A portal for all reasons

The Air Force plans to unveil an enterprise portal in October that will

integrate more than 28,000 information systems and help service members

cut through the reams of red tape that often prevent them from getting the

data needed to do their jobs.

The portal, informally dubbed My.AirForce ("my dot Air Force"), is intended

to shrink hundreds of Web-based systems into one point of access for all

the service's online information. It will also provide a host of online

services, such as automated, paperless processing of personnel, medical,

pay and other family information for service members who move to a new base.

In addition, the portal might serve Air Force commanders requiring critical

battlefield information.

Lt. Gen. John Woodward, head of the J-6 — the communications directorate

for the Joint Staff — and Air Force director of communications, announced

the initiative during a keynote speech last week at the Air Force Information

Technology Conference in Montgomery, Ala.

The Air Force is working on 28 modules of the portal, and 16 of them — including the Virtual Military Personnel Facility and a pilot records

system — could be available as early as October.

The My.AirForce approach calls for a single Web portal to deliver whatever

information Air Force personnel need to get their jobs done, said Air Force

Col. Neal Fox, director of the Commercial Information Technology Product

Area Directorate at Gunter Annex, Ala.

"That includes providing information for logistics, to know the status

of an order of supplies required for a base or a deployment, to provide

essential information on the status of anything a person would need to know

to get the job done in the Air Force," Fox said.

"Essentially, it becomes an extension of our command and control system,

providing timely information to make critical decisions," he added.

Air Force officials declined to provide specific details on the program

but said critical decisions will be made in October at the service's so-called

Corona meeting, an annual gathering of the service's top leaders. There,

they debate critical Air Force issues and often devise a plan of action.

The "grand enterprise," as one service leader termed it, will include

not only the integration of an estimated 28,000 personnel information systems,

but also a yet-to-be determined degree of systems consolidation and centralization,

Woodward said. The service should know better by October how much the initiative

will cost and any estimated savings, he noted.

Certain questions about the new portal have yet to be answered. Some

of the service's information warriors questioned whether having a single

portal to provide access to virtually all Air Force information would leave

the service more vulnerable to cyberattacks. One official likened the portal

concept to leaving all the service's fighter jets on one runway.

The issue will be vigorously debated in the weeks leading to the Corona

meeting, the official said. Woodward said the service has established a

team to hammer out all cybersecurity issues associated with the portal and

a possible plan for defending it. But he said he is confident that concerns

about security can be overcome.

"You do have opportunities, if you consolidate [Web sites] to change

your layers, and you may not have as many layers as you had before, so my

belief is you will end up increasing security," Woodward said.

"I've got to make sure I end up with the right people doing the accreditation

and certification, that we really understand that totally. There is a full

focus group doing nothing but information assurance to ensure we are engaged

in the right activities," he said.

"The Air Force is working the portal software issue very hard right

now. The senior leadership has requested from us that we be ready to move

very quickly once they decide what products and services they want," Fox

said.

Part of the discussion is whether to use one vendor or a team of vendors

under one contract or to award multiple contracts, he said. "Whatever the

acquisition strategy is, we do know it's going to take the consolidated

effort of a number of [IT] companies to pull this off."

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