Universal DOD Web portal hits a snag

Air Force declares it won't join Defense Knowledge Online until at least 2009

Resistance from the Air Force will slow progress on the creation of a Defense Knowledge Online Web portal for the Defense Department’s 4 million-plus computer users. The service has decided not to join DKO for at least the next two years because it wants to continue investing in its own portal.

Lt. Gen. Charlie Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, and Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army chief information officer, envisioned DKO as a model for joint program development and speedy acquisition of information technology at DOD. But Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, the Air Force’s chief information officer, said the service’s portal, which is part of the Global Combat Support System-Air Force (GCSS-AF), is better suited to help the Air Force perform its mission.

Army Knowledge Online (AKO) is focused on user services, such as connecting deployed soldiers with family members, he said.

Peterson based his assessment on the priorities, design and architecture of the Air Force portal, he told reporters at an Air Force IT Day last week, sponsored by AFCEA International’s Northern Virginia chapter.

“We’ve already migrated many of our systems” to GCSS-AF, Peterson said. The Air Force drives down the costs of maintaining its systems by using GCSS-AF’s technical framework, he said. And the service continues to build new systems according to that model.

In two years, however, the GCSS-AF contract will expire. By that time, Peterson said, the Army and DISA will be ready to consider a departmentwide contract for a DKO portal that the Air Force would be willing to join. Such a contract would address all of the services’ needs. 

“Until that contract comes out, we are not going to move to DKO/AKO,” Peterson said. “We can’t.” The Air Force would be paying too much for an unneeded capability if it moved to DKO now, he added.

Several sources said the Navy is also hesitant to begin transitioning its portal users to DKO. Navy officials could not be reached for comment.

Development continues
DISA and the Army will push ahead on developing DKO, despite a lack of funding contributions from the Navy and Air Force, said Col. Jim Barrineau, AKO’s director. DKO will be based on the AKO portal infrastructure.

DISA made that decision in 2006, based on AKO’s success in managing more than 1.8 million users. The Air Force’s portal is the second largest in the government, serving more than 800,000 personnel and contractors.

Army and DISA officials say they will continue migrating AKO to DKO, using funds from AKO and DISA’s Net-Centric Enterprise Services contract vehicle. DKO’s final form will likely be a federated portal, Barrineau said. Each service will decide whether to link its older portals to DKO or close them.

Meanwhile, Air Force technical officers say they are frustrated by the confusion that the portal controversy has created. Air Force systems administrators struggle to decide whether to post their data on GCSS-AF or DKO, according to a junior officer who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak for the Air Force.

Unmet needs
The Air Force officer said he and his colleagues prefer to use DKO because it allows Air Force personnel to share information with other military services. GCSS-AF is confined to the Air Force. There is a disconnect between the future planning of senior leaders and the needs of Air Force personnel today, the officer said.

AKO currently operates under two contracts, a $156 million development contract led by Lockheed Martin and a maintenance contract awarded to CherryRoad Technologies. The Army can use the Lockheed Martin contract only for purposes that serve Army, DISA and Joint Forces Command users.

For contractual reasons, the Air Force and the Navy would have to pay for their own migration to DKO. But the Air Force and Navy have not yet allocated any funds for that.

Wanted: A SOA framework
The Air Force said it also has technical reasons for preferring its portal. AKO lacks the technical integration framework that the Air Force requires, Peterson said. The Air Force portal integrates mission systems via a service-oriented architecture framework. AKO is not SOA-compliant, he added.

AKO runs an older version of Appian portal software and Sun Microsystems’ Solaris operating system. But the Army says it plans to adopt a newer release of Appian software that adheres to SOA standards.
It’s the data, stupid!As various parts of the Defense Department invest time and resources to build their own information systems, many people wonder how DOD will integrate those systems to share information when the time comes to converge them.
One Air Force official insists that data standards and the push to make data program-agnostic will solve that problem.

“The effort to put the data structures on a common footing is proceeding,” said David Tillotson, the Air Force’s deputy chief information officer, speaking last week at an Air Force Information Technology Day event.

DOD is examining data, cleaning it up and instituting discipline to ensure future success, Tillotson said. “It’s a necessary condition, no matter what else we do.”

— Josh Rogin

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