Army pins hopes on common operating environment

Approach seen as path to better IT operations

The Army’s under-construction common operating environment is designed to give leadership a top-to-bottom view of the service’s systems, people and capabilities, whether on the ground in combat or at the highest levels at home. It’s also being used to change the way the Army approaches everything from operations to procurement, a top Army official said March 20.

Most of all, the common operating environment gives unprecedented insight into the Army’s IT systems across the service, including its numerous computing environments that run on varying infrastructures, Terry Edwards, director of the Office of the Chief Systems Engineer at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, said March 20 at the AFCEA Belvoir Industry Days conference at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md..

“The common operating environment allows us to put in place the [structure] of how we were going to address the computing environments. Each will have to fall into the same reference model…the same implementation plan that everyone structures their architecture based on that foundation,” Edwards said.

 “The goal was to cluster similar systems based on the mission environment to facilitate implementation, because when we first started having the discussion on the common operating environment, everybody came out and said, ‘Well this doesn’t apply to me because I’m different,’” he said.

Edwards outlined the goals of the program and how his office is working to achieve them, taking a strategic vision issued by the Army CIO office and developing an implementation plan that “provided the clarity of vision, roles and responsibility, established our strategy and the legal and government structure.”

“The goals we’ve put in place are very simple. The first is to get to an open architecture. We are looking for a single foundation. Today there are multiple environments, which translates to interoperability challenges, time needed to test and integrate, and greater lifecycle costs,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he also is working to separate software, hardware and communications systems to allow for more flexible, net-centric operations.

“We’re turning our computing environments into what’s really an ecosystem – the ecosystem is the ability for you to access a developing environment…and bring offerings to us. From an industry perspective, the common operating environment is lowering the barrier for entry,” he said.

He said he recognizes the sweeping changes the common operating environment will usher in, and the challenges that will accompany the turning tide. But he said he's committed to seeing it through.

“To make this happen isn’t going to be simple. This isn’t turning the ship – it’s really turning the fleet,” Edwards said. “To make it happen we have to change the culture of how we build systems, how our programs look at themselves respective to other programs, how requirements and funding are done and how we put in place…a blueprint to guide the community on where they’re going. And we have to put in place a verification and validation capability to ensure that what we said we’ll get done is actually getting done.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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