Net-centricity plan puts data up front

Military strategists since Sun Tzu in the sixth century B.C. have been trying to predict the future of warfare.

Forecasts are generally heavy on weaponry, systems and tactics, with top military thinkers planning ways to outmaneuver enemy states with a cadre of promising and lethal capabilities.

The information that will be contained in tomorrow's weapons and business systems, however, hasn't always been a priority. And configuring the data in a way that will help the military services and agencies become interoperable hasn't always figured high in the plans, either.

That is changing.

'If you look at all the trends in the IT arena over the past 30 to 40 years, we've moved into an environment where we've got faster networks, more powerful processors, but it really comes down to the data,' said Michael Todd, associate director for information management in DOD's CIO office.

Need for speed

During war and postwar operations, everything needs to be done fast. Troops on the ground need up-to-date mission information. They need to know where the bad guys are. The right people have to get the right information at the right time.

'The one thing about the war is everything is moving at a very accelerated pace,' said Terry Edwards, director of Army enterprise architecture in the Army CIO's office. 'Our need to share data is now.'

'I think if you look at even the current operations of what's happening in Iraq today and the interaction of the joint partners and the number of coalition partners, it becomes key on how we share data, how we make data accessible and how to make it visible to them. Those key characteristics have become essential in our ability to achieve interoperability,' Edwards added.

Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of Defense, issued a directive Dec. 2, 2004, establishing policies and responsibilities for DOD to implement data sharing 'as early as possible' to enable network-centric warfare. The department is working on guidance'to be released in March'to help the services implement the directive. And DOD is preparing a series of interoperability programs to test the directive.

The goal of Data Sharing in a Net-Centric Department of Defense, directive 8320.2, is to give DOD and the services a road map to share data within the Global Information Grid on a need-to-know basis. That strategy includes breaking down the massive DOD agencies and services into communities of interest, usually by programs, tasks or functional areas, with each community responsible for developing data vocabulary, taxonomies and services to make information consistent and understandable.

The communities of interest (COI) are the authoritative data kings of their courts.

'The COI approach really is a smart approach because you take on the key element of what you're trying to share so you just don't carte blanche look at your data structure and say we are going [to] share everything,' Edwards said. 'You can categorize what information needs to be shared and who it needs to be shared with.'
Over the past year, the services have planned pilot programs to share data and begun setting up communities of interest.

Functional area users later will record the taxonomies in a Defense-wide registry, said Anthony Simon, who led the Net-Centric Data Strategy and is the team lead for the policy side of the Defense's CIO office.

The policy's aim is to shift information to the department's users, employing metadata tags that are consistent with government and industry standards. This year, the services will establish workgroups to educate users about the push for interoperable systems and common data formats.

'In the past, the department took an approach that, at the senior level, we tell you what you need,' Simon said. 'The people that actually use that information, they probably know what they need to do their job.'

'One of the problems we've had in the past is we've stovepiped the way we manage our IT, and that has not allowed us to leverage our data across other stovepipes,' Todd said. 'We are broaching those barriers so we can get at it without artificial barriers posed by organizations.'

The Navy's Rob Carey equates working without a net-centric environment with going into a library that's missing a card catalog. The books'data'are all there, but no one can tell where the history books are or where to pick up a newly released novel.

'We are going in to create the card catalog ... and step-by-step dice, slice, remove, classify, organize and label information,' said Carey, the Navy's deputy CIO. 'That's how we do it. Every book in the library has to be understood, cataloged, mapped with data sources to functional area managers and taxonomies and the business of enterprise architecture.'

The Navy has 24 functional area managers (FAMs) in charge of business areas such as logistics and acquisition, and each FAM is in charge of cleaning up its own applications so they can be shared across the department and the services.

When the 24 FAMs clean up the data bins, taxonomies and a consistent data format will let other areas pull that data from the Web.

'The whole idea is to make the data visible, trusted and responsive,' Carey said. 'It doesn't matter how big you are. Net-centricity relies upon [a situation in which] when you go ask for something, you get it and it's correct.'

Although the future systems are years, sometimes decades, away from reaching warfighters, the information that will be contained in them needs to flow effortlessly. Even Sun Tzu might agree, it all evolves from the data.

'If you look at what DOD has done with the net-centric strategy and net-centric approach, the essence of it is data sharing,' Edwards added. 'We were thinking about when things were coming around in 2012 and 2014. We are finding out that the need is moving up. It is now.'

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