DOD easing collaborative limits

In a move that's sure to please the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Navy, Defense Department officials are relaxing their requirements for collaborative software.

A draft message from the Defense Information Systems Agency, DIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will enable a wider group of collaborative software products to be used in DOD, said Don Eddington, director of the Advanced Information Technology Services Joint Program Office at DISA.

The unreleased draft message apparently reverses a January draft memo that had named a limited number of approved products for collaboration.

"There are so many people in DOD. You can never get everyone to buy one product," Eddington said. There will be ways for large groups of DOD users who have different products to go into "one large room" for tactical collaboration, but for the most part, users will continue to work in smaller "rooms" or groups of users, he said.

In a January draft memo, Art Money, then the DOD chief information officer, had called for all DOD organizations to use the Defense Collaborative Tool Suite by Oct. 1.

DCTS was to be based on Microsoft Corp.'s NetMeeting and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SunForum, with Microsoft Digital Dashboard and Outlook, and CUseeMe Networks Inc.'s (now First Virtual Communications Inc.) Conference Server also included.

But DIA has 42,000 users of Ezenia! Inc.'s InfoWorkSpace, according to Jay McConville, the company's federal business director. The Air Force and Army also use InfoWorkSpace for some command and control applications, he said.

"They're still in the chase" with the new draft memo, Eddington said of InfoWorkSpace.

The Navy also uses Lotus Development Corp.'s Sametime suite through its Collaboration @ Sea program, Eddington said.

Collaboration software enables far-flung users to engage in real-time conferencing in which they can share documents, slides and applications and send instant messages to each other. For classified collaboration, they use the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

In planning a military maneuver, for example, an intelligence analyst could present a map of an area through collaborative software, and operational forces could mark up the map as they plot their moves.

In their current policy, DOD officials are trying to focus on back-end systems for the collaborative software products they're using, Eddington said. The T.120 whiteboard and shared application standard and the H.323 teleconferencing standards could help DOD aggregate the underlying collaborative software components, he said.

Since there are no common standards for chat and instant messaging, DOD may have to settle for less functionality in the short term, Eddington said. Both chat and instant messaging give users an "awareness of what's going on," so they're important, he said.

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