Internaut: Defense shows how an enterprise architecture can really work

Shawn P.McCarthy

With all the talk lately about government enterprise architectures, it's interesting to see what the Defense Logistics Agency is doing to get all of its procurement, supply chain and logistics managers on the same page.

What DLA is constructing is ambitious enough that, if the agency is able to pull it off, it could serve as a model for others who deal with supply chains and large-scale procurement.

The core of DLA's system is known as the Integrated Data Environment (IDE). Accenture Ltd., working closely with DLA to design the system, calls it a 'shared-service capability,' designed to manage and properly route logistics transactions. Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego and Enterprise Warehousing Solutions Inc. of Hinsdale, Ill., also have been instrumental in designing the system.

Built with mostly commercial off-the-shelf technologies, the IDE attempts to integrate all business processes, including sourcing guides and military specs, inventory searches, product catalogs, order placement, status inquiries, vendor communication, shipment processing and business transactions.

The full IDE entails establishing a central set of data rules and operational objectives, and includes the development of an integrated services network. Rather than a new set of systems, the IDE is a way of tying together existing systems via an umbrella architecture.

The sourcing piece is particularly interesting. Right now, many product and parts catalogs used by the Defense Department are on CD-ROMs. That's good because they can be used in the field, where network connections may be lacking. But the negative side is that the disks offer a static view. The latest parts and prices may be missing, while discontinued parts may show up as available.

DLA is addressing the issue in two ways. The first is a migration toward Extensible Markup Language data tagging and Web services. Parts suppliers who participate in the process will be able to feed parts data into a DLA system, where it can reside behind a firewall if necessary, for access via military intranets.

The second is a concept called Agile Mobile Media. With AMM, logistics managers can dock and synch portable devices, allowing them to copy parts information. When connected, these devices will have access to the latest catalogs and pricing. When undocked, the devices carry a very up-to-date list of thousands of items from hundreds of suppliers.

The result is that logistics managers in the field have a system that is usable both docked and undocked, while maintaining a highly reliable database.

The DLA's data environment is a good example of how an enterprise architecture can work to an agency's advantage, when the right thought and effort is put into its design.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

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