Air Force takes gradual approach to its portal

The Air Force's approach to building a one-for-all portal has been a bit like a preflight checklist: to take it one step at a time.

'The strategy to building this portal has been evolutionary,' said Col. Michael Harper, chief of the Air Force's Enterprise Information Services Division. Essential to the overall plan was creating robust base-level networks and systems. These would become the foundation for a consolidated, standardized infrastructure on which applications and services could be built.

The portal, which first appeared as a pilot in 2001, links about 700 databases at 110 sites.

The consolidation in IT infrastructure parallels similar consolidation efforts within the Air Force. Recently, the Office of Warfighting Integration and Chief Information Officer took over the functions of three separate offices: CIO, warfighting integration, and installations and logistics. The new office is designed to provide a single focus for leveraging information to improve warfighter effectiveness. The unification is expected to reduce redundancy, streamline the organization, and save money, officials said.

Using what's there

Similarly, the AF Portal project aims to make use of existing IT investments. 'The service-oriented architecture already includes technologies such as an enterprise service bus and enterprise data warehouse,' Harper said.

The portal already offers more than 80 tools and applications in several categories. For example, collaboration tools include the Air Force Instant Messenger service, which includes an IM program for friends and family.

Mission applications incorporate the Combat Ammo System, On-Line Vehicle Integrated Management System, and regional supply squadrons. Information services support the Air Force Knowledge Service, white pages directory and other advanced searches. Also, Air Force personnel can make use of the secure Air Force Personnel Center, the myPay system, and Virtual Military Personnel Flight, known as vMPF, which provides personnel office services online.

Integrating systems has given the service an advantage in procurement, Harper said. 'The standards-based system and technical architectures has the additional bonus of allowing the Air Force to leverage opportunities for strategic sourcing,' he said.

This extends to all IT commodities and capabilities. For example, the $9 billion Network Centric Solutions, or NETCENTS, contracts involve eight vendors for a five-year deal. The vendors will represent the Air Force's primary source of IT goods and services, such as desktop systems; hardware and software for voice, video and data communication; systems engineering, installation and integration; and networking and security solutions.

The Air Force plans to continue adding services and applications to the existing framework. 'This holistic approach enjoys strong leadership from the highest levels of the Air Force,' Harper said.

Edmund X. DeJesus (ejesus@compuserve.com) is a freelance technical writer in Norwood, Mass.

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