Navy builds virtual community

The Navy has developed a Web portal to offer surface warfare officers (SWOs) deployed worldwide easy access to information of personal and professional interest.

The portal, SWONet, will include links to hometown news, career and financial counseling, educational resources and other naval resources, and will serve as a virtual community for the Navy's surface warfare officers around the globe.

The Navy believes this virtual community will help improve retention rates, particularly among the younger officers, said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Negus, head of the SWO plans and policy department.

About 8,700 officers—on ships and ashore—will use SWONet, Negus said. The portal uses specialized search engines equipped with intelligent agents to ease navigation and to manage relevant information. The officers can access resources such as hometown news, private and public chat sessions, and calendars of events for upcoming deployment destinations.

In a test run, the Navy demonstrated SWONet to officers in Norfolk, Va., San Diego and Newport, R.I. "Then we used their feedback in the development of the site," Negus said. "The junior officers asked for ways to enhance their professional capabilities on day-to-day operations like information sharing from the training centers and schools. They were very interested in that."

Electronic business solutions provider Integic Corp., in conjunction with Columbia Research Corp. and Edelman Financial Services Inc., built the SWONet portal (www.swonet.com). The Navy will pay about $2 million a year to maintain the site.

Integic and its partners began working on the project last August, with the goal of providing surface warfare officers with an online resource where they could collaborate and help each other out, said Jim Fraley, Integic's SWONet project manager.

"There's a lot of information out there, and we categorize and organize it," Fraley said. "When you're on a ship, there's limited bandwidth, and you can't be jumping all over the place to different sites. This is one-stop shopping for information."

In addition to providing personalized news and professional resources, SWONet serves as a centralized e-mail system where officers can search for specific people, members of their year group or someone in a specific duty position to find information or advice, Fraley said.

"That way, I can talk about the problems I'm seeing, ask if you are seeing them, too, and what you're doing about them, especially if I'm new to a job," Fraley said. "They can't do that today."

And although a lot of information is already available on the Web, the portal will make it much easier to find.

"Now, rather than wasting time surfing the Web, an officer can have content awaiting him or her at their personalized SWONet portal," said Norman Hubbs, vice president of Integic's e-government practice.

In addition, Navy-related information has been categorized and organized to improve its accessibility. Then, while officers attend to shipboard duties, SWONet constantly collects information and delivers it to their private SWONet portals, Hubbs said.

Fraley said another popular feature is the classifieds section, through which naval officers can do business with each other, including finding someone to sublet an apartment or house or pick up a car lease if they are being sent to a remote location.

Negus and Fraley agreed that SWONet is a work in progress. There has already been talk about adding a feature so officers can synchronize with the portal via their handheld computers, but time will tell what the next necessary addition will be.

To help the site evolve, users can submit ideas through a concierge service on the site, Negus said.

AT A GLANCE

Four key features of Navy portal:

* Personalized news, including links to hometown news.

* Professional/educational resources, including training manuals and

course information.

* Centralized e-mail system to help officers find specific people,

members of their year group or someone in a specific position to give information

or advice.

* Career and financial counseling.

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