Air Force lab opening info exchange

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) soon will use a new system that enables its many technology directorates to exchange business information with each other and submit it to headquarters with the click of a button.

The AFRL, which develops technology for information warfare tools, air and space vehicles, sensors, and munitions, recently completed a prototype project to streamline information exchange among its 10 technology stakeholders using an integration platform from webMethods Inc.

The purpose of this project is to demonstrate the possibility of tying "separate and distinct [legacy] information systems via technology that allows you to transfer the data automatically," said Ricardo Negron, chief of the AFRL's technology transfer branch.

In the prototype, Booz Allen Hamilton served as the system integrator of webMethods' software, enabling direct connection between the legacy systems of the AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate — the Defense Department's center of expertise for lasers and other directed energy technologies — and the Space Vehicles Directorate, which is the Air Force's center of excellence for space research and development.

The webMethods integration platform enables the AFRL to consolidate program information from its nine technology directorates and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and centralize data in the Programming, Planning and Budgeting System.

The prototype system, valued in the "hundreds of thousands" of dollars, was begun in February and was completed April 15, Negron said. It is being used with test data, but Negron said it would begin using the directorates' official information beginning next month.

AFRL headquarters, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, communicates the details of warfighting technology projects to the service's major commands and main headquarters, as well as to DOD.

Currently, each technology directorate maintains and manages project information in customized formats, which involves manual processes for translating, validating and transmitting information. For example, one project took two people about a month to sift through data checking for errors, and now, that is basically done in real-time, Negron said.

Using the webMethods software, AFRL can securely access validated data, in real-time, in a variety of formats from the directorates, said Len Pomata, president of webMethods' federal business unit. He likened the company's integration platform to an "information bus" that helps connect applications and databases.

"That's difficult to do and usually takes custom codes," which is what AFRL had to do in the past, Pomata said. "WebMethods' technology can connect those with very little effort."

Security, namely 128-bit encryption, is also built into the webMethods platform, an Air Force and federal government requirement, he said.

The prototype system helped to demonstrate that the data integration could be successful on a larger scale, Negron said. As a result, AFRL recently completed the request for proposals and is currently gearing up to implement a multimillion-dollar Enterprise Business System (EBS), which will link all 10 directorates nationwide.

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