Croom: Let's be clear

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Information technology services offered through the multibillion-dollar Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) program need clearer definitions, the Defense Department's top systems official said last week. Too often, warfighters and analysts use technology terms that can have different meanings.

"I'm not convinced they are described appropriately," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, the new director of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Croom spoke last week at the Army Knowledge Management/Directorate of Information Management conference.

Croom questioned, for example, whether "messaging," one of the nine network-centric services, refers to e-mail or machine-to-machine transmissions and why nine were chosen for the program. He called NCES "the only transformational program DISA has." The program's reassessment is one of his first tasks since assuming command of the agency in July.

NCES represents a multi-million dollar DOD program to create a departmentwide IT communications infrastructure. The department will identify, buy and integrate IT services, including messaging and collaboration tools. Those services will allow warfighters and intelligence analysts to more quickly and easily access U.S. military and intelligence networks by customizing searches and sharing data.

Croom isn't the only senior DOD official who is concerned about misinterpreting IT jargon. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Shea, the Joint Staff's director of command, control, communications and computers, said military leaders often misuse the words "command and control." But he wants them to use the terms appropriately.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources, a marketing and consulting company, said DOD leaders need to understand one another better because of IT's increased use in battle. "IT is now an important part of warfighting operations," he said.

This is not just a semantic issue, said Trey Hodgkins, director of defense programs at the IT Association of America, an industry group. Buying and deploying the systems needed by warfighters requires DOD leaders and military commanders to understand one another.

"Misuse of terms can mean life or death," Hodgkins said.

Dan Heinemeier, president of the Government Electronics and IT Association, an industry trade group, said Croom's comments about NCES could lead to significant change. "Gen. Croom is taking a fresh look at NCES — redefining it," he said. "This is a major focus for him."

A confusing lexicon

Information technology services, especially those available to Defense Department buyers through the Net-Centric Enterprise Services program, are not clearly defined, said Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, the Defense Information Systems Agency's new director. Here are nine examples of technical terms that he said are confusing.

  • Application.
  • Collaboration.
  • Discovery.
  • Enterprise systems managements.
  • Mediation.
  • Messaging.
  • Storage.
  • Security.
  • User assistance.

— Frank Tiboni

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