Army plans to extend AKO's services

Will hire a single vendor to run the portal

Army officials are planning to streamline services on the Army Knowledge Online portal and extend its reach to warfighters in the field.

'AKO is performing very well, and we're just looking to make it better,' said Col. Tom Hogan, an Army deputy program executive officer for enterprise information systems.

The service plans to hire one contractor to run AKO, under a possible seven-year, $500 million performance-based contract. Currently, seven contractors manage various components of the AKO portal, which has led to redundant efforts, Army officials said.

E pluribus unum

Like any Web portal, AKO was intended to consolidate hundreds of applications and services.
So far, that effort has been successful: The portal has nearly 1.8 million account holders, and the portal is closing in on its 300 millionth log-in, according to the Army.

'AKO has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years, with multiple vendors involved, so we're just trying to achieve the enterprise goal with a single systems integrator running it for us,' Hogan said.

Responsibility for AKO is moving from the Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command to Hogan's EIS division. That switch was the impetus to go with a single integrator.

'It's our way of doing business. We're an acquisitions organization, so when we were given the mission to run AKO, that's what we saw as the best way to run it,' Hogan said.

The prime contractor will be charged not only with maintaining the successful portal, but also with program support, physical security, Army Home Page administration and rolling out system upgrades.

Army officials would not release the names of the companies bidding on the contract, but Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., confirmed they are in the running. Industry observers said two other prime contracting teams also are vying for the deal: a Boeing Co. and EDS Corp. partnership; and a CherryRoad Technologies Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. partnership.

Booz Allen's team has six large and six small businesses, including General Dynamics Corp., SI International Inc., Microsoft Corp. and BAE Systems Inc. of San Diego.

The winning team will need to work with other vendors in fulfilling the contract over the next seven years, said Megan Gamse of the market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va.
'This runs the whole gamut as far as systems integration, maintenance, security and other tasks,' said Gamse, Input's manager of defense opportunities.

One of the challenges of the AKO contract is that the Army will rely on the contractor to recommend how to run the portal.

'We're really open to the vendors' ideas, so we've really left it wide open as to how they can provide portal solutions,' Hogan said. 'We're definitely not driving them toward a solution. How they do it, we're not telling them. That's a change from the existing contract.'

Freedom beckons

That freedom makes AKO an attractive project, said Lee Hall, Lockheed Martin's director of enterprise solutions.

'What struck me is that the Army is saying, 'We need somebody to come work with us and map out that evolution,' ' Hall said. 'We're going to try and make the infrastructure as reliable and sound as possible but flexible, to accommodate scalability as new users come on and new missions come into play.'

Lockheed Martin's team in- cludes Science Applications In- ternational Corp., Computer Sciences Corp. and Roundarch Inc. of Chicago, which specializes in design and implementation of portals, as well as offering expertise in content man- agement and integration of solutions.

The evolution of AKO likely will build on the successful features of today's site, said Input's Gamse.

'I think the main focus of this next contract is to make AKO more personalized,' she said. 'That's where we'll see the major focus with, of course, the maintenance of security and minimizing the redundancy of applications.'

Expanding AKO's worldwide reach, especially to warfighters, will also be a top priority.

'It's relatively easy to have access from a sustaining base somewhere,' Lockheed Martin's Hall said. 'It's a little harder for the guy that's out there running around in a Humvee to have access. That's going to be one of the biggest challenges: How do you deliver data to that bandwidth-limited environment? We've got some ideas on how to do that, and hopefully the customer will see them as good ideas.'

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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