Air traffic control architecture taxis down the runway

The FAA is using a service-oriented architecture to enhance the sharing of air traffic information thorugh its next-generation System Wide Information Management program.

The Federal Aviation Administration is making progress on a service-oriented architecture designed to enhance the sharing of air traffic management system information among authorized personnel, Ahmad Usmani, program manager for FAA’s System Wide Information Management program, told attendees at a recent SOA conference.

SWIM provides more efficient sharing of air traffic management system information, such as airport surface movement, flight planning, airspace restrictions, weather and traffic flow management information.

SWIM is being implemented as a service-oriented architecture in the National Airspace System, which will let the FAA create new system interfaces more quickly and more cheaply, Usmani said.

Capabilities will be implemented as multiple services over the next 5 years. For instance, The Corridor Integrated Weather System prototype became operational in March, Usmani said. FAA also selected participants from industry to receive CIWS data, he said.


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SWIM also supports the FAA’s long-term goals for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, an initiative to transform the national air transportation system.

Usmani spoke on May 6 at the ninth SOA in E-Government Conference sponsored by the Federal SOA Community of Practice and Mitre Corp., held at Mitre headquarters in McLean, Va. The theme of the conference was “How to Make Service Orientation Pay Off.”

A few years ago, there was a lot of excitement around the promise of service-oriented architecture as a computing model for aligning business processes and information technology, and ushering in an era of reusable application development.

But then things went silent.

However, SOA implementations still occurred in the back offices of agencies, with some of the fruits of that labor now starting to surface, speakers at the conference said.

“There is still excitement [among agency managers] about how SOA explodes the concept of the traditional application process into a fluid marketplace of plug-and-play services,” said Deniece Peterson, manager of industry analysis at Input, which provides market research and analysis on government IT trends.

SOA is one of the five technologies Input predicts will impact the government over the next five to 10 years. The others include cloud computing, geospatial technologies, open-source software and virtualization.

SOA is still happening in small pockets within government, she said. The reason for the silence is that many agencies now understand the benefits. The struggle still lies in tying together the three disciplines that SOA cuts across – application development, business modernization and systems design architecture – from governance, people and technology perspectives, Peterson said.

“SOA is a mature technology in the federal marketplace, but fragmented” and it will take a more federated blueprint to increase wide-spread adoption, Peterson said.

Conversion has been slow, but once a project is completed there seems to be an understanding of the return on investment that can be realized, especially if the three pillars of application development, business modernization and system design can be tied together, she said.

One of the remaining challenges is helping agency managers unfamiliar with SOA to better understand the discipline, said Jignesh Shah, vice president of business infrastructure products and solutions at Software AG.

SOA can make business processes and IT operations more agile, but agility is a vague concept that has to be explained in tangible terms to business users, Shah said. Software AG helped improve an order fulfillment system during a pilot project at an unnamed Defense Department agency by using business process modeling, Lean Six Sigma management principles, and SOA, Shah said.

FAA’s Usmani described the importance of getting all of the stakeholders involved early in a project to ensure success. At FAA, Usmani’s team formed communities of interests to get together people who had interests around various types of data to help define or commit to developing the first phase of SWIM.

“If you build an infrastructure without having firm commitments from folks who use that infrastructure, you run the risk of building it and they will not come,” Usmani said. That has happened before at the FAA, so finance and other folks are very wary of signing on to projects like that, he noted.

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