Army Corps of Engineers
- By John Moore
- Nov 10, 1996
At a Glance
Project Objective: Replace cable plant and create intranet to improve data access within organization.
Status: A new cable plant has been installed and several intranet applications are up and running.
Investment: $1 million-plus (including new cabling).
Contractors: The Corps of Engineers acted as prime contractor with the support of various vendors. Huntington District based in Huntington W.Va. maintains a system of nine locks and dams on the Ohio River and its tributaries. The district covers a 45 000-square-mile area spanning parts of West Virginia Ohio Kentucky North Carolina and Virginia. The organization's key mission is construction: renovating locks and dams and building flood walls to protect cities.
The district employs civil engineers financial analysts procurement personnel and other professionals who in the past have worked in isolation.
About 700 people work in the district's Huntington headquarters with another 400 working in the field offices.
Different groups maintained separate computer systems and databases a factor that limited the sharing of information.
But Huntington District's intranet aims to change all that. "Traditionally every department kind of kept to themselves " said Jon Conwell a computer specialist at the district. The goal of the intranet is to link "people who have worked for the same organization but have never really worked together."
But before the intranet could happen Huntington District first had to modernize its infrastructure. The district's headquarters building was built in the 1950s and much of its wiring was decades old. The district recently completed the installation of a new cable plant that features a fiber-optic backbone network Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) telephone service and Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) technology.
The Huntington District managed its cable plant replacement/intranet project although it called on a number of contractors for products and services. Bell Atlantic is providing the ISDN service and supplying AT&T ISDN phone sets. Washington Data Systems handled the cabling for the project.
The intranet's foundation consists of 100 megabit/sec FDDI rings located on each of the headquarters building's seven floors. Cabletron Systems Inc.'s MMAC FDDI hubs anchor the FDDI local-area networks on each floor and a MMAC-Plus hub acts as the master switch that transfers data among floors.
The district is developing a number of intranet resources to take advantage of this data pipeline. The district's approach is to extract data from the disparate computer systems and databases convert the data to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) format and post the information on its internal Web page.
The data extracts are housed on an Oracle Corp. database hosted on a Control Data Systems Inc. 4460 Unix server.
District employees typically use Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser. The Web servers are Compaq Computer Corp. ProLiant 1500s running Microsoft's Windows NT.
Information on HandThe intranet approach means district employees can access data whenever they need it rather than "making a formal request or tracking people down " Conwell said.
Today for example employees can use the intranet to get updates on the district's numerous construction projects. The district takes extracts from its Primavera Project Planner database converts them to HTML and makes them available on the intranet. Employees can get information on the amount of money that has been spent on a given project and other project status details.
The Huntington District intranet also has a link to the Corps of Engineers' Financial Management System. The plan is to make data from the financial system available on the intranet although the service will not be available until next year. The information will help district managers keep tabs on budgets.
Before moving to the intranet "things like account balances were always lagging weeks or months behind " Conwell noted. "Now we'll know how much is in our accounts in real time."
Engineering drawings and plans are also going to the intranet. The Huntington District's Engineering Division is currently running a pilot in which HTML-converted engineering documents are accessible via the Web Conwell said. Users can scroll through documents and then call up the desired file. When the file is retrieved a computer-aided design drawing viewer is launched. For users authorized to change documents Bentley Systems' CAD software is activated so the users can edit as well as view the drawings and plans.
Vessel traffic data is also available on the intranet. Users can obtain information on ships traveling through the Huntington District's system of locks.
This information helps the district anticipate the need for personnel at a given lock based on the amount of traffic heading its way Conwell said.
These various intranet resources will be available to remote users as well as those housed in Huntington District's headquarters building. The district is installing a frame-relay network that will tie the district's 50 remote sites Conwell said. GTE Corp. Bell Atlantic Corp. Bell South and AT&T through its FTS 2000 contract are collaborating with the district on the frame-relay network.
In terms of economic impact the Huntington District is finding the most immediate and tangible payback from the cable plant investment. Digital ISDN for example will slash the Huntington District's annual telephone service charges to $150 000 down from $300 000 to $320 000 according to Ken Shafer the Corps of Engineers' project manager in charge of the district's cabling effort. ISDN saves money over analog because ISDN permits four phone numbers per circuit as opposed to one with analog. In actual experience Shafer said the average with ISDN is working out to 2 to 2.5 phones per ISDN pipe.
Meanwhile the returns from the intranet applications tend to be in improved efficiency workflow and data accessibility. "I see a change as far as people being better informed about things " Conwell said.