DOD pilots first commercial collaboration project

Commercial collaboration software has come a long way since Lotus Notes. Now it's making its way into the Defense Information Systems Agency's Network-Centric Enterprise Services initiative.

Collaboration is one of the nine core enterprise services that DISA plans to roll out for departmentwide use over the Global Information Grid by 2007. The discovery, mediation, messaging and security components of NCES are already well under way, but the collaboration component has been slower to take shape.

DISA's Defense IT Contracting Organization issued a draft statement of objective for the collaboration suite in January of last year, expecting to release a $21 million request for proposals about two months later. But the RFP was delayed because the statement of objective in- spired an unexpected wealth of ideas.

It drew so many responses that were 'so all over the place, we had to go to a pilot to see what our requirements are,' said a DISA contract specialist at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

That assessment pilot is now under way, said Betsy Appleby, an NCES program manager. 'It represents the Defense Department's first attempt to provide a commercially hosted, service-based collaboration offering.'

Under a $13.6 million pilot contract, awarded in October to Computer Technology Services Inc. of San Jose, Calif., DISA will test secure, browser-based collaboration tools from WebEx Communications Inc., also of San Jose.

With the growth in Internet communications, WebEx has evolved into one of the largest online meeting services. DISA plans to try out the company's data, voice and video services.
Appleby said there will be testers across the entire de- partment'up to 3,000 users of classified and unclassified materials.

'It's designed to resolve the policy and procedural issues of collaboration as a managed service,' she said. Pilot participants will try out text, audio, video and whiteboard collaboration, as well as application sharing, broadcasting, virtual workspaces and session auditing.

Whatever the outcome of the WebEx pilot, Appleby said her ultimate goal is to maintain operational control over the collaboration services while enabling delivery through a commercial infrastructure and using commercial best practices.

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