Coast Guard portal expands sailors' view

U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is adding users to CG Central, the internal Web portal that gives personnel access to records, policies, directories and other information that, until recently, was stored on a fragmented, poorly coordinated intranet.

About 5,000 people use the portal now, and that number will jump to 12,000 by the end of July, said Lt. Tom Shelton, program manager for the project.

By next year, about 56,000 people will be using it, he added.

"We already have 56,000 profiles set up, and we're just turning them on," he said.

"The portal project is the direct result of our commandant's vision for an e-Coast Guard," Shelton said. "That vision was embraced by our entire senior leadership and expressed in our 2001 business plan to make that happen. Fielding a Web portal is a critical objective and milestone in that plan."

During the years before the portal project was launched, various Coast Guard divisions developed their own intranets to provide information, Shelton said. The systems were inconsistent in the amount and timeliness of the information they provided. When it is completely deployed, the portal will solve those problems, Shelton said.

The portal was built with software from BroadVision Inc., said Lt. Rich Vincent, the Coast Guard's information technology project officer for Web services. "From those [software] licenses, we built a number of prototypes and pilots," he said. "We're on budget in '04, and we're in the process of releasing the production-

quality first version of our portal."

The portal will not only help personnel access information, it also will make updating the data easier. Coast Guard employees no longer need HTML skills to post information, Vincent said. "Now every unit is going to have a presence on the intranet, whereas before it was hit or miss."

The software also makes it easy for individual units to create microsites where they can post information that pertains only to their mission or location, he said. It also personalizes users' views of the information by basing it on their roles within the Coast Guard.

Shelton said he and his team have defined the mandatory minimum information that each Coast Guard directorate must provide. Such guidelines also exist for the occupational communities, the various job functions that Coast Guard members perform. Units are free to add more information, he said.

Service leaders are emphasizing the need to ensure that the portal provides real value, Shelton said.

"We just don't develop and throw applications out on the field without ensuring they really provide a benefit

to our missions, commands and end users," he said. "Project management discipline is a key critical success factor."

The portal also allows users to keep frequently needed information within reach, Vincent said.

"We can bookmark a Web page [on the old intranet] and drill down to find information, but when we come back to it, we have to start over at the top of that Web page," he said. "What CG Central's going to do is to remember exactly where you're at. If it's something you need to check every day, you can put it right at the top."

The portal also makes use of some other technologies, Shelton said. Cmdr. Jan Stevens, the previous project manager and now a core leader, developed a readiness management system by integrating software from Cognos Inc. with the BroadVision product. The system allows users to get information about the readiness of their individual units without the need for a separate sign-on.

"Every person's view is controlled by 10 business rules that are based on combinations of variables derived from our personnel management system," Shelton said, adding that the importance cannot be overemphasized. "It is not that it is a single sign-on, but that every day, every individual, every command and every department is provided a view of their readiness and deployability."

The portal team is making appearances at Coast Guard events and meeting with senior level leaders to publicize the portal and its capabilities, Shelton said. They are also developing a tool to give new users a guided tour of the system.

Although his team is slowly adding users, any Coast Guard members can request activation, he added.

Portals such as CG Central are attractive to many organizations, but they're not always a high priority, said analyst Laura Ramos, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc. Most are in the planning stages.

"It is not atypical to see portal implementations take two years," Ramos said. "It means long sales cycles. You uncover needs as you go along. Portals always end up in the top five of buying intentions lists, but the progress has been steady, not extraordinary."

BroadVision's technology is a good choice, she added, but there are other providers.

"It's still a lot of choices," Ramos said. "Portal technology is on the road to commoditization. There are still a number of players in the market."

Richard Hughes, director of product strategy at BroadVision, said the company has been at the forefront of portal development since its founding 10 years ago. The company's competitors, he added, may have comparable technological expertise, but "what you can't replicate is the experience."

The company has global markets, and the U.S. government is a vital one, he said. Because the government provides a significant chunk of the company's revenue, BroadVision will continue to support and sell to it aggressively, Hughes said.

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