Army's online portal could be extended across DOD

The Defense Information Systems Agency wants to turn the Army Knowledge Online system into a defensewide Web portal. The plan to adopt AKO as the foundation for a portal that can be accessible to all services is part of DISA's Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) project, DISA director Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom said.

Croom, who took command of DISA in July, said there are still "lots of details to be worked out" in turning AKO into the defensewide portal. But he added that "we want to do this fast." Croom said he has talked to all services about the concept and believes they support the idea.

"We are looking at converging the DISA and Army Knowledge portals into a single entity," said Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer. "That would be a joint portal to access Army, DISA and potentially other services' products."

Boutelle added that the Army portal is the best of its kind, and DISA would like to use the Army's experience, which would benefit both organizations and conserve precious resources.

Kevin Carroll, program executive officer of the Army's Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems said the Army and DISA are trying to figure out how they can work together, and final details will be available in about 30 days.

Using the Army's expertise makes sense, is resourceful and saves time for the 20 people working on the DISA NCES portal, in addition to saving $4 million, Croom said. He envisions AKO being converted into a departmentwide portal with mini portals for each service.

Bernie Skoch, executive vice president at Suss Consulting, said it is a good idea for DISA to tap into the Army's expertise. That could save not only DISA but also the other services from using scarce resources on a project that the Army has already fine-tuned, he said.

DISA is also contemplating other significant changes to NCES, Croom said, including a possible managed-service approach for collaboration and discovery or search engine tools. Whichever approach DISA picks, Croom said, he wants to offer all users a choice of discovery and collaboration tools, just like commercial users have a choice between Web conferencing tools such as WebEx or Groove and search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

Croom said he would like at least two buttons for collaboration and discovery tools on every DOD users' desktop, which would resemble choices available in the private sector. He expects that by allowing a choice that fosters competition among vendors, they will refine their products to best serve DOD users.

Any collaboration tool DISA acquires must serve all DOD users, including those in bandwidth-deprived environments, such as Army or Marine warfighters, Croom said.

DISA will also start planning this week to resolve bandwidth constraints in Afghanistan and Iraq, Croom said. DISA and Central Command will send survey teams this week to the Middle East to develop a plan to commercialize the military communications infrastructure in those two countries, Croom said. U.S. forces have been hobbled by an incompatible, satellite-based communications system, he added.

Skoch said a private-sector infrastructure probably would be based on nationwide fiber-optic networks. Officials from communications carriers serving DOD did not return calls for comment on how they would commercialize DOD communications systems in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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