Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson envisions a global Army network

An Army team is working on ways to make its network services for soldiers as ubiquitous, seamless and convenient as commercial services

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army’s chief information officer, played a key role in conceptualizing, developing and executing one of the service's largest network transformations in decades, a program called the Global Network Enterprise Construct. GNEC is collapsing the Army’s disparate network and battle command components into five network service centers that will be able to deliver services anywhere in the world. Although the program is still in its infancy, Sorenson and his team are already saving the Army tens of millions of dollars annually while improving network security.

We had a lot of different activities and programs being worked on, but there wasn’t a centralized focus to the effort or what we were trying to achieve. And we needed to describe what we wanted to achieve in warfighting terms. The result of that became what is known as the soldier’s story. It depicts how our organizations, formations and units use and access the network as they go through the phases of a deployment.

When our units move from a post, camp or station to training and then to a ready phase and on to deployment, they have had to change how they connect to the network at each phase. They change e-mail addresses, phone numbers, how they use collaboration systems and how they store their data. We are doing them a disservice because it takes a lot of back-office work to make the network function.

It’s not like how we function today with an iPhone or a BlackBerry, where no matter where we go we can have a single device with access, and the provider is transparent to us. The service is there, our data is there, and our phone number and e-mail are there. Nothing changes.

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GNEC is a major shift in the way we think about the Army's network. How do we develop it in a manner that looks at it from an enterprisewide approach as opposed to everybody building their own?

Creating the vision and getting the senior leader buy-in have been keys to GNEC's success. The buy-in has afforded us a lot of latitude and certainly a lot of support to get done what we needed to get done.

To synchronize network operations through all the phases of deployment, we have had to rewrite a lot of doctrine on how we do that and who’s in charge in order to make sure this capability would be able to meet our needs.

The cultural issue about trusting that the network will be there is probably the most fundamental challenge we have. In the Army, as at many organizations, if you own it, you control it. If you can’t touch it, how do you know it’s going to be there when you require it? That issue of trust was discussed, but we didn’t really appreciate the extent of it until we got into the first exercise with a brigade from Fort Bragg [in North Carolina]. It took a lot of persuasion, persistence and continual engagement to cajole and bring them along to make sure they didn’t back out.

With respect to project management, it’s really about bringing the users and engineers together. I have seen that play out throughout my 35-plus-year career, and it’s like magic. When we bring engineers together with our soldiers and their intuition and understanding of the operations, the results are extraordinarily successful.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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