Army Corps sets IT strategy

The new architecture will
show how to conduct more business online.

In drafting a new computer and communications architecture for the 21st century, the
Army Corps of Engineers is trying to avoid what Architecture 2000 project manager Laurens
Kennedy called “the engineered solution.”

New generations of information technology are replacing earlier ones every 18 to 48
months, Kennedy said, and the days of drafting strictly technical architectures are over.
“Not only is technology not valid in some cases for more than nine to 12
months,” Kennedy said, but even the business processes change.

Since 1990, when the corps drew up its current architectural blueprint, technology
managers have learned better ways of communicating with executives and middle managers,
Kennedy said.

“I’ve attended architecture briefings in the past where the first slide went
over my head and the rest of them followed. You can’t do that now,” he said.

Because corps commanders have to carry out missions with fewer resources than in the
past, the new architecture will show how to conduct more business online.

“Our job is to say how [to get there] and what the pitfalls are,” he said.

To support the new architecture, the Corps of Engineers must build and maintain
intranet, extranet and Internet network segments. “All of that affects how we
incorporate security and allow electronic data transmissions,” Kennedy said.

The corps also will have to rely more on collaboration and virtual teams.

“We can’t have construction and electrical engineers in every office,”
he said.

One of his challenges has been to establish the project’s credibility.

“I’ve been up to my eyeballs in alligators about what we’re trying to
do,” Kennedy said.

The corps’ architecture team expects to complete Phase 3 of the five-phase project
soon and to deliver an initial set of Architecture 2000 documents by Nov. 30.

The team has had only one other full-time government employee and fewer than five
contract employees, Kennedy said.

That, however, will change as soon as more of the Directorate of Information Management
staff begins to participate.

The Corps of Engineers plans must stay in line with technical standards under the
Defense Department’s Joint Technical Architecture and Joint Technical
Architecture-Army specifications.

It also is bound to similar but not identical civilian specifications for the National
Information Infrastructure.

“We have to coexist with both worlds and not spend any more money than anyone
else,” he said.

Unlike the architecture it replaces, the new plan will incorporate processes for
maintaining and continuously improving the architecture, “so we don’t have to
cough up $1.5 million in two years to re-engineer and rethink it,” Kennedy said.

In 1990, the information systems planning effort “took a bite out of the top of
your organization for months,” Kennedy said.

But with Architecture 1995, “we’re not struggling as much with year 2000
[code fixes] because our systems were completely redesigned and modernized very
recently,” he said.

Even the 1995 architecture, however, is becoming a little obsolete, he added.

The corps has always had sophisticated users, Kennedy said, but added, “We
haven’t told people how to manage IT very well.”

The 21st century architecture will depend on IT managers who are as savvy as the Corps
of Engineers’ most sophisticated systems users, he said.  

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