>A Net-centric Military and Enterprise Architecture

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Information is central to the Department of Defense’s arsenal for fighting and defeating our enemies and the ability to share information across interoperable systems in the way ahead.

National Defense, March 2008 reports that while a net-centric military is our goal, the transformation is a work in progress.

Brig. Gen. David Warner, director of command and control at DISA stated: “in this war, information is truly our primary weapon. You can’t move, you can’t shoot, if you can’t communicate.”

Yet, “the Defense Department continues to acquire stovepiped systems…the requirements change, the system grows, and then there are cost overruns. One of the first items to cut from the budget is interoperability.”

Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith says, “the dream of a truly net-centric U.S. military will not happen overnight. But progress could be achieved within the next five to 10 years, It will be a matter of waiting for the stovepiped legacy systems to come to the end of their lifespan. If the services get onboard and stop building non-interoperable technologies now, then the new generation of net-centric communications can take over and become the norm.”

This sounds to me like the problem isn’t limited to legacy systems, but that there are still cultural, project management, and change management issues that are obstacles to achieving the net-centric goal.

The challenges are even greater and more complex when it comes to sharing information with “federal civilian agencies and foreign allies…NATO, for example, has no mechanism to ensure its members are interoperable with each other.”

Today the normal way to do business is to ‘exchange hostages’ which means sending personnel from one service, agency, or coalition partner to each other’s command centers so they can verbally relay information.” This typically takes the form of interagency operation command center, and is not very net-centric.

So we continue to have stovepipes for “communications or data sharing systems built by different agencies, armed services, or coalition partners that cannot link to each other…[yet] the U.S. military is trying to make itself more lethal, faster, and more survivable. [And] the key to doing that is the ability to share information.”

Net-centricity, interoperability, and information sharing are true cornerstones to what enterprise architecture is about, and it is where we as architects are needed to take center stage now and in the years ahead in the war on terrorism and the other challenges we will face.

From an EA perspective, we need to ensure that all of our agencies’ targets, transition plans, and IT governance structures not only include, but emphasize net-centricity and enforce it through the EA review processes and the investment review board. There is no excuse for these stovepipes to persist.

>GovNet and Enterprise Architecture

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In Government Computer News, 10 December 2007, Edward Meagher, the deputy chief information officer at the Department of the Interior (DOI) asks why the federal government doesn’t have one IT infrastructure. He states:

Despite the huge costs and inefficiencies, we still cling to the notion that each department and agency is so unique and special that we each have to create and maintain our own infrastructure to support our mission area.

I am convinced that a day will come when the billions of dollars we spend each year on each department’s stovepiped IT infrastructure will not only be viewed as incredibly wasteful but also incredibly stupid. It will be seen as the equivalent of having allowed each department to drill its own water wells, generate its own electricity and treat its own sewage.

The notion of a true “GovNet” has been around for many years, but I believe the time is fast approaching when we will agree on the terms and conditions and get about the business of designing, building, converting to, operating and managing a secure, unclassified IP network that will deliver all IP services to federal civilian agencies.”

What has the federal government done so far to advance the idea of one IT infrastructure?

An IT Infrastructure Line of Business (ITILOB) has been established as a Presidential Initiative as part of the President’s Management Agenda for e-Government (eGov).

The vision of ITILOB is:

  • “An effective and efficient IT infrastructure enabling government-wide customer-centric services.”

The goals of ITILOB are:

  • “Infrastructure enables interoperability of functions across agencies and programs.
  • Optimize the infrastructure to enable collaboration within and across agencies, sectors, and government levels.
  • Efficiencies realized from infrastructure investments will be recapitalized in support of agency mission.
  • Infrastructure investment governed to achieve agency mission and government-wide goals.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/OMB/egov/c-6-9-ioi.html)

Are we on the road to success with ITILOB?

The ITILOB links to a related site http://www.itinfrastructure.gov/. It is not clear what the relationship between IT Infrastructure LOB and IT Optimization Line of Business (IOI) are. However, the IT Optimization LOB states that “The Infrastructure Optimization Initiative (IOI) puts in place a government-wide approach for measuring and optimizing agency infrastructures to enhance cost efficiency/service level and better enable core agency missions and customer-centric services. While the IOI provides the standardized framework for comparing performance across the federal government, departments/agencies remain responsible for choosing appropriate strategies for optimizing their commodity infrastructure cost efficiency/service level metrics. The IOI does not mandate how agencies optimize their infrastructure – it will provide tools for agencies to leverage.”

So, while it seems that the vision of one IT infrastructure or GovNet is a noble one and probably one worth pursuing, if done right; the mandate of the existing IT Optimization LOB does not go far enough to actually mandate usage by federal agencies. This makes this initiative rather weak and unlikely to succeed, in its current form.

Are there similar initiatives in the federal government?

DHS has an Infrastructure Transformation Program (ITP) that has been working for a number of years now at “consolidating and centralizing control of its data centers, e-mail systems and help-desk services, and sensitive but unclassified video communication networks under three directorates.” (Government Computer News, 22 August 2005)

Is this DHS infrastructure consolidation perhaps, a first step, where each major federal department (like DHS), starts by consolidating its agencies, and then moves on toward an overall federal consolidation. Possibly, this two phased approach would give the overall federal consolidation a greater chance for success.

Meagher at DOI states:Congress, the administration, the federal bureaucracies and the vendor community must come together to tackle the impediments and move rapidly to create a well-managed, 21st-century equivalent of the Eisenhower-era National Highway System.” Will a federal IT infrastructure be as successful?