Military big on portals

It doesn't get much more mission-critical than this: In Iraq and Afghanistan, Air Force planners used portal technology in the service's Theater Battle Management Core Systems to help craft and launch air offensives.

TBMCS, which managed "all airborne assets in theater," used Plumtree Software Inc. Web portal technology to give officials access to an array of planning and collaboration tools, said Pat Murphy, chief engineer with the TBMCS program at Lockheed Martin Corp.

Those tools helped reduce the time and effort needed for planning, allowing for the prosecution of "many, many more missions than would have been possible in the past," said TBMCS program manager Maj. John Shafer.

About 1,000 users accessed TBMCS online during the Iraqi conflict, Shafer said.

TBMCS is emblematic of the military use of portal technology, which has been more "ambitious" than civilian agencies, said Gene Phifer, vice president and research director at Gartner Inc. All the services are crafting substantial programs and a "laundry list of smaller efforts."

For example, few programs in the public or private space have the heft of Army Knowledge Online. Now serving 1.4 million users, the portal will eventually "reach out to roughly 2.5 million users," including all military personnel, retirees and contractors, said Maj. C.J. Wallington, AKO team leader in the Chief Technology Office of the Network Enterprise Technology Command.

AKO's roots "go back to the mid-1990s," but the current portal, developed by Appian Corp., was introduced in October 2001, Wallington said, adding it "is a constantly evolving animal, adding new services and links to applications on a weekly basis."

In practical terms, the portal provides personnel with a single point of entry to conduct Army business. "They can see what's in their records without having to go through a clerk or submit a request," Wallington said. Soldiers can log on to AKO and access their personnel files, medical records and pay information.

Like the Army, the Navy is looking to give its personnel "an enterprisewide look at their applications" with its Navy Task Force Web initiative, said Terry Howell, Navy enterprise portal program manager. To achieve this, the service must link some 300 distinct ship- and land-based systems.

The goal of the initiative, which began in 2001, is to enable the Navy to take advantage of Navy Marine Corps Intranet infrastructure and eliminate "replication and synchronization" issues raised by having so many different systems, Howell said.

The service has completed a 3,000-seat pilot project on an aircraft carrier using Computer Associates International Inc.'s CleverPath portal software. It is beginning a larger test of that technology involving 25,000 seats on an entire battle group and some shore infrastructure, Howell said.

"The installations aboard the ships are largely done, and we have got a replication and synchronization architecture developed and are implementing it," Howell said.

If all goes well, Howell expects the service to issue in early fall a request for proposals to select a product. Although it has been using CleverPath, the service "remains product-agnostic."

For the Defense Department's Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, Houston-based Welcom Inc. has tailored its WelcomHome project management portal to the needs of a select "group of generals who require real-time information" about the program, said Daniel Patterson, WelcomHome products manager.

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