Mixed and matched

'We're ... starting small and then expanding. It's a slower process but has advantages over building it all at once and hoping that it works.'

'The Army's Kevin Carroll

Henrik G. deGyor

Army combines a decentralized approach to its portal with a move toward enterprisewide acquisitions

When the Army was planning for the Army Knowledge Online portal, it chose a strategy that reflected its organizational structure.

'The Navy came and presented their plans to us after the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet was announced,' recalled Kevin Carroll, Army program executive officer of Enterprise Information Systems. But the Army elected not to follow a centralized approach. 'The Army's tactical approach is decentralized, and our IT also reflects that,' Carroll said.

One reason is to avoid risk: Putting all your eggs in one basket, he said, can be dangerous. It's safer to spread the risk around in a decentralized set of projects, even if that takes a little extra coordination.

Another reason Carroll cited is cost management. It's easier to get approval for separate pieces than for one large project, and easier to get supplemental funding in smaller chunks. This is significant when managers need to justify their spending to Congress.

Finally, a decentralized approach lets an organization proceed in smaller steps, trying to get each piece working before moving on to the next. 'We're taking a more deliberate pace, starting small and then expanding. It's a slower process but has advantages over building it all at once and hoping that it works,' Carroll said.

You have mail

AKO has completed the e-mail portion of the portal, which was a significant goal. 'We were very happy to get that to our troops in Iraq,' Carroll said. 'That was important for all of us.'

The Army expects to award the AKO contract to a single contractor by the end of this month. There are currently seven contractors managing various aspects of the portal, each delivering specific products or services.

The contract for managing the portal will be performance-based. 'We're now starting to add more services to the existing portal infrastructure,' Carroll said.

People in the EIS office have learned some important lessons from the NMCI effort'such as the importance of common configurations for hardware and standards for software. 'We're adhering to industry IT standards in general, and especially in security,' he said.

Some aspects of a centralized project appeal to Carroll. For example, it's easier to track total costs with a single provider. In addition, it's always simpler working with a single provider on a project. If anything goes wrong, there's only one provider to ask about it. With lots of contractors, it can be tricky to sort out.

'We're assembling a federation of single providers,' Carroll said. Each provider focuses on a single area, either a customer or a technology area.

One example is the Army Small Computer Program. The secretary of the Army has designated ASCP the primary source for commercial IT, including hardware, software and support services. The program lowers costs because it deals in such large numbers.

Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army CIO, will soon make it mandatory for the Army to use the ASCP's Army Desktop Mobile Computing procurement vehicle for PCs and laptops, following the Air Force Commodity Council's lead to consolidate IT purchases for cost savings. The Army says the move will promote enterprise solutions, enhance interoperability and improve security.

The Army way

Unlike the Air Force's use of quarterly buys, the Army will hold its buys twice a year under an initial, $5 billion contract expected to be awarded to numerous contractors in November.

'We have solicited a lot of feedback from industry on the best way to do this,' said Michelina LaForgia, assistant program manager of ASCP. LaForgia said the Army is also soliciting feedback from the major commands, program executive officers and directors of information management.

LaForgia added that the move is consistent with a recent Office of Management and Budget announcement promoting the use of enterprise software licenses as a model for government agencies.

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