COIs included in all major Defense IT projects

In the federal sector, the Department of Defense is spearheading a movement to incorporate communities of interest in all phases of major IT projects, and, after early success with the approach, is beginning to codify the best practices for creating and managing COIs to achieve the maximum benefit.

As word of DOD's positive experience with COIs spreads, civilian agencies across all branches of the federal government are beginning to pay attention. DOD says it will gladly educate the rest of the government on proven ways to use COIs to strengthen programs.

As part of its network-centric data strategy, DOD requires that COIs are part of all of its major projects. And the directive is clearly beginning to pay off, according to a group of senior-level IT executives from several branches of the DOD that spoke during a lunch last week organized by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

Early notable successes with the concept include the Navy's Maritime Data Awareness program, the Joint Strike program to share situational data among all branches of the military, the national intelligence community and coalition partners and the DOD's significant activities reporting effort to collect and share data useful in countering the threat from improvised explosive devices.

In the case of the Navy's MDA initiative, input from COIs helped define a common vocabulary for the program and helped the Navy create a single system that all participants in MDA could use to seamlessly collect, publish and discover data, said Trey Rhiddlehoover, director of Global Information Grid Solutions at Solers, which supports DOD's COI effort.

The Strike initiative sought input from a diverse community of interest from its earliest conception and included a 'universal core' specification for data sharing in its first spiral, as well as the U.S. intelligence community's 'intelligence markings' for tagging data, said Mike Krieger, DOD's director of information management. Including the tags from the start has meant that all participants in Strike have been able to easily access needed data across domains, Krieger said.

Early feedback from COIs also aided DOD's significant activities reporting effort and made it possible for participants to more quickly begin using the system to share information useful in countering IEDs, Krieger said.

'To me, a COI is a process,' said CDR David Serber, a special projects officer in the DOD's network information and integration directorate, and as such must follow defined practices and solid management principles and be held to a set of metrics measuring its performance.

For DOD, the COI approach is essential to keeping critical IT projects on time and on target. With an IT project that in any way touches on capabilities used in the battlefield, 'we want to show results in about nine months; there's too much at stake here,' Serber said.

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