It's time for talkies

There have always been those who don't get it. Here's a classic: "Who wants to hear actors talk?" asked H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers Studios, in 1927.

Today, the quest is on for one network that replaces the hodgepodge of incompatible networks within most federal agencies. Yet, as the Defense Department's chief information officer, John Stenbit, said, some don't get the concept of network centricity.

Just as the enterprise network enabled quantum leaps in business, it can do that for government agencies. Specifically, it brings five C's and an S.

* Correlation of data: A credit card is used for the first time in Zurich. As the transaction moves across a data grid, it's matched against a database, an "exception" is noted and the credit card company calls the card owner for verification. A network can collect data, match it to databases and flag situations requiring decisions. Consider such use for better decisions with intelligence, logistics and operations, to name a few.

* Common views of situations: A network can fuse data into a picture and allow that common picture to be shared among many users. Today, for example, naval battle groups present a picture of friendly and enemy locations to all operational elements within the force. Users act from a common picture of the current situation, thus reducing confusion and speeding decision-making. Common pictures could also be used for such functions as finance, logistics and rules of engagement.

* Collaboration: Decision-making today requires consideration of multiple insights. Collaboration can stimulate new ideas and help set priorities. That can be done across distances and time via network videoconferencing and chat rooms. Consider a battle group commander collaborating on an important plan with distant peers and using lessons from historical figures.

* Corporate actions: People act locally, but a network ties them globally. Networks are being used as digital nervous systems, rapidly synchronizing and aligning. We are starting to do this, too.

* Continuous learning: Power lies with employees. They must learn rapidly and translate learning into action. At Boeing Co., workers access digitized manuals on a network. And at Microsoft Corp., online streaming media is used to train personnel about new products. The military is working toward similar capabilities.

* Security: A big concern used to be intruders entering our stations. Now, we face contagions hidden in vendor software and elegant virus/worm epidemics on networks. Protecting information from loss, destruction and spoof is the biggest challenge. One agencywide network built and operated with the attitude of "security first" presents the capabilities needed to excel in this dangerous network environment.

These five C's and an S mean better decisions and faster actions for organizations, and that's what government needs. There will still be those who don't get network centricity — but they are probably the kind who would be happy watching silent movies, too.

Munns is director of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

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