DEFENSE IT

DISA releases open-source administration app

App handles many government-specific duties at the fraction of the cost for commercial software

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is releasing as open source code a suite of internally developed administration applications, named the Open Source Corporate Management System (OSCMIS), in hopes that other agencies and industry will reuse and further develop the application. The agency will run a demonstration of OSCMIS next month.

OSCMIS is a collection of more than 50 Web-based applications that handle human-resource, training, security, acquisition and related functions. DISA uses the applications to support more than 16,000 users worldwide.

In March, DISA awarded the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to help release OSCMIS for broader use. OSSI holds the copyright and offers OSCMIS, under version 3 of the Open Source License.

By putting the code in the open source, DISA "hopes to get access to more developers in the common community," said Richard Nelson, DISA's chief of personnel systems support branch at the Manpower, Personnel and Security Directorate. Nelson said his shop has only seven developers, and many additional projects on the to-do list.

"My people are extremely fast, though we have to keep tweaking stuff too, as regulations and procedures change. So there is no way they'll be able to finish out the whole suite itself," he said. By placing OSCMIS in the open-source community, others may enhance the software as a byproduct of inserting it into their own systems.

Nelson was careful to stipulate that DISA was "not just throwing the code over the fence." The agency maintained a very high standard of application development, he said, resulting in a clean body of code. Nelson hopes that industry will take a look at the programs to better understand how government agencies process data workflow.

In some cases, the programs replicate what already is offered in the commercial sector, though such commercial products were too costly for DISA, so the in-house team wrote them from scratch instead. In other cases, such as a performance dashboard application, new programs were written because no commercial application was available with the specific functionality needed for the defense environment, according to Nelson.

Nelson's office has been writing the software since 2006. The software was written mostly in Adobe ColdFusion, with Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database. Any relational database can be used, though the current package has 150 stored procedures have been shaped to SQL Server, Nelson said. The government version is completely Public Key Infrastructure-enabled and access can be controlled with with a common access card.

There are some advantages for agencies in using OSCMIS, Nelson pointed out: One it already models federal processes, which should cut down on configuration time. Also it can be fielded in stages, with one or more components at a time.

The software code is not available online at this time, although DVDs with the complete code set (about 547 Megabytes in size) will be available at the demonstration. Government agencies should contact DISA directly about obtaining a copy of the software, while academia and industry should obtain their copies through OSSI, said John Weathersby, head of OSSI.

Some of the applications include:

  • Balanced Scorecard — A scorecard application that can graphically displays progress on an organization's strategy, initiatives, issues and goals.
  • DISA Learning Management System — An application for course identification and registration.
  • Personnel Locator System — An enterprisewide global address list.
  • Universal Training Template — An online tool for presenting instruction and testing.
  • Telework Management — An application that allows users to request telework times, with workflow approval.
  • Employee On-Boarding Tool — An application that steps through the process of setting up a new employee with the appropriate accounts and computer resources.

The demonstration will be held September 1  from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. in Washington. There will be no charge for government representatives. Following the demonstration will be a roundtable where visitors can weigh in on the best ways to disseminate this code base to a wider user-base. Seating is limited. Visit here for more details.

Reader Comments

Tue, Aug 18, 2009

Were commercial products too costly when looking at only acquisition cost or TCO of labor needed to develop, support, and maintain custom code?

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