Internal struggles further muddy future of AKO

At one time, the idea of an enterprise e-mail program that would link the entire Defense Department and enable better collaboration sounded like a good idea — so good that it could replace similar capabilities already in existence, including the multipurpose Army Knowledge Online portal, which offers e-mail, chat, messaging and directory services, and its spinoff, Defense Knowledge Online.

Theoretically, it still is a good idea. With DOD facing major budget cuts and imposing efficiency mandates, it would make sense to opt for a system that improves collaboration and saves hundreds of millions of dollars.

But there are problems, including the ongoing struggles within the enterprise e-mail project and confusion about its relationship to AKO. Contradictory statements from officials make it unclear whether enterprise e-mail will replace AKO or be yet another redundant capability it’s designed to eradicate.

“I’m confident that the Army leadership knows what they are trying to do with DOD enterprise e-mail, and replacing AKO might be the right thing to do,” said Gary Winkler, former Army program executive officer for enterprise information systems and founder of Cyber Solutions and Services. "But it is the most difficult of any type of acquisition program there is, and odds of success are low. The theory is good, but making reality of the theory will be extremely difficult and painful.”

The Army’s path ahead for AKO and enterprise e-mail — and the relationship between the two — is quite muddled at the moment. Conflicting comments about the future of AKO exacerbate confusion even within the internal ranks.

“No one really knows what’s going to happen with AKO,” said one source close to the situation. Although it would seem that the shutdown of DKO means AKO's days are numbered, “no one is saying much. I think it’s something that’s still being worked out at the highest levels. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

In a July 24 Army Times article, deputy CIO Mike Krieger denied that AKO would be closed down and said a Federal Computer Week report that AKO’s funding would be shifted to enterprise e-mail was “not an accurate characterization.”

But a June 21 internal Army memo signed by CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence said exactly that.

“CIO/G-6 Enterprise Initiatives will decrement AKO funding in order to resource enterprise e-mail and collaboration capabilities,” the memo states. It goes on to detail plans for reducing AKO’s funding from $70 million in fiscal 2012 to no more than $20 million in fiscal 2017.

Kenneth Frietzsche, AKO/DKO product director, clarified that AKO would probably be modified and possibly stripped down to basic services for use by Army retirees and family members. “It’s likely that AKO will be different but not completely go away,” he said.

What might go away are some of the capabilities provided by AKO, though it isn’t clear which ones. According to a Defense Information Systems Agency official, requirements for military communications have changed, and some capabilities simply aren’t part of the military’s way ahead — something that was factored into the decision to shut down DKO.

“The world has changed over the past five years, and as we look at the functionality, there’s only a subset of capabilities that is part of our way ahead,” said Col. Brian Hermann, chief of enterprise application services in DISA's Program Executive Office for Global Information Grid Enterprise Services.

In place of DKO, DISA is launching an Enterprise Services Portal Branch, which will focus on three core departmentwide requirements: file sharing, access to other enterprise services and a storefront/marketplace for mobile applications.

It’s possible that DKO’s closure and replacement with the Enterprise Services Portal Branch could be a good indicator of what’s to come for AKO and the future of enterprise services like the ones AKO provides — namely, a tandem, DISA-led effort that combines enterprise e-mail and the new portal effort to provide the services that are needed the most.

But Winkler warns that no one should expect such a transition to be easy or painless.

“Ernie Gregory, formerly the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for financial management and comptroller, told me over 10 years ago that any program whose name begins with a D (for Defense) or J (for Joint) is always fraught with problems because of their multilayered complexities," Winkler said. "He was speaking from experience, and my experience has been the same.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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