Net-centricity has many moving parts

'People are the ones who have the information. But trying to get information out of their lower left-hand drawer and into a shared space is a challenge.

J. Adam Fenster

The Defense Department faces a full row of hurdles in its quest for IT gold: to achieve systems interoperability and seamless information-sharing and fulfill its vision of a network-centric department. As chief of information interoperability in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Network and Information Integration, Jack Zavin works at the very core of the department's efforts to clear those hurdles. GCN associate editor Richard W. Walker and staff writer Dawn S. Onley interviewed Zavin.

GCN: What are the biggest challenges in achieving interoperability and information-sharing across the Defense Department?

Zavin: The department has actually moved beyond [the notion of] interoperability. Interoperability in essence is a journey, not a destination. Interoperability was largely viewed as technical in nature, looking at moving bits around but not at how information was used in the department. We've started changing that. We're moving the department into an information age.

Our emphasis has refocused on net-centricity. Net-centricity basically empowers users with the ability to easily discover, access, integrate, correlate and fuse information and data that support their mission objectives. Interoperability would be one of many supporting attributes of that.

Net-centricity is a very simple idea but very difficult to put into place, because the department is still organized piece by piece. There are so many moving parts that if you try to work this piece by piece you'll never get there.

GCN: How then do you get to net-centricity?

Zavin: Getting to a net-centric environment requires solution sets that synergize five elements: people, organization, process, information and materiel. Putting materiel last on the list is a cultural change for the department. But from an information technology standpoint, you deal with business-process redesign first, and then look at the people, organization and information you need to support it. It's only in the last piece of it that you actually look at the technology that would help out.

What we're learning in the department, especially on the information side, is that the biggest hurdles are people, organization and process. People, for example, are the ones who have the information. But trying to get information out of their lower left-hand drawer and into a shared space is a challenge. Getting people comfortable with going from a need-to-know to a need-to-share environment is a cultural issue.

GCN: How about the security piece of net-centricity?

Zavin: The unique part in the department is you just can't put it all out there. Information assurance is also critical to net-centricity. You've got to have some balance with information assurance. You can't look at it as just protecting the information technology; you have to protect the information as well.

GCN: How is the effort being implemented across the department?

Zavin: We're trying to break down the department into more manageable chunks, what we call mission areas. What we're doing through these mission areas is attempting to superimpose, from the top down, forms of management or governance.

Four mission areas are emerging: business, intelligence, war-fighter and enterprise information environment. The mission areas are divided into domains, each of which has a domain owner. For example, the business side of the house has been codified into five domains: logistics; acquisition, installations and environment; human-resource management; accounting and finance; and strategic planning and budgeting. The whole point is to empower [the domain owners] to adopt that vision of net-centricity, which underpins all of this.

GCN: What are key elements or initiatives in the effort to facilitate net-centricity across the department?

Zavin: We divide the initiatives into three bins: Build the net, populate the net and protect the net. I talk about it as the 'net' rather than the network. The rationale for that is that the department is building the counterpart of the Internet, except that it's a private internet. It's very much analogous to that because the services have separately owned and operated networks that have to be internetworked together.

One of the initiatives in the build-the-net area is moving the department to IP Version 6. We are at the beginning of that. The Defense Information Systems Agency has stood up an office to work the migration of the department from its current IP Version 4 to IP Version 6. But there's more than that to building the net. The Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion initiative, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Transformational Satellite Communications program are part of building the net.

The fundamental underpinning in net-centricity is being connected. If you're not connected you're not on the net, and you can no longer either supply information or access information.

Populating the net is a more interesting challenge. That comes out of the mission areas, the business side of the house. It's the equivalent of a private World Wide Web. It's the Web that actually has the content. We're also moving toward Web services within the department as we try to capitalize on what's happening commercially.

Protecting the net is the way we capture the term information assurance. The biggest difference we have with what I call the commercial Internet is the degree of security we need.

GCN: Where does DOD stand on its Horizontal Fusion initiative?

Zavin: Horizontal Fusion is one of the key net-centric initiatives. We're trying to bootstrap ourselves to get to net-centricity quicker. The intent is to augment programs already underway to better define standards on which net-centric operations and warfare can grow. We are just completing the second portfolio and in the process of selecting the candidate for the third portfolio. For example [as a result of the Horizontal Fusion initiative] the Cooperative Engagement Capability system [which transmits sensor data from ship-based radar] can now access data from units that were previously inaccessible.

GCN: What is Quantum Leap, and how is it helping the DOD develop systems that are interoperable from the start?

Zavin: Quantum Leap is the name for the annual demonstration under the Horizontal Fusion portfolio. We've just completed Quantum Leap 2. Horizontal Fusion looks at how you populate the net with sources of information and how you access and fuse data and information.

GCN: What, if any, are the primary technical issues or obstacles to DOD information sharing and interoperability?

Zavin: As I've said, the problems are more about people, organization and processes than they are technical. That said, since we are using the Internet or World Wide Web as models, the obstacle is assuring that the technical standards are there to support net-centricity.

We've established a new committee, the IT Standards Committee, under the CIO executive board to develop a set of standards underpinning net-centricity.

The Joint Technical Architecture was a part of the way the department was trying to deal with IT standards. The DOD is responsible for ensuring that IT technology standards that apply throughout the department are prescribed. The JTA was our instrument for doing that.

But the JTA was not very Web-centric. Its process was very slow and cumbersome. We are beginning to revitalize how the department works IT standards. The JTA as a name has gone away and its content has been absorbed by an online, net-centric resource called the DOD IT Standards Register. The last version of the JTA is in the DISR, along with the content of all the previous versions of the JTA, which some people are still building off of.

We're also trying to establish linkages with standards committees in [the] intelligence community and other agencies because there are going to be common standards; IP Version 6 is going to be a common standard. So we're trying to facilitate the ability to get connectivity within the department but also to those external partners.

GCN: Finally, what's is the overall vision for DOD networking?

Zavin: We have established a vision and set of goals for achieving what [former Defense Department CIO John] Stenbit called power to the edge. That means that people throughout the trusted, dependable and ubiquitous net are empowered by their ability to access information and recognized for the inputs they provide. We want to make the information available and give people the tools to find the information and process that information.

That gets at the cultural change aspect: trying to get the information out from private spaces into shared spaces, balanced by the need for information assurance and identity management.

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