Meyerriecks helped put Defense systems on common ground

Defense Executive of the Year Dawn Meyerriecks

Susan Whitney-Wilkerson

Create a common operating environment for the military's IT infrastructure, lead the team moving the Defense Department from legacy systems and mainframes to IP networks, commercial software and PCs, and act as chief architect of the Global Command and Control System used by all of DOD today.

That done, Dawn C. Meyerriecks, chief technology officer of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which provides command, control, communications, computer and intelligence support to the nation's military forces, moved on to her next challenge: Dismantle it all and start over with the Net-Centric Enterprise Systems initiative.

The first component of the Web services-based NCES, designed under her leadership, is slated to go live in 2006.

Meyerriecks came to DISA after 11 years developing command and control systems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and'on loan from JPL'two years as chief architect of the Army Global Command and Control System in Arlington, Va.

New forays

She left DISA in July to become vice president of strategic development for AOL Inc. of Dulles, Va. But her impact on Defense systems will be significant for some time to come.

Her move to DISA came, she said, 'because they were doing the next-generation command and control system.' From 1995 to 1997, she took charge of developing the common operating environment for the military's command and control systems.

'What we did that was important was create a common computing infrastructure as a baseline,' Meyerriecks said, and we 'made sure that anyone who introduced applications adhered to a rigorous set of rules for how to plug something in so it doesn't mess up the runtime.'

The COE was a crucial part of developing the new Global Command and Control System. 'We were replacing a legacy mainframe-based system that was 20 years old,' Meyerriecks said. 'It was a planning system for deploying troops, but it was of very little value once you got into the theater of operations.'

The new GCCS was IP-based, client-server and tightly integrated. 'That was a good thing at the time,' she said, 'but the problem with GCCS today is that it doesn't let you swap pieces out as fast as we need to. That's what NCES is about.'

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the timetable for NCES was stepped up. And Meyerriecks, chief technology officer since 1999, took the lead on defining the new systems.

'I had to be the one to announce the death [of GCCS] because it was so closely associated with me,' she said, 'and I didn't want there to be religious camps around it.'

Getting all of DOD's buy-in on the new framework wasn't easy. But, according to her former boss, Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege, DISA director, Meyerriecks 'is just as comfortable discussing business strategies with CEOs as she is talking ones and zeros with techies or developing net-centric capabilities for soldiers.'

Unlike the monolithic GCCS, DOD's new command and control structure separates data transport architecture, operating system and Web services, applications and data so each can be updated independently, Meyerriecks explains.

DISA is ramping up the transport via its Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion acquisition. The NCES initiative encompasses the Web services infrastructure to run on GIG-BE.

Replacing the GCCS battlefield system will be a set of applications known as Joint Command and Control, which will use Web services and can extend to the warfighter, something the client-server-based GCCS could not do.

'It's been a wild ride,' Meyerriecks said.

She left DISA having twice changed the essential character of Defense systems, a fact she downplays. 'No matter how hard I run, there's always someone out there ahead of me,' she said

Pass the baton

Betsy Appleby, NCES program manager at DISA and one of the 220 people on Meyerriecks' staff there, sees it a little differently.

'Working for Dawn Meyerriecks was like running in a perpetual relay race,' she said. 'As the fastest runner, Dawn set the pace and charted the course.'

Raduege is unsurprised that Meyerriecks should be GCN's Defense Executive of the Year.

'In today's IT world, organizations constantly seek that one individual who embodies the perfect combination of vision, technological expertise and leadership,' he said. 'Dawn Meyerriecks is that person.'

Sami Lais is a free-lance writer in Takoma Park, Md.


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