Army eyes better portal management

The Army's Web portal has become a management challenge — but in the best possible way. In four years, the number of subscribers to Army Knowledge Online (AKO) increased from 61,000 to 1.7 million. During that time, the number of companies providing services to

the portal also rose dramatically, from three to 43, according to documents from the service.

These days, with ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders and soldiers are turning to AKO for much more than the basic capabilities of e-mail, chat and instant messaging for which it once was used.

Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer, said earlier this year that they use the portal for warfighting information technology functions, including discussing how terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan use roadside bombs against U.S. and coalition forces.

Because of the rapid growth in AKO's use, Army officials want to hire a single company to manage the Web portal. Service officials said hiring a lead systems integrator will improve administration of the portal.

"Consolidating contracts improves management," said Col. Tim Fong, director of the Army's Chief Technology Office, which oversees portal operations and is part of the service's Office of the Chief Information Officer. "A lead contractor can provide enhancements and services. It creates a more unified management structure."

Deciding to hire the integrator was easy. But issuing the solicitation has proven to be more difficult. Army officials had planned to release a request for proposals June 15. Vernon Bettencourt, the service's deputy CIO, said this spring that companies would submit proposals by Aug. 1 and the service would choose a winner later this year.

Army officials still plan to hire the

AKO lead systems integrator by the end of the year, but they have not issued the RFP.

Fong said writing contracts takes time and that Army officials want this to be a performance-based contract. "These are not easy to do," he said. "We want to make sure we get it right."

Army officials administer the portal for 1.7 million users using several contracts. They want to consolidate AKO's technical and management services to one vendor, Bettencourt said.

He did not give the procurement's value, but an Army IT official said it would cover several years and cost more than $100 million. Bettencourt also said the service officials do not know if they will use the $1 billion Information Technology Enterprise Solutions contract for the

acquisition.

Gen. George Casey, former Army vice chief of staff now overseeing U.S. forces in Iraq, told the CIO Office to devise a plan to make better use of the portal by providing more personnel services. Officials already made one update creating a classified version of AKO with 70,000 users and a portal backup site, Bettencourt said.

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