Data Packets

DOD rethinks buying vs. building software

During the past decade, the Defense Department and federal agencies in general have embraced the idea of using commercial software whenever possible. Why build when it's less expensive to buy? Why reinvent the wheel? But DOD is undertaking a number of initiatives that seem to be questioning this assumption.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, for instance, has released as open source a suite of applications built in-house, many of which had no commercial equivalents, said Richard Nelson, DISA's chief of personnel systems support branch at the Manpower, Personnel and Security Directorate.

Nelson spoke last month during a presentation in Washington in which he introduced the collection of 50 DISA-built office applications called the Open Source Corporate Management Information System (OSCMIS). The agency is releasing these applications in hopes that other agencies will reuse and modify them.

DISA had to build the applications for a number of reasons, Nelson said. In some cases, there were no commercial applications in the marketplace that could do the tasks needed. In other cases, software was available but was too expensive. Or the software did something similar to what DISA needed but the agency would need to modify its processes to meet the workflow of the software. Or, lastly, commercial software providers or software development-focused contractors told DISA that the software the agency sought just couldn’t be built at all, Nelson said.

"That happened twice, with major products," Nelson said of the last case. "So we built them anyway."

By releasing the OSCMIS as open source, DISA hopes to take advantage of many of the same benefits that commercial software enjoys — especially spreading the cost of development among all users willing to make modifications to the programs to suit their own needs. In March, DISA awarded the Open Source Software Institute a cooperative research and development agreement to help release OSCMIS for broader use. OSSI holds the copyright and offers OSCMIS under Version 3 of the Open Source License.

One such tool in the suite is the Flash-based Personnel Dashboard, which summarizes how DISA deploys its workforce. The software shows how many personnel each office has, their gender and ages, and each person's qualifications. Users can drill down to find details on the qualifications of each employee. As the employee's certifications come close to expiration, the software generates e-mail messages that are sent to the person and that person's supervisor. Unlike commercial human resources software, this program takes into account the agency's manpower allotments and doesn’t have an equivalent in the private sector.

Another application in the suite summarizes the acquisition workforce. The software tallies the number of qualified project managers, contracting officer representatives and other pertinent personnel within each office and across the agency as a whole. "The acquisition vendors told us this could not be built. The acquisition community told us it could not be built," Nelson said.

DISA's Balanced Scorecard is another application in the package that has no commercial counterpart. The program shows DISA directors how the agency is hitting each of its strategic measures and initiatives. Originally, the agency had put out a request for proposals to have this software developed by an outside party. One vendor responded that it would undertake the project for $750,000 and that it would take a year of development time, but the vendor said it could offer no guarantee that the application would be completed. Two members of Nelson's team built a prototype of the software in six weeks, Nelson said.

In yet another case, commercial software was available but couldn't do everything that DISA needed the software to do. DISA already had built several pieces of its learning management system (LMS), when DISA had found the money for a commercial application. The agency picked one of the five commercial products that the Office of Personnel Management recommends for the task, for about $1 million. The commercial product, however, didn’t do many of the tasks that DISA's own software did, so the agency went back and completed its LMS.

The LMS handles all aspects of management personnel training. One component, the Online Training System, has a course catalog with all the programs that DISA offers. Users can select by title or category. It shows the times the courses are being offered and how full each class is. Once a person selects a class, the person's supervisor automatically gets an approval request. "It's an automatic workflow system; nothing ever gets lost," Nelson said.

— Joab Jackson

Broadcasting technology to enhance battlefield ops

ThJoint Forces Command expects to improve battlefield intelligence by using the same technology sports broadcasters use to assemble the day’s top highlights.

The command’s Valiant Angel system will use components from Harris’s Full-Motion Video Asset Management System and Lockheed Martin’s Audacity video-analysis system. NetApp will design and integrate a new system to manage the video processing, exploitation and dissemination cycle using its Data OnTap storage architecture with as much as 14 petabytes of capacity.

Valiant Angel will give commanders better visibility into real-time and archived video, which is collected from manned and unmanned aircraft and ground-based sensors.

Specifically, Valiant Angel will:

  • Collect and store incoming video streams from a variety of sensors in a secure, networked database.
  • Categorize and manage videos by keyword, geographic region or other items of interest or set up alerts to tell users when new clips with a specified description are posted to the network.
  • Fuse intelligence data from multiple sources into incoming video streams. For example, if two users are discussing a video via instant messenger, Valiant Angel will embed that chat history directly in the video stream, so other users can follow what was discussed.

“Video is a powerful intelligence tool, but today there is so much being collected, it’s difficult for troops and analysts to sort through the mountains of available data in search of the specific clip they need to make a decision,” said Dan Rice, Lockheed Martin vice president of spatial solutions. “With Valiant Angel, commanders will be able to quickly find the video they need, package it into an actionable intelligence report, and share it securely with the frontline troops who need it.”

The project is part of a $29 million contract the command awarded to Lockheed Martin.

