Marines look for a central IT architecture

Building on the Defense Department's emerging standard computing environment the Marine Corps is crafting a new strategy for buying and maintaining its tactical and support information systems that will lead to greater interoperability.

The strategy which is awaiting final approval by Marine commanders calls for the Marines to deploy an information technology infrastructure throughout the services rather than allowing each service component - logistics manpower and reserves intelligence and others - to buy technology individually based on its own operational requirements.

The central architecture will be built using the hardware and software approved by DOD as part of the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment (COE) with a focus on standard PCs rather than high-performance workstations.

General Richwine the Marines' chief information officer described the strategy as a "concerted plan to bring us to the size and shape of [the information technology] backbone we need." Ultimately this approach will reshape nearly every aspect of the Marines' technology policy from systems development and deployment to training Richwine said.

Col. David Chadwick the Marines' deputy CIO who headed up the working group that developed the new strategy said the primary mechanism for instigating these changes is financial. "When you peel back the onion it always comes up money " he said. Beginning with fiscal 2000 budget planning the Marines want to establish a constant funding line for IT rather than asking for money on a program-by-program basis. Technology purchases and maintenance would be treated as a sustained fixed cost of operations much like personnel resources - a parallel that accurately reflects the similar on-going importance of IT as a resource for the Marines Chadwick said.

The Marines estimate they will apply 80 percent of their overall IT funding to the underlying infrastructure and apply 20 percent to mission-specific applications - an almost direct reversal of current allocations according to Chadwick.

The net result will be what is commonly described as a "design to" environment: Rather than building solutions from the ground up users across different Marine components or operational areas will be forced to write their applications to run on the same IT infrastructure.

By default this approach will provide interoperability between systems across the service. And because that infrastructure is based on the departmentwide COE system interoperability will extend to other services. The concept of a "design to" will be welcomed by the Marines who will build on that infrastructure said Lt. Col. Karen Riecks head of the systems development and integration branch for manpower and reserve affairs for the Marines.

"If all I have to do is think about the applications it will make my life a lot easier " Riecks said.

Bridging the Gap

The COE-driven approach also will eventually address existing problems of systems interoperability she said. For example the different components of the service that feed information into personnel systems have very little interoperability because their information systems have been separately built and maintained. The servicewide infrastructure will bridge that gap by putting everyone on the same platforms Riecks said.

The Marine strategy "makes perfect sense " said Joan Arnette deputy commander of the Center for Computer Systems Engineering at the Defense Information Systems Agency which is responsible for defining the COE. The strategy reflects DISA's vision of COE as an acquisition solution as much as it is a technical solution she said.

Eventually the Marines will bring all their information systems into the common environment which will eliminate various stovepipe systems. This in turn will allow the Marines to rethink doctrine and training issues. Once the stovepipes are eliminated the Marines can begin fine-tuning the associated training and doctrines to focus less on the systems themselves and more on the service's mission.

"The `system' is a Marine infantry battalion " Chadwick said. Information systems "are just assets they need to do business as a Marine infantry battalion."


Navy to set up a 'democratic' CIO board phase out NISMC


In its response to the Clinger-Cohen Act the Navy plans to phase out the Naval Information Systems Management Center on July 1 and install the service equivalent of a representative democracy as the primary support structure of its chief information officer.

NISMC is the Navy's central organization for managing information technology. As the plan now stands the Navy will create a Chief Information Officer Board of Representatives to discuss and vote on major policy decisions said Marvin Langston assistant secretary of the Navy for command control communications computers and intelligence and electronic warfare and space programs.

Between 40 and 50 people will sit on the board representing IT policy-makers program sponsors and technology users Langston said. The board will weigh issues raised by a network of integrated product teams from across the Navy.

The idea is to create an electronic voting system so board members across the nation and out at sea can participate in the process. The result of the vote will stand unless it is vetoed by the CIO or the Secretary of the Navy.


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