AKO undergoes spiral development

The Army Knowledge Online program is upgrading its portal using a methodology for building large platforms called spiral development, said Michael Beckley, chief technology officer and cofounder of Appian Corp. of Vienna, Va. AKO uses Appian's portal software.

'They had some items they needed right away. But they also realized they needed other features they knew would take longer to implement,' Beckley said.

Spiral development lets program offices add new features to the existing systems on an incremental basis, without making radical changes to the design of the systems.

In order to incorporate some the newest features offered in the latest version of AppianPortal, version 3.3, the AKO office started to upgrade the software last month. Instead of taking all the servers offline for a mass upgrade, the Army upgraded only a few at a time. First, a server targeted for an upgrade would stop accepting new sessions, and when the last of its users logged off, it was taken offline to have its software upgraded. By rotating servers offline, AKO could offer portal service without interruption.

The spiral development methodology will also let AKO gradually add new features, Beckley said, avoiding the problem of making sure all the new features are fully implemented at once.

Two major features that AKO will add are better identification management and enhanced business process management.

With identification management, users can form their own working groups in addition to those already defined by the Army. So individuals in different units collaborating on a topic of special interest can arrange to access the same set of applications. New business process management features include a unified messaging console, where users can pick up all the messages and alerts from all the different applications they use from one point on their homepage.

The AKO portal runs on approximately a dozen servers and has 1.6 million accounts. Users have access to approximately 2,000 applications, including 200 that they can sign into without additional authentication, provided they have the appropriate permissions.

The Army originally awarded GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., a $60 million contract in November 2001 to build the portal using Appian's software. Appian itself won a contract to upgrade the portal last October (Click for GCN story).

The spiral development approach was not written into the original contract that AKO had with Appian, Beckley said. The Defense Department originally promoted spiral development as a way to build large platforms that take a decade or longer to develop.

Spiral development is intended to address DOD's ongoing problem of technology obsolesce, in which technology that is specified in the start of the program is out of date by the time the platforms are actually delivered. The approach involves leaving the initial design open to incorporating changes later in the development cycle.

In May 2003, the Defense Department updated its 5000.2 Defense Acquisition directive to instruct its programming offices to use spiral development wherever possible.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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