DOD expands NCES program

The Defense Information Systems Agency is seeking a vendor to provide instant messaging, chat and Web conferencing services via classified and unclassified networks that run in a wide variety of environments.

The procurement, part of DISA’s Net-Centric Enterprise Services program, calls for a vendor to tailor those services for users who have only low-bandwidth or intermittent network connectivity.

The services also must be available to users aboard ships and on the move, and users working on a coalition network.

In most cases, vendors will provide collaboration services on demand, meaning that the Defense Department will pay only for what it uses. But DISA also wants to enable DOD customers to buy hardware and software separately for use in special network environments, according to the request for information issued Oct. 1.

DOD expects the program to eventually support 8 million users.

However, DISA said contractors will need time to increase their service levels to satisfy that demand. Initially, the vendor must support 2.5 million users. DISA also anticipates a delay while the provider brings its service in line with the security requirements of DOD’s classified network.

If DISA succeeds in developing such a system, it could be the holy grail of collaboration, said Bernie Skoch, an analyst at Suss Consulting and retired Air Force general.

DISA’s blueprint is achievable, Skoch said. The move to open standards, in particular, is a step that NCES has needed to take for a long time, he added.

“It is the only thing that makes sense,” Skoch said. “Because what they can’t afford to do is keep going down the road that they were trapped in for many years of getting wedded to a particular application vendor, so that they ended up with things that couldn’t grow and expand.”

About 20 years ago, DOD attempted to do collaboration by batch processing data from multiple sources.
When it was clear that method wasn’t working, various entities at the Army, Navy and Air Force departments acquired their own collaboration tools.

The new unified effort should lead to a better system, Skoch said.

“DISA is the exact right organization to be doing this,” he said.

“What a great way to not be spending taxpayers’ money by having a dozen different efforts going on to implement different tools.”

DISA wants the vendor to manage the project’s Web conferencing, instant messaging and chat capabilities. But the agency wants government servers to host those services.

That version of software as a service is not surprising, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources.

“Software as a service is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of commercial enterprises and I think even more so for the government,” Bjorklund said.

“It is not necessarily the business model that is tough but recognizing that you are relying on another entity to provide your service,” he said.

This hybrid of software as a service could prove to be a model for future applications on DOD’s Global Information Grid.

“That solution could work because DISA has, through its regional computing capability across the U.S., a number of government sites that are essentially data centers,” Bjorklund said. “And they are capable and do host a lot of transactions for the government.”

One of the biggest challenges the project will face is sorting out the security issues that come from sharing information between classified and unclassified networks.

That hurdle must be overcome because the system needs as many people on it as possible to make it effective, Skoch said.

Although adopting a pay-as-you-go model might make sense for DOD, other agency officials should be cautious if they plan to pay for the services with operation and maintenance budgets.

“Those operation and maintenance budgets are being hit very hard right now,” Skoch said.

“The fuel that is burned in airplanes, ships and tanks comes out of the operations and maintenance budgets,” he added. “So they’re going to have to be very careful that the fees are very reasonable and that the people can actually afford to pay for this thing when it comes out.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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