AF, Sterling test remote viewing plan

At a time when government software programs are under close scrutiny the Air Force Global Weather Center and contractor Sterling Software Inc. are forging a unique relationship in which the government can regularly view and comment on the contractor's software development before a project is finished.

The management strategy was developed as part of the original solicitation for the Air Force Cloud Depiction and Forecast System (CDFS) II a $12 million contract awarded to Sterling in June 1995 to upgrade and modernize a system that takes data from satellites and other sources to predict cloud covering and related meteorological conditions that might affect Air Force operations. As part of the program the Air Force wanted its internal support staff to be able to remotely view a project's key information including configuration management design analysis documentation production status reporting and software metrics.

This and other information now is hosted on a computer system called Pathfinder which came on-line in December.

Although the two parties still are developing their working relationship the Air Force believes remote viewing will improve management of the program by keeping its staff involved as development progresses rather than waiting for key milestones said Anna Lathrop the Air Force CDFS II program manager. "Traditionally contractors went off to their corner did their development and threw it over the fence [to the program office] " Lathrop said. Now Air Force staff can stay in close touch with development either by reviewing critical program documents or other information.

In the past the agency would have to request the information - and possibly pay for it - or wait for data to be submitted as part of a status report. Pathfinder is connected to a local-area network in the program office so program staff can tap into the system from their own desks. However the Air Force also is looking to put information on the World Wide Web so users can tap into the information over an intranet.

Dan Simpson director of advanced weather systems for Sterling in Omaha Neb. said the Air Force's strategy "instills confidence [in the contractor] that they are getting the products they specified that they are getting what they pay for." Additionally the remote viewing "focuses us on developing exactly what the customer wants " he said.

However with the system now on-line the Air Force and Sterling want to recognize and avoid any pitfalls. For example Air Force staff might tap into data that is still in rough form.

"The risk comes in that there is an overwhelming amount of information available and if it's taken out of context you can end up doing a lot of firefighting and that's lost productivity " Simpson said. The two parties said they were now in the process of exploring some of these issues.

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