including the presidential jet, Airforce One.

Ensuring that there is a continuous and unbroken communications link with the outside world is essential particularly during high profile calls between government officials from the United States and other countries.

The responsibility for managing these communications lies with the CSOs (Communication Systems Operators). These are members of the US Airforce trained in the role, it has been a role that has been essential to the operating of the government fleet for many years.

CSOs on Airforce One CSOs at work on Airforce One during the Reagan Presidency

The job involves swiveling between mutltiple contexts to manage the flow of communications and provide important information to government officials.

As part of providing a differentiated service to it’s customers, Viasat wanted to create tooling to aid the CSO’s in managing the connectivity on government jets.

My team and I were asked to lead the project employing user centered design techniques to zero in on the pain points of the CSOs and to create a tool to help them to do the job of managing the communications for the president.

  • Timeframe 03 Months
  • Team 04 UX Designers
  • Client US Airforce

Timeline

  1. 1. Discovery
  2. 2. Definition
  3. 3. Development
  4. 4. Delivery
  5. 5. Production
  1. 1. Discovery

    Another designer and I traveled to Washington DC for discovery sessions with end users.

  2. 2. Definition

    Following this we added two more designers to help work out detailed designs.

  3. 3. Development

    A second workshop was conducted in Dublin to finalise the details of the tool.

  4. 4. Delivery

    1 x round of user testing with CSO users to capture feedback.

  5. 5. Production

    Ongoing design support of portal development.

The Communications Systems Operator

We spent a day with our primary user, the communications systems operators or CSOs. We spoke to them about their primary goals, pain points, tasks, influences and spent time understanding their day to day experience

  • Persona
  • Journey Mapping

Primary Goals

  • Flawless Comms

    The CSOs tend to be perfectionist in nature, they want to execute their missions with zero errors. For them a mission where the communications worked flawlessly is a success.

  • Happy Customer

    The CSOs main goal is to ensure that the governement official who is using the aircraft is able to communicate with the outside world with zero friction. The primary measure of this the happiness of that individual. They know that if the “customer” as they call them is unhappy it is going to travel back up the chain of command and will not reflect well on them.

  • Mission Success

    As members of the military the CSOs see themselves as a single part in a larger machine. They want to know that the missions that they have been assigned to have been successful. Knowing that they have contributed to a successful mission gives them a sense of satisfaction in their work and reassurance in their role as a member of the military.

Main Frustrations

  • Multiple Contexts

    The CSOs typically need to login to 6 - 7 digital tools when in-flight to do their work. This continuous context switching makes troublesooting issues and managing the expectations of their high profile cusotmers very challenging.

  • Inconsistent Access

    The password management of all of these different tools was a broken process. As well as having to maintain and manage multiple passwords for multiple pieces of software they also each had a short expiration cycle. So the CSOs were continually in a situation where they were being logged out of portals and having to create new passwords.

  • Disjointed Situational Awareness

    Having misssion critical inforrmation spread across multiple tools that are hard to access all results in an absence of what the CSOs term situational awareness or SA. SA is the ability to have a full picture of the context in which they operating. In terms of the Viasat service this extends to an awareness of the condition of the Viasat network and where the aircraft is positioned within it.

Preliminary Sketches

Application Architecture

After several iterations we established an architercture for the application that was composed of three views and two external web portals.

Three System View Types

  • Fleet View

    Map view that provides CSO with realtime situational awareness of their fleet.

  • Full Tail View

    Combination map and data visualisation view that provides the CSO specific situational awareness of an aircraft.

  • Table View

    Views that hold tabular data to support the CSO in their investigation of issues. Includes: Flights View, Scheduled Maintenance and Open Tickets.

Two External Web Portals

  • Mission Planning View

    Lists the missions, current, past and future that the CSO has viewing rights for.

  • Salesforce

    Provides detailed infromation about issues affecting aircrafts.

Mapping

Mapping is a key element of the tool to provide the CSOs with geographically specific, situational information.

The maps were designed to provide context of the fleet position, the network health, the weather conditions, the available beams, restricted zones and ground stations.

Detailed Design

We developed around 100 variants of the key interface screens to help in the building of prototypes to guide user testing. After user testing, these screens were updated based on the user feedback and then used as part of the specification that was given to the engineering teams to guide their development work.

Final Prototypes

Prototypes were handed off to the engineering teams to guide development. The overall design was further iterated in the engineering phase of work, the broad strokes of the design had been resolved and what remained were details of implementation.

Outcome

Unified Portal is now a key tool for the CSOs when undertaking government missions, it has also led to a number of additional commercial opportunities for Viasat within the US government and military.

The Unified Portal has also been adopted as a monitoring tool for the presidential fleet in the White House situation room.