Framework needed for network interoperability, group says

Set of architecture patterns would produce cost efficiencies, boost productivity and achieve greater agility

The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) pegs the 2010 value of the U.S. aerospace, defense, transportation and security markets at more than $600 billion. It also estimates that 30 percent of this money—about $180 billion per year—is spent to fix systems that cannot interoperate today. In an increasingly constrained budget environment that means $180 billion is spent on systems that cannot enable warfighters and end users to share information seamlessly. 

If the United States addresses and eliminates interoperability issues, that’s a $180 billion windfall that can be shifted away from patches and interoperability fixes and redirected to budget shortfalls or securing increased capabilities for warfighters, peacekeepers, air traffic controllers and other essential end users.  

While all U.S. governmental agencies scramble to preserve budgets, they also want to reap the benefits of commercial technology. Achieving interoperability could help them to do both—just as the Internet delivers seamless, affordable interoperability to its subscribers. Why should it be otherwise for those whose lives are in harm’s way every day?

The reality is that in government, programs are king. The government acquisition community is rewarded primarily for meeting cost and schedule imperatives. Warfighters, end users and operators submit their requirements, but these are boiled down to rigid specifications in the acquisition process. Government contractors’ golden rule is meet the specifications.

What is far too often overlooked is that most existing systems were designed not to interoperate. In fact, many government officials assert that interoperability increases cost and risk. Yet   warfighters wait for the interoperability they don’t have now. 

To make matters worse, government rarely coordinates interoperability plans among its services—or even within its own programs. For the most part the Defense Department tries to integrate systems using information technology alone, when it really needs a robust capability founded on nonproprietary solutions and cross-organizational tools.

The DOD recently published an information reference architecture in an attempt to identify its network-readiness needs. While that was a step in the right direction, it is not a panacea. What’s really missing is DOD’s adoption of a network interoperability framework that would enable it to conduct procurements in the larger context of systemwide interoperability. 

Through NCOIC, leading global defense companies have developed this kind of framework, a set of architecture patterns, and guidance for their implementation. Working together, these historically fierce competitors have invested more than $100 million in response to government’s request for new methods and tools that can propel interoperability. This network interoperability framework is an opportunity for the DOD and industry partnership to find cost efficiencies, productivity and agility in a challenging technology and budget environment.

About the Author

Tip Slater is treasurer of the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium, and former director of Boeing's Integration Centers and the Modeling and Simulation Environment.

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