Net-centric data is linchpin to transformation

Data in common area will facilitate collaboration

A network-centric data strategy that streamlines data discovery and sharing is crucial to the Defense Department's transformation efforts, a Pentagon official said at a Net-Centric Enterprise Services seminar May 13.

Five strategies for data-sharing success

If you haven’t heard about the Defense Department and interagency data-sharing efforts, you need to spend a little less time in that cave.

It was three years ago that Mike Todd, now information technology and information management portfolio manager at DOD’s Office of the Deputy Chief Information Officer, led a Maritime Domain Awareness Data Sharing Community of Interest pilot project for data-sharing among DOD and the Homeland Security and Transportation departments.

The success of that project has touched off an explosion of data-sharing efforts and helped fuel the success of DOD’s Net-Centric Enterprise Services program.

For a data-sharing effort to succeed, Todd said, it must be:

  • Visible — Users can find data on the network.
  • Accessible — Users can get to data.
  • Understandable — Users can find metadata that describes data so others can understand how to use it.
  • Trusted — Data is protected as required by policy and law and only users with appropriate credentials can access it.
  • Governable — A structure exists for managing data products and access.

New methods and tools for data storage and access, collaboration, content delivery, and e-discovery are only the beginning, said Mike Todd, information technology and information management portfolio manager at the Defense Department’s Office of the Deputy Chief Information Officer.

DOD CIO John Grimes mandated all of that and more Feb. 2 in his “3-in-1” memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and directors of all DOD agencies. He called for use of common IT capabilities and services across DOD to improve warfighting effectiveness and interoperability and cut costs. He also authorized for DOD-wide use the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Web portals for collaboration and content discovery and delivery services, and directed components to develop and submit plans for implementing those services.

It all begins, Todd said, with the data. In simpler times — such as the 20th century — keeping data secure was much less challenging than it is today. In the past, file formats were likely proprietary, data was placed in silos, and relationships between data producers and data users were tight.

“Too tight,” Todd said. Even if they were aware of the existence of the data, few users could access it. Opportunities for collaboration were limited, and sharing data was difficult. And it all grew exponentially in both complexity and expense.

The network-centric enterprise has changed all that, he said. Crucially, it decouples data providers and data consumers and breaks the data out of the point-to-point data-sharing paradigm. “By putting data in a common area, it becomes open to other tools, [and] it allows collaboration and multiple users throughout the enterprise,” Todd said.

Federated core enterprise services, such as DOD’s Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES), support a publish-and-subscribe paradigm that allows authorized users to discover, access, and understand shared data, products and services.

By opening access to other DOD departments and to intelligence, homeland security and other civilian agencies, Todd said, “we can leverage other departments’ resources: data, networks, services, all kinds of resources.”

Ensuring that only authorized users access data is an effort jointly pursued but individually executed. “With each department or agency, we negotiate and define authorization requirements,” Todd said. “We authorize our users, and they authorize theirs.”

For Air Force Col. Deidre Briggs, deputy director of Global Information Grid enterprise services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, “services are where the power is.”

Briggs has overseen development of the NCES collaboration Web portals E-CollabCenter and Defense Connect Online (DCO). E-CollabCenter, a suite of collaboration services offered by developer IBM Corp. and built on IBM Lotus Sametime collaboration software, debuted in July 2007.

DCO, unveiled in November 2007, was developed through a partnership among Adobe Systems, co-sponsor of yesterday’s conference; Carahsoft; and Jabber. Built on Adobe’s Connect collaboration software and Jabber’s MomentIM messaging software, the portal offers collaboration services such as instant messaging, low-bandwidth text chat, Web conferencing and shared whiteboards. It also features desktop/application/presentation sharing and the ability to bring into the collaboration sessions people from outside DOD.

The operational sponsor — U.S. Strategic Command — must declare in July that some subset of the NCES services have met initial operational capability, Briggs said. All concerned are optimistic that this will happen because all NCES services, except mediation, are already in use throughout DOD. Some scalability requirements and refinement of the services to meet key performance parameters determined by the operational sponsor will continue, Briggs said.

That would extend collaboration services to the 2 million users of the Army Knowledge Online and Defense Knowledge Online Web portals.

DOD isn’t alone in its efforts. Its partners include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Coordination Center. The center's challenge “is to improve data visibility and accessibility across the intelligence community," said Joe Boutte, Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ strategic adviser to the center.

Although the Army especially has embraced Web 2.0 technologies, intelligence agencies have been early users of social media. The CIA’s Intellipedia has become a model for other agencies seeking to develop their own programs. The Coordination Center continues that tradition, basing its development of C-Space as a data collection tool on A-Space, what Boutte referred to as “a kind of Facebook for spies.”

Because “a favorite tool of some of our adversaries is microblogging,” Boutte said, center officials are considering microblogging tools for use by U.S. intelligence agencies. “Right now, we’re testing Yammer, which is more robust than Twitter,” he said. A pilot project is scheduled to begin soon.

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.


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