Air Force unveils PowerPoint-to-Web technology
- By Bob Brewin, Dan Verton
- Sep 05, 1999
MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The Air Force Air Armament Center has developed the World Wide Web-based Executive Management Information System, which enables users to post information directly to World Wide Web pages from Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint slides or Excel spreadsheets without first sending the data to a Webmaster for coding.
Brian Braziel, EMIS project manager for the 96th Communications Group, which developed the system for AAC, has attracted the interest of users inside and outside the Air Force. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has shown an interest in adapting EMIS for use by executive departments in the state and the University of West Florida, Pensacola. UWF is considering developing a cooperative research and development agreement to commercialize EMIS with AAC, which has its headquarters in nearby Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Braziel, speaking here at the annual Air Force Information Technology Conference (AFITC), added that the Air Force Judge Advocate Office has expressed an interest in adapting the so-called "blotter" feature of EMIS for security police units Air Force-wide. The blotter enables security forces to easily post reports on their work—ranging from routine patrols to responses to break-ins—on an EMIS Web page. Software then automatically sorts the blotter by incident, with the most severe highlighted in red and posted at the top of the page.
Scott Goodwin, EMIS system architect at the 96th Communications Group, said the command wrote its own Visual Basic script to translate PowerPoint and Excel files directly into Hypertext Markup Language because such a program did not exist commercially. Goodwin added that while Microsoft desktop software enables users to convert a variety of files into HTML, the process includes what he described as "a lot of baggage" that does not encumber the AAC translator. For example, Goodwin said, Microsoft will translate PowerPoint slides into HTML but will not drop the slide numbering system, which is not needed on a Web page. The AAC translator automatically drops the slide numbers.
Microsoft president Steve Ballmer, speaking at AFITC, said the next version of Microsoft Office will offer an "HTML entity from the ground up" and will provide the "fundamental front ends" for knowledge management that AAC appears to have developed on its own.
Braziel emphasized that automatic translation is just one of the features of EMIS, a powerful management tool that allows Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, the AAC commander who directed the development of EMIS, to run much of his organization from just one top-level Web page that mimics the AAC organizational chart. Braziel said the 96th Communications Group chose to use the AAC organizational chart to fulfill Kostelnik's mandate to provide users with an easy-to-use portal into "a complex digital world optimized for efficient information access." The translator, Braziel added, also fulfilled another mandate from Kostelnik that "leaders have the opportunity to determine a Web page's substance."
Goodwin said he developed the EMIS front-end using Apache server open-source software and mapped a GIF of the organizational chart onto that page, which is then turned into "one Java applet" that provides the smarts to the program on the client side, including mouse-click functions. Braziel said the 96th Communications Group developed EMIS to eliminate the "drill down" frustrations users often encounter when searching for information documents. EMIS, Braziel said, is organized so users can "glide" the mouse to a hot button and then immediately "drop" into highlighted information, a far more logical way to locate needed information than drilling down.
Kostelnik wants to use EMIS to automate on the Web as many processes within his command as possible, believing it will save time and money. The system—developed in just three months this year and still undergoing development—already has started to pay off. Kostelnik used to hold face-to-face meetings with subordinate commanders to evaluate their performance—a process that took hours. Kostelnik now holds the meetings online, spending about 20 minutes.