DOD builds a common ground for conducting e-business

DOD builds a common ground for conducting e-business

By Kevin McCaney

GCN Staff

The business of the Defense Department is pretty big business. The Defense EBusiness eXchange, for instance, handles 7 million to 8 million transactions a day involving thousands of contractors, hundreds of DOD business systems and some $13 billion in goods and services each year.

The trick to managing those transactions isn't so much adding the numbers as it is integrating disparate systems and formats into a workable environment. The exchange, which goes by the acronym DEBX, is an electronic data interchange system that lets the transactions share a common language.

Make the link

'We try to be the integrator between System A and System B' in any given transaction, said Barry Wallack, chief engineer for electronic commerce for the Defense Information Systems Agency, which shares oversight of DEBX with the Defense Logistics Agency. 'It allows legacy systems to talk to each other.'

DEBX uses DOD's Non-Classified IP Router Network as a backbone, Wallack said. It handles its routing and transformation tasks with software from Logicon International Research Institute, a subsidiary of Logicon Inc. of Herndon, Va., and from Mercator Software Inc. of Wilton, Conn.

The core function of its service is putting pieces from many data types into the same puzzle, whether they arrive as EDI or Extensible Markup Language, a request for quotations or a purchase order.

'This is very much a come-as-you-are party,' said Dennis Dalton, director of e-business for Logicon INRI, which created the routing scheme and implemented Mercator products for the transformations.

The system handles multiple files and encryption standards and can convert them into dozens of different forms. A file can go from a procurement application to a data warehousing application to an enterprise resource planning application, said Jeff Kidwell, director of sales for Mercator, whose Commerce Broker is the system's integration and transformation engine. The software speeds the transformation of documents.

'They use our tool instead of writing code,' he said.

'This exchange is very much like an exchange,' Kidwell said. 'It provides a single interface with commercial industry and an exchange within DOD.'

The department's early efforts to use electronic data interchange lacked scalability and flexibility, Dalton said.

In 1995, the department chose Logicon INRI to develop the system, and Mercator was added to the mix two years later. DEBX became operational two and half years ago, with steady upgrades since, Wallack said.

The development of the system dovetailed with the 1997 Defense Reform Initiative that created the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office.

Away with paper

The idea was to move away from paper transactions toward a unified, electronic system for handling the procurement and delivery of goods and services, along with purchase card transactions, travel arrangements and electronic fund transfers.

DISA, DLA, the Defense Finance Accounting Service, the Transportation Command and other agencies have supported the effort.

Wallack said the system runs on two Hewlett-Packard N-class servers, one each at DISA megacenters at Ogden, Utah, and Columbus, Ohio, and two similar servers at DLA sites in Tracy, Calif., and Dayton, Ohio. The servers run HP-UX 11.1.

The use of IP allows the system to combine real-time delivery with its complex routing scheme, Dalton said. 'We use NIPRnet on the way in and the Internet on the way out.'

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