Interview

IT integration will solidify operations

James D. Buckner, chief information officer for the Army Materiel Command, is chief information technology adviser to the AMC commanding general.

Buckner arrived at AMC last January from the Defense Information Systems Agency, where he held several management titles over two years, including deputy commander of the Joint Interoperability and Engineering Organization, and chief engineering executive for electronic commerce.

In the latter position, he helped develop a model Defense Department architecture for implementing e-commerce.

He began his career with Computer Sciences Corp., where he worked with NASA on projects at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the National Space Technology Laboratories now the Stennis Space Center and the Johnson Space Center.

In 1984 Buckner joined McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co. as director of information systems, assuming the concurrent post of deputy director of quality systems.

In 1990 he was named deputy commander and deputy chief of staff for advanced technology and concepts for the Computer Systems Division at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and a year later he became deputy chief of staff for computer operations.

The Alabama native has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama and a master's in computer science from the University of Houston.

He has completed the program for executives at Carnegie Mellon University.

GCN associate editor Richard W. Walker talked with Buckner at his Alexandria, Va., office.






GCN:'What is the Army Materiel Command's mission, and what is information technology's role in that mission?

BUCKNER: AMC is a large and diverse organization whose mission is to supply and equip the rest of the Army and parts of the Defense Department.

With everything from communications and electronics to tank armament to missiles and ammunition, AMC develops and acquires, provides logistic support and develops technology for all of the support functions.

So it's baseline support for all of the Army and even for other components of DOD.

We look at three core competencies in AMC: logistics, acquisition and technology development, and implementation three very important things that keep this command key to supporting the Army.

IT is an underlying facilitator in all of that because it allows all of us to do all of those core competency jobs in a more effective, efficient, cost-effective and timely manner.



GCN:'What impact is the Kosovo mission having on AMC and IT's role in that mission?

BUCKNER: Obviously, we are in a readiness state. We're trying to provide all the necessary equipment and supplies for both the humanitarian mission as well as the battle mission. As far as IT, our systems are supporting all of the activities that are going on.

We haven't really had to go in and do any hurry-up, urgent missions of any kind in the IT domain because our systems are pretty well-designed for wartime and peacetime and operate the same way in either case. So it's a matter of cranking up the use of the system to support the mission that we're currently in.

GCN:'What is your most critical project at the moment?

BUCKNER: Obviously, the most important thing and I don't think any chief information officer could get through a discussion with you without talking about it is the year 2000 mission. We have a large number of systems in the field at work every day that have to work come Jan. 1. So we've spent a lot of time and effort over the last year or two getting ready and making our systems compliant. Our deputy commanding general, Lt. Gen. [James] Link, has really taken this on as a mission himself. He has gotten personally involved in this. We are, according to all of the statistics right now, significantly ahead of the rest of the Army and the other services in terms of compliance. We turned in data at the end March at the required data call. I believe the Army turned in about 90 percent compliant. We in AMC turned in 97 percent compliance, so we feel real good about that.



GCN:'What has been the biggest year 2000 challenge for AMC?

BUCKNER: The overall coordination and timing. Y2K is not a real tough technical problem. It's a matter of assigning the resources and priorities, getting the fixes made and getting the agreements with all the people involved so that information can flow at the right times between systems. It's not terribly difficult to go in and fix a small system. It's difficult to find that system and find all the interfaces that system has and who you have to talk to to determine when you can make the changes and how those changes are to be made so that the data can flow back and forth.



GCN:'What are other principal projects?

BUCKNER: A high priority for us is information assurance. It's no secret that DOD gets many hacker attempts, terrorist attempts and every other thing every day. We've got to safeguard our data, our information, our networks, our capabilities so that we won't have people coming in and damaging those things or getting access to information that they are not supposed to have.

So we've got major efforts right now, just like all the other DOD organizations, to try to put in place an information assurance program that's robust enough for us to protect things yet still be able to work through those protections. That's always a tradeoff the efficiency is sometimes lost if you implement a protection system that's overly intrusive or overly restrictive on your day-to-day activities.

So we're working very hard on building an information assurance architecture, trying to integrate that with our information systems architecture and all the standards and to make sure that we put in the right kind of tools and capabilities to constantly monitor our networks, our servers and all of our databases to make sure that everything remains protected.



GCN:'What are your chief security threats?

BUCKNER: Generally speaking, it's hackers attempts to gain information is the typical type that we get. Obviously, some of this is classified so I won't go any further than that.



GCN:'Can you talk about your top concerns and priorities as you come into AMC as the new chief information officer?

BUCKNER: Beyond Y2K and information assurance, I'm going to focus considerably on using IT to integrate the functions of AMC. We have some subordinate organizations that have very critical missions but many of the things they do overlap in some respects. And many of the IT needs are similar.

I'm going to focus on identifying those similarities and work to bring forth solutions that will be supportive to all missions in the command facilitate information exchange, facilitate sharing of lessons learned so that we don't spend our time and our resources reinventing anything that's already invented.

There are probably some tools and capabilities that we could use for management oversight, for project management and program management, for network and communications management and so forth, that could be common across the command. I want to identify those and put them in place so we can gain the efficiencies of solving the problem once and once only.

Those are some of my key goals. To get there, we have to define some standards. I'm not going to go on a limb here and say that AMC standards are going to be terribly different from DOD's or the Army's as a whole. They will be sets or subsets of the other standards.

But what we're working to do is show exactly how those standards that fit DOD can be supplemented with the specific needs for AMC and put them in place.We need to make sure that our people out in the field who are bringing systems online, acquiring systems and building systems, understand how their systems must fit into those standards so that they can be interoperable, so that they can exchange information easily with one another without having to go through translators and that sort of thing.



GCN:'Do you have adequate funding in your IT budget to meet those priorities?

BUCKNER: You never have quite enough money. But it certainly helps to carefully focus your priorities and aim at those things that provide the payback.

That's something that I again count as a priority making sure that we build a true business case for what we do so we don't invest our money in things that aren't going to provide the payback that we need.


What's more

  • Family: Wife, Donna, and three children, Steve, 29, Amanda, 25, Kristi, 5
  • Car: BMW 328 convertible
  • Favorite Web site: www.ebay.com
  • Interests: Golf, tinkering around the house
  • Last book read: Leading Change by John P. Kotter
  • Last movie seen: 'A Bug's Life'
  • Heroes: My wife and three kids'they remind me of the real priorities in life.
  • Motto: People are the most important resource.

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