-- Kathleen Hickey

Army CIO announces Apps for the Army competition

The Army said it is starting a competition named Apps for the Army, aimed at fostering the creative development of new applications for use in the dot-mil community.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, Army chief information officer, said the competition is intended to reduce the time the time it takes to develop new technology applications for the service. But it’s also a way to tap into and propagate many of the practical ideas warfighters are developing on their own to share and use information on the battlefield, Sorenson said.

Sorenson said the Army is finalizing two issues: the platform for developing the applications and the process for making data available for use on the applications. It is likely that Forge.mil, a collaborative development environment hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency, will emerge as the primary development platform, he said.

“Apps for the Army will help unleash and showcase the creative capabilities of the dot-mil community while producing applications of real value to the warfighter,” Sorenson said.

But it also addresses the practical need to enhance the technology tools for warfighters with limited budgets, said Gen. Nicholas Justice, Army program executive officer of tactical command, control and communications. “If I can get our soldiers to do the development, I can deliver more capability to the warfighter” without having to ask the Pentagon for more money, Justice said.

Apps for the Army borrows a page from similar initiatives launched by the federal government’s Apps for America program. Although those programs led to the applications aimed at making government information more readily accessible to the public, the goal of Apps for the Army is to focus on applications that help extend the capabilities of the military’s warfighters.

Sorenson said the Apps for the Army initiative would serve as a pilot program with the Defense Department.

— Wyatt Kash

Navy could run late on business systems upgrade

The Navy's enterprise resource planning (ERP) project, designed to modernize Navy business systems, is struggling with program management, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

GAO predicts the project will be at least two years behind schedule and at least $570 million over budget. GAO had previously warned of schedule slippage and cost overruns a year ago.

The service started the project in 2003 and originally planned for it to be completed in 2011 and cost $1.87 billion. GAO now estimates a completion date in 2013 at a cost of $2.4 billion — 31 percent above the original projection, the report states. Navy officials recently said the system is ready for full deployment.

The program is part of a larger Defense Department program to modernize business systems, and the second leg of the program would also eliminate the need for sailors to carry cash on ships by issuing smart cards for monetary transactions.

Problems with properly estimating, managing and comparing contractor costs have contributed to the overrun, the watchdog agency reported, indicating a failure to create an effective master schedule for the overhaul and adhere to earned value management and economic justification.

Also, the Navy has failed to mitigate risks from converting data from the Naval Air System Command’s existing computer systems to ERP, GAO found in the report published Sept. 15.

“We concluded that by not effectively implementing these [information technology] management controls, the program was at risk of not delivering a system solution that optimally supports corporate mission needs, maximizes capability mission performance, and is delivered on time and within budget,” the report states.

Weaknesses in controls “will likely contribute to future delays and overruns if they are not corrected,” GAO said.

GAO called on the secretary of Defense to direct the Navy secretary to take steps to rectify the program by implementing and ensuring adherence to appropriate earned value management standards and assign an independent agency to oversee the process. The report also calls for risk mitigation in converting data from existing systems and frequent progress reports.

The report states that the Navy agreed with GAO's recommendations and would implement them in seven months.

— Amber Corrin

Web 2.0 review could permit limited use of social networking in DOD

A review on the use of social media at the Defense Department will likely lead to a policy that allows the use of Web 2.0 tools. with some restrictions because of security concerns, said Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs. DOD expects to complete the review before the end of October.

Social media’s effect on the military’s operational security is one of the primary issues DOD officials are studying, he said.

“In the past, when a soldier, airman, Marine sent home a letter to their family or loved ones and had information in it that might have been sensitive, it could have been read by two or three people, and that was it,” Floyd said.

“The problem now with social networking is that when you Twitter that information that might be sensitive on your Twitter account or put it on your Facebook page, thousands of people see it immediately, and then thousands more could see it as it's forwarded on to others. And so the ramifications of making a mistake, of putting things that shouldn't be on there on those sites, are even greater than they used to be."

Despite the risks, Floyd said he does not expect DOD to ban social media.

“I believe [the policy] will understand and encourage the use of social networking because of the benefits that are there but also understand and underscore the risks there,” he said. “Therefore, [the department will be doing] education, training folks to know how to use these sites safely, how to communicate with your family in a way that doesn't give out information that those who may want to try to do us harm could use.”

— Doug Beizer

Marines to get help with counter-IED devices

The Marine Corps will get assistance with technology designed to defeat radio-controlled improvised explosive devices through a new contract awarded to Science Applications International Corp.

SAIC will serve as the program support integrator for the Marine Corps Counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare (CREW) Program, company officials said.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is potentially worth as much as $120 million over five years, company officials said. An initial one-year order placed through the IDIQ contract is worth $22 million.

Under the contract, SAIC will provide installation, logistics and maintenance support for the CREW systems, the officials said.

CREW devices are mounted on military vehicles and contain multiband radio frequency jammers programmed to block enemy use of select radio frequencies, and thereby prevent the remote detonation of land mines.

— William Welsh

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Comment:
Please type the letters/numbers you see above