Army online training portal takes shape

Army online training portal takes shape

Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello says the Army must leverage all its comm links for the program.

Would-be vendors urge service officials to flesh out project's requirements

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

Bidders for the Army University Access Online initiative want the service to get more specific about the project's parameters in the final request for proposals.

In initial responses to the service's plans and at an industry briefing, vendors pushed for more details about the training program.

The Army expected on Friday to post a draft RFP on the Web at dssw.army.pentagon.mil/dssw/index.html. The service, which plans to award a single contract, is slated to release the final RFP early next month.

Probable bidders for the $600 million program include large systems integrators Electronic Data Systems Corp., General Dynamics Corp. of Falls Church, Va., and IBM Corp. Also likely to bid are small online education providers A&T Systems Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., and Aspen Systems Corp. of Rockville, Md. Dozens of educational institutions and online learning providers are forming partnerships to work as subcontractors.

Army assistant secretary Patrick T. Henry said during this month's industry briefing that the service wants 'a single integrator to hold accountable' for performance, whether it is education-related or involves hardware, connectivity or technical support.

Through the $600 million program, the service wants to help active-duty Army personnel complete college degrees or technical certifications by supplying them with notebook computers, printers, Internet access and other assistance. Students will be granted time during duty hours for online study [GCN, July 24, Page 1].

Asked why the Army is planning a new educational initiative when so many training options are available, Brig. Gen. Kathryn Frost, the adjutant general, said the reason is 'the vision of a single portal. There's a wealth of distance learning on the Internet now. Soldiers are overwhelmed by the opportunities. We believe a single portal accessible to wide choices will say to soldiers: 'These programs have been vetted by the Army.' '

She said Fort Knox, Ky., alone is paying 147 individual distance-learning providers. She called the complexity of dealing with so many vendors and services 'mind-boggling.'

The opportunity for a free education, Frost said, 'is a major reason for enlistment. The single portal must ensure that every provider is accredited and will be held accountable.' She said credit transfers will be possible for self-motivated learners who want to stay in the service and earn college or graduate degrees.

Asked why the Army is taking a Web browser route instead of using a more sophisticated broadband network, Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello said: 'Even the military is still looking for a dedicated network that goes everywhere. This will leverage all the means'dial-up modems, cable modems, LANs. We've got to use what's out there.' Cuviello is director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers.

Not like the others

A&T regional vice president Robert Jaynes, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said online training technology is well-established, 'but it's unique to offer it to the military anywhere, anytime.'

He said his company and others already act as repositories for accredited courses and could act as registrars for active-duty students and even grant them diplomas.

'Virtual classrooms are already in existence,' he said. 'One provider has chat sessions between students and between students and instructors.'

But as the RFP takes final form, Jaynes said, questions remain unanswered, about giving Army notebook computers to individuals and about subcontractors' percentages and small-business set-asides.

'The Army has to get their act together and set parameters,' he said. 'So far that's not been done.'

Officials from hardware vendors Gateway Inc., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. were at the industry briefing to show off notebook and thin-client computers for the online learning initiative.

Although the Army has indicated it wants notebook PCs, Sun demonstrated its Sun Ray 1 enterprise appliance, and IBM its NetVista thin client as well as its ThinkPad notebook.

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