Intranet links command staff
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Aug 04, 1997
"Through the intranet, we provide the mechanism for the senior leadership to make
decisions quickly by giving the right information to the right people at the right
time," said Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, chief of the command's JX Unit.
Via its intranet, users at USACOM can share information freely among the command's
eight directorates, Anderson said. The intranet gives the staff improved access to timely
and accurate information, he said.
"Senior leadership and the rank and file can now navigate around and know at a
glance what's going on in the command," Anderson said. "We have migrated to the
point where the command doesn't function without this."
Gen. John Sheehan, USACOM's commander-in-chief, has said that his goal is to have
information filter down to the lowest command level so even Marine Corps privates on his
staff will have access to the same information that he does as CINC. In December 1995
Sheehan created the JX Unit to devise a plan for improving information exchange and to
raise the level of knowledge of all USACOM staff members.
In response, JX built the intranet on a shoestring budget of $700,000 with the help of
Logicon Inc. of Torrance, Calif. The intranet uses a Compaq ProLiant 1500 server with
Microsoft's Internet Information Server. End users access it with Netscape Navigator.
Unlike USACOM's unclassified home page on the Web, the command's intranet operates on
the Defense Department Secret IP Router Network. Anderson said the SIPRnet protects the
intranet from security threats.
The centerpiece of the intranet is a one-year-old electronic news page called
"USACOM Knowledge Today." Launched in July 1996, the internal briefing book
keeps its 1,100 registered users informed by providing operational and intelligence
information, news, announcements, meeting minutes, schedules and other postings.
The news page averages 45,000 hits daily, and anyone with secret-level clearance and
access to SIPRnet can log on. Outsiders such as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and
other CINCs are frequent site browsers also.
A side benefit of the intranet is a significant reduction in the command's e-mail
traffic. Action items, task orders, documents and other workflow items are posted for
everybody at USACOM to read, so that back-and-forth e-mail is not as necessary.
"Staff were coming in at five o'clock in the morning to prepare message boards for
generals and admirals to brief them for that day," said Capt. Don Nash, executive
assistant to the deputy CINC, Vice Adm. William Fallon. "Now with this news page,
three people from JX come in and do the work of 30 people. They provide the command with
of what's going on, and the staff gets the other 10 percent from meetings during the
Initially, the JX unit updated the news page twice a day. Now JX has the day's first
version online by 6 a.m. and then updates it with new postings throughout the day.
The PCs of the 1,100 intranet users are equipped with interactive Web server
applications such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes and Domino, which let them post
information directly to the USACOM page.
"We are the editors and publishers of USACOM Knowledge Today," Anderson said.
"USACOM staff are the reporters. We've given them the software capacity to make
direct input from their terminals."
JX is evaluating push applications from BackWeb Technologies Inc. of San Jose, Calif.,
and PointCast Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., that let users select public channels available
on the Internet and private channels broadcast internally.
"The limitations we have are bandwidth," said Navy Cmdr. Tom Magno, a JX
special assistant. "The push technology will let us split available bandwidth into
channels so any user will be able to customize the channels of information available from
But shedding the cloak of secrecy is a radical concept for a major military command
such as USACOM, where secrets and turf wars between rival services and directorates are a
part of the culture.
"Quite frankly, the technology ran ahead of the culture change," Nash said.
"We still have organizational stovepipes where the eight directorates work against
each other. But what we are trying to change is the way we do business so that people are
not afraid of others knowing what they are doing."
"I liken it to walking around without any clothes," Nash said. "People
are now comfortable with their clothes off."
Adm. Harold Gehman, vice chief of Naval operations and formerly the deputy commander
for USACOM, has started an intranet for Navy headquarters at the Pentagon based on the
But JX officials say there's no substitute for the original. "Their intranet is a
one-way broadcast," Magno said. "It's not interactive or workflow-related. At
USACOM, we encourage the exchange of ideas and information across the staff both
horizontally and vertically. The king has no clothes here